The Atlas Copco Ford Racing team is aiming for a strong showing in the Botswana Desert Race at the end of June as the 2014 Donaldson Cross Country Championship heads towards its halfway mark.
The 33rd Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race takes place from 27 to 29 June, and is the only marathon event of the season with a total race distance of almost 1 000 km. Accordingly, the teams will be going all-out to secure the valuable double points that are up for grabs.
“The Desert Race is always a crucial event on the calendar, and this year is no different as we head into this important race with Manfred Schroder and co-driver Japie Badenhorst tied for the Production Vehicle championship lead,” explains Atlas Copco Ford Racing team manager, Neil Woolridge.
“We scored some great results in the first two rounds, but the terrible dust on the Nkomazi 450 in Malalane made our task almost impossible, so we’re hoping to claw back some of the advantage.”
This race comes with its own unique set of challenges, not the least of which is the total race distance of around 1 000 km, and the fact that the crews have an extra full day of racing compared to the 500 km events that make up the rest of the championship.
The teams are also heading to completely new territory as the race has been relocated from the outskirts of Gaborone to Jwaneng, some 160 km to the west. That makes it the third all-new route in four races.
Although it’s virgin territory for everyone, the typical Desert Race conditions, comprising lots of sand and bushveld, will be the overriding theme as usual.
“We finished on the podium last year, and we know that the Ranger should do well in these conditions. In preparation for this race we’ve totally stripped and rebuilt the Ford Racing Rangers to ensure that they are ready to tackle everything the Desert Race throws at them,” Woolridge says.
While Schroder and Badenhorst currently share the overall Production Vehicle class lead with Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy after finishing sixth at the last race, they enjoy a slender one-point margin over the Toyota pair in the Class T championship.
They will be hoping for a repeat performance of their win on the Toyota Dealer 450 in Mooi River. However, due to the current seeding system, Schroder still has to enter one more race before being allocated a points-related starting position. As a result, he will once again set off well down the field on the qualifying loop, which severely hampered their pace at the previous event.
Team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau have one thing on their agenda, and that’s to take the fight to the leaders. Aside from a second-place finish in Mooi River, it has been a frustrating debut in the Ford Ranger this year.
Bertholdt and Rousseau showed impressive pace in Malalane before picking up a fuel pressure issue during qualifying. They had to start the race at the back of the field and fought their way through the dust to end 13th. A strong finish well up in the points will certainly help them move up from their current 6th place in the overall standings.
The race is based at the Jwaneng Sports and Showground Complex, which also serves as the start, finish and designated service park.
Competitors will complete a 100 km qualifying loop on Friday 27 June, with the first car setting off at 11:30.
This is followed by two full days of racing, starting at 08:00 each morning. The teams will face two loops of each day’s course with a compulsory 15 minute service stop at the end of the first lap.