|ABSA 2011: Champions Visser/Badenhorst switch from Toyota to Ford.|
A bombshell burst on the South African Absa Off Road Championship with the announcement this week that South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst have left the Toyota fold, and will drive for the factory Ford Racing team when this year’s championship gets underway with the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 11 and 12.
Visser and Badenhorst, who last year won three races on the way to winning the Production Vehicle and SP Class championships in the Visser Transport Toyota Hilux, will take over the Ford Racing Ranger from Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer. After campaigning together for more than a decade, the veteran former South African champions will take a sabbatical from racing.
"Kenny and I have had a good innings but the time has come for me to concentrate on my business, and to implement a plan of action that will take Ford Racing into the future," Woolridge said. "In looking for a replacement crew we decided that Chris and Japie had all the requirements necessary to take the team forward, and we are delighted they accepted the invitation to join Ford Racing. "Chris and Japie were faced with a tough decision but for us to have the current South African champions on board is a win."
Woolridge added that the Ford Ranger in which he and Skjoldhammer last year won the Toyota Dealer 400 had been completely rebuilt during the off season. The car now boasts a number of upgrades with early season testing producing encouraging results.
The unassuming Visser said the offer to join Ford Racing had caught him and Badenhorst by surprise. The pair were set to campaign last year’s championship winning Toyota Hilux this season when the approach came from Ford Racing.
"Neil’s call came out of the blue, but it is a huge honour to be asked to drive for a factory team and Japie and I are very proud," said Visser. "The fact that we are the current champions means extra pressure, but we are looking forward to the challenge.
"I will also have to adjust to left hand drive and the torque characteristics of turbo diesel power, but am fortunate to have someone with Neil’s vast experience to point me in the right direction."
Apart from looking after Visser and Badenhorst in the premier SP Class, Woolridge will also oversee his teenage son Lance and Ward Huxtable who take a step up from Class E to the Class D ranks. The pair will campaign a Ford Ranger, with a back injury, which forced him to miss the final event of last season, robbing young Woolridge of the chance to win the SA championship in his rookie season.
"Running Ford Racing is probably going to be more stressful than competing," said Woolridge, "but it is an exciting time for the team. With top crews and top vehicles we have the potential to win races."
2011/03/03 | 13:37 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE