Among the world’s cross country racers, three South African companies are well known for producing race-winning bakkies.
The best known is Glyn Hall’s Hallspeed, which is based in Midrand and enjoys the backing of both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Toyota South Africa Motors. Competing head-on with the well-funded Hallspeed is the small, family-owned business of Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) in Pietermaritzburg and topping both in export numbers is the team at Century Racing.
The three founders of these engineering companies have very different approaches, but all deliver fast cars. Whereas Hall is first a race car engineer who believes in building the fastest vehicle and then hiring the best driver, Woolridge is first that best driver who started building the fastest vehicle after winning races on motorbikes and in cars since the age of 17.
Showing his priorities from day one, he registered Neil Woolridge Motorsport on 1st July in 1991 and at the same time bought a fuel station and vehicle repair shop to start his own business, having qualified as a motor technician and thereafter working for three years in the Shell Garage and Alfa Romeo dealership of his father, Peter.
Woolridge became one of the first to stock and fit 4x4 accessories in KwaZulu-Natal. Such was the demand that he quickly outgrew the two-bay workshop he started in, and the Neil Woolridge Motors 4x4 Centre has since become a household name and landmark for off-road enthusiasts in the KZN Midlands, as well as for international cross-country racers from Europe, Australia and South America. He told Dealerfloor the small factory in “Maritzburra” has now sold 26 V8-powered Rangers to privateer teams around the world under the NWM banner.
Since the first car competed in 2013, and it not only won first time out in South Africa and won the local Class T championship in 2018 and 2019, it is also unbeaten in the Brazilian cross country championship and won the South American title in 2019. It has also racked up victories in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic and Australia, achieved top-three stage results on the Dakar Rally and has won the Rally dos Sertoes in Brazil a record four times, says a proud Woolridge.
For 2021 NWM and Ford will introduce the first turbocharged petrol car under the new 2021 FIA rules in 4x4 cross-country racing, using Ford’s 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine. The aim is to grow NWM’s worldwide sales with the new 3.5 EcoBoost V6 Ranger by winning even more races and championships, for as Woolridge explains, the old marketing maxim to “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” is as relevant today as it was when Basil Green raced Ford Capri Perana V8s on weekends to sell the V8 models during the week in the 1960s and 70s.
He is not aiming low either. “We aim to win the Dakar Rally and the FIA Cross Country World Cup. I believe this is possible with our dedicated team, our young and talented drivers and with the increasing support we enjoy from our established supporters, sponsors and partners," Woolridge said.
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