BOX 5, Westhoven, 2142
PIETERMARITZBURG – The partnership between Ford and Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) spans more than 25 years, with numerous local and international cross country (or rally-raid) race victories and championships won along the way.
Having already built and raced 15 production-based Ford Rangers in previous years, in 2011 the collaboration was stepped up several notches as NWM was commissioned by Ford Global Product Development in the US to design, develop and build the latest-generation Ford Ranger for rally-raid competition around the world. And, thus, the NWM Ford Ranger project was born based on a purpose-built tubular spaceframe chassis, and powered by a Mustang-derived 5.0-litre V8 engine.
The V8 NWM Ranger competed successfully around the world and has since been superseded by a new-generation Ranger that made its debut in 2021, based on the revamped FIA Class T1 regulations allowing for turbocharged petrol-engined vehicles. An all-new design was complemented by an exciting new powerplant, in the form of Ford’s advanced twin-turbo 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine, sourced from the F-150 Raptor.
In 2022 the benchmark was raised even higher as the new FIA T1+ regulations were implemented, introducing wider dimensions, much bigger wheels and longer-travel suspension for the four-wheel drive cars. And the NWM team delivered again, producing a true beast of a machine in the mighty T1+ EcoBoost Ford Ranger (known internally as the T1+ EFR).
Here are 10 fascinating facts about the Neil Woolridge Motorsport, its successes and the mighty NWM FIA T1+ Ford Ranger:
1) Designed, developed and built in Pietermaritzburg – for the world
From its production facility in the heart of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the Neil Woolridge Motorsport team designs, develops and builds the rally-raid Ford Ranger to the highest specification to compete in the South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) and around the world. Relying on its small team of 19 fabricators, welders and engineers, each NWM Ranger is custom-built in-house from scratch.
2) Chromoly tubing – the length of three Olympic swimming pools!
The entire spaceframe chassis, passenger cell and integrated roll cage of the NWM Ranger is manufactured in-house on a specialised chassis jig. It is produced with aircraft-grade chromoly tubing – a high-strength but lightweight alloy steel made of chromium and molybdenum. NWM also produces the suspension arms and all of the mounting points for the various components and bodywork.
Each chromoly tube and section of metal used in the build is cut, shaped and given a NWM part number, ensuring that any damaged items can be systematically replaced according to the original design specification – providing optimal performance and, crucially, maximum safety. The highly trained NWM welders are FIA-qualified to guarantee workmanship of the highest order.
A total of 150 metres of chromoly tubing is used to manufacture a single NWM Ranger – equivalent to the length of three Olympic swimming pools! Furthermore, 15kg of welding rods and 10kg of chassis paint is used in the build for each vehicle.
3) 1.8km of wiring, 110 m2 of carbon fibre – all produced in SA!
The sophisticated wiring harness for the NWM Ranger is locally manufactured by MJR Technologies in Gauteng, which also supplies the high-tech Motec vehicle management system. In total, approximately 1.8km of wiring is used in each NWM Ranger – equivalent to twice the circumference of Durban’s 55 000-seat Moses Mabhida Stadium.
The body panels, doors and passenger compartment of the NWM Ranger are all made of a strong but extremely light carbon-fibre/aramid weave by Glassfibre Products & Services in Pietermaritzburg. A complete set for a NWM Ranger takes 200 hours to produce, and uses 110m2 of the specialised carbon-fibre/aramid weave – yet has a combined weight of only 65kg.
4) When only the best will do
Some of the major components are sourced globally specifically for the NWM T1+ EFR, including the 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine which is supplied by Ford Performance in the US. The engine is tuned by NWM on its advanced hub dynamometer to meet strict FIA power and torque curves, with peak outputs of 300kW and 600Nm. The team recently had to ship an EcoBoost-powered Ranger to France for the FIA to conduct testing on its own dynamometer to ensure that the vehicle complies with the regulations – and it passed with flying colours.
BOS suspension in France supplies the shock absorbers and springs. The massive 76mm diameter single dampers on each corner of the NWM Ranger were specially designed for this vehicle and are manufactured in-house at the high-tech BOS factory in Toulouse. They are the largest dampers ever made by BOS, and provide up to 350mm of wheel travel, making it possible for the NWM Ranger to tackle the harshest terrain in its stride – and at simply astonishing speeds.
The compact but highly advanced six-speed sequential gearbox, as well as the steering rack, are supplied by Sadev in France. All-important stopping performance is handled by Brembo brakes from Italy, using massive 355mm discs and water-cooled callipers at the rear to cope with the extreme temperatures. Another Italian brand, Sparco, and its local distributor, MS Technic, equip the team with all of its essential safety gear. This includes form-hugging carbon fibre seats, six-point harnesses, steering wheel, gloves, fireproof race suits and underwear.
5) 480 litres of fuel
Rally-raid competition, and specifically marathon-style events like the Dakar Rally, is characterised by long stage distances in punishing terrain. The longest competitive stage on the 2022 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia was 465km on day four. This is equivalent to a typical two-day race in the South African Rally-Raid Championship, and a staggering 122km longer than the total race distance covered in the recent three-day World Rally Championship (WRC) event in Portugal.
