With five of the six team members hailing from the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Team Ford Racing is eager to deliver good results at the first race in the 2005 Absa Off-Road Championship, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 takes place in the Pietermaritzburg area on March 18 and 19. Spectators and fans of the True Blue Fords will be able to view the racing at numerous spots in and around Eston.

Last year’s race was a case of three out of three for Team Ford Racing at the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, with all three of its vehicles achieving podium positions. This was a significant achievement, given the extreme heat and demanding route, which both took their toll on competitors.

The Class T Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer came second overall and second in Class T. Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham, who were in their then-new Class D Ranger, also came second in their class. And, remarkably, the Class E Ford team of Baphumze Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa achieved yet another podium position. They came third in their class. At that stage, they had only raced twice and, on both occasions, they had notched up podium positions, a truly noteworthy achievement. Unsurprisingly, they were recently named “Newcomers of the Year” for the 2004 season.

According to team manager, Neil Woolridge, all the Ford vehicles within the team stand an excellent chance of doing well. “They have been prepared to the highest Ford quality standards. The cars are Built Ford Tough, developed to withstand rough terrain and the hounding of the elements – and we are eager to tackle the Sugarbelt,” he says.

After a long break in racing, they are keen to return to the sport that they love. “This race should be fairly tough – it always is. It’s demanding and tiring for the driver, and hard on the vehicle – but we are confident that our Ford is up to the challenge,” says Woolridge.

Woolridge maintains that it’s quite reasonable to expect yet another podium position for the Class T Ranger. “The Sugarbelt really suits our vehicle. It’s tight, twisty and tough – and our BF Goodridge shod Ford Ranger is right at home under those circumstances.”

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 takes place in Eston, just outside Pietermaritzburg - right on Woolridge's doorstep. "It's my favourite event on the calendar. It's always exciting to have some hometown support.”

According to Woolridge, this a well-organised event, and all members of Team Ford Racing are looking forward to a home race. “With the exception of Kenny, who lives in Johannesburg, there’s no travelling - so we can be home with our families on Sunday. That’s always a bonus,” says Woolridge.

Two other hometown racers are Manfred Schröder who, along with Jack Peckham, will be driving the BF Goodridge Class D Ford Ranger. "Last year, the vehicle was still relatively new – and we still did well. This augurs well for a good performance this year," states Schröder. "It's a great truck and we're confident that we can win our class in it."

The Class D 4-litre Ford Ranger ran its debut race in Darling, the first race of the season for 2004. Schröder and Peckham revel in the Sugarbelt – they won the race in 2002 and 2003 – and, naturally, they are hoping for a repeat performance. “Sugarbelt is always tough but we have a strong motor and our advanced suspension will make the tight turns of this race easy to handle.”

They definitely want to kick off the season with a podium position. “It is always important to start scoring points right at the beginning of the season and we are confident that we will be able to achieve this. Our Ranger is incredible - its motor is really strong and hard-working. Our Ranger V6 has masses of potential – and we are looking to manifest that potential at this race,” says Schröder.

After achieving massive success in their first season, Ford’s Class E team, Baphumze Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa are sticking to their previous strategy. Like most of the other team members, they also hail from the province of KwaZulu-Natal. “We will maintain our strategy from last year – our single most important goal is to finish the race. We want to score points from the very first race – we are going all out for a championship win this year,” says Rubuluza. “But this time round we’re going to push a bit harder. Last year was our first Sugarbelt and we didn’t know what to expect. This year we have the benefit of hindsight. We are really looking forward to going to the race and performing well.”

Rubuluza is extremely confident that his Ford Ranger won’t let him down. “Last year, our Ford Ranger was truly impressive throughout the season. Frequently, we would drive past other Class E vehicles that had broken down in the ultra-tough terrain - but we kept on going. I have always heard people talking about ‘Built Ford Tough’ and now I have learnt where this expression comes from!”

Sponsors for Team Ford Racing includes, Ford Credit, BF Goodridge, Pirelli, Barloworld Armstrong Pietermaritzburg and Time Freight.

Original article from Car