The stage distance excludes the liaison (or non-competitive section) that the crews drive before and after the stage between the bivouacs (overnight service parks). Day eight on this year’s Dakar saw the teams drive a total of 830km for the day, including 395km of racing.
With refuelling only allowed at designated points during the liaison, the cars have to carry hefty fuel loads. Accordingly, the NWM Ranger is equipped with a massive 480-litre fuel cell produced by Aero Tec Laboratories in the UK – the same company that has supplied all Formula 1 teams for nearly three decades.
6) Huge 37-inch tyres
The introduction of the new FIA T1+ regulations saw the top-tier teams switch from the 32-inch tyres used previously to huge 37-inch tyres this year. Each tyre and 17-inch rim combination weighs in at a beefy 48kg. The competitors are allowed to carry a maximum of two spare wheels, which are stored under the cabin of the NWM Ranger.
The NWM drivers and co-drivers work as a well-oiled machine in the event of a puncture, taking less than two minutes to stop, remove a damaged wheel, fit the spare and get mobile again – an impressive feat. Obviously, it’s not quite as remarkable as the 2.5-seconds of a Formula 1 team, but they have pit crews made up of at least 20 people, and the driver never gets out of the car.
The NWM team has proven in the heat of racing that an entire driveshaft can be replaced by the technicians in less than eight minutes during the mandatory 20-minute service interval between race loops – and that’s impressive.
7) 50 degrees Celsius to minus zero
Rally-raid events are staged all over the world in some of the harshest conditions, accompanied by extreme weather and temperatures. It’s not uncommon for competitors to have to contend with the ambient temperature climbing to well over 40 degrees Celsius in the desert.
Even in local races the cabin temperature regularly exceeds 50 deg C, so the NWM Rangers are equipped with air-conditioning to help the crews, and also to protect the heat-sensitive electronic control systems located in the cabin. To manage the cooling of the engine, gearbox and differentials, the NWM Ranger has no less than 14 coolers built into the vehicle.
At the opposite end of the scale, temperatures often plummet to below zero – both in remote desert locations, and at high altitudes – while wet conditions further compromise visibility. NWM cleverly uses the heated windscreen from the standard production Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Ranger Raptor to ensure that the view ahead remains clear and unobstructed at all times.
8) 31 Rangers built, debut wins in 2013 and 2021
Since 2011 NWM has built 31 Ford Rangers – 28 powered by the roaring Mustang 5.0L V8 engine, and three with the cutting-edge 3.5L EcoBoost V6 in T1 and T1+ guise. Several new T1+ cars are currently in the construction pipeline for local and international customers.
The NWM Ford Ranger V8 made its debut in 2013, instantly setting a new benchmark for the series by winning the first time out in the South African championship at the Magalies 400, crewed by Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. Following several desperately close challenges for the title over the ensuing years, the NWM Ranger took consecutive Class T crowns in 2018 and 2019, with Woolridge and Huxtable at the helm in both instances.
The NWM team repeated history when the all-new EcoBoost-powered FIA T1 Ford Ranger debuted at the start of the 2021 season, as Lance and new co-driver Elvéne Vonk scored another debut victory for NWM at the Mpumalanga 400. Gareth Woolridge and co-driver Boyd Dreyer followed this up with a solid podium finish for the new T1+ Ranger at the same event in 2022.
With the NWM Ford Castrol Team focused on the premier Class FIA T1/T1+ battle in 2021 and 2022 respectively, NWM still supports several privateer Class T teams in the SARRC. Malcolm and Frans Kock proudly added a third Class T title to the trophy cabinet in 2021, along with the silver and bronze trophies also going to NWM Ranger V8 privateers who remain the leading contenders for the 2022 season.
9) 50 wins, 220 podiums globally
The locally produced NWM Ford Ranger has been a remarkable success, both in South Africa and around the world. Over the past decade, it has notched up no less than 50 wins and 220 podiums in national and regional championships.
Among its many noteworthy achievements, the NWM Ranger scored an unprecedented four consecutive victories in the arduous eight-day 3 000km Rally dos Sertões in Brazil, to go along with the Brazilian cross country championship in 2018 and 2019, and the South American title in 2019.
The pedigree of the NWM team and the proudly South African-built Ranger has also been proven by winning in Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Australia, Spain, Czech Republic, along with the 2017 Morocco Desert Challenge – the final important test for all of the major rally-raid teams before the annual Dakar Rally commences in January.
And, in terms of the Dakar, NWM Rangers competed in this legendary race every year from 2014 to 2018 – with a top 10 stage time to its credit in the world’s toughest motorsport event.
10) Aiming for Dakar
A new chapter has commenced in 2022, as the exceptional new FIA T1+ EcoBoost Ford Ranger grabbed the attention of the international rally-raid community. This has led to a pioneering partnership between NWM and the renowned M-Sport team in the UK, announced in April 2022.
The two pioneering teams are collaborating to take on the world-renowned Dakar Rally, and develop a world-class rally-raid customer programme with the latest T1+ NWM Ranger. It’s an exciting future, built on a long and proud legacy of innovation and success.
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Ford and Neil Woolridge Motorsport are proud to be supported by the following sponsors and partners: Castrol, Ford Credit, Mastercraft, Wűrth, Bosch, Sparco, Sign Solutions, Tiger Wheel & Tyre, Ironman 4×4 and Shatterprufe.
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