RACING AT FULL SPEED: Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in Ford's performance team. Image: Supplied.
Pretoria - Ford South Africa's motorsport activities have been united for the 2015 season with the launch of a motorsport programme under the new Ford Performance brand.
Tracey Delate, Ford SA's marketing manager, said: "Ford remains committed to innovation through performance and the new global Ford Performance team ties together racing, performance vehicles and parts.
"Regional performance engineering and racing teams have been united as one global team under Ford Performance, which sees the integration of Ford SVT, Team RS and Ford Racing. This unified organisation serves as an innovation laboratory and test-bed to create unique performance vehicles, parts, accessories and experiences for customers."
FOCUS ON RALLY, CROSS COUNTRY
This approach sees the development of smart innovations and technologies in aerodynamics, lightweight materials, electronics, powertrain performance and fuel efficiency that can be applied more broadly to Ford's product portfolio.
Ford motorsport manager John Nagel said: "We have focused our motorsport involvement this year on rallying and cross country, which are the most successful championships on the 2015 calendar.
"The teams are proven winners with an exceptional line-up of champion drivers and race-winning vehicles in the Fiesta and the Ranger. It will be Ford's strongest assault yet on the various titles and we have every confidence that the crews will be challenging for victory in every round and doing Ford and its loyal supporters proud."
SA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
For the 2015 rally season, double national champions Mark Cronje and co-driver Robin Houghton, will be tackling the country's fastest special stages in their M-Sport prepared Ford Performance works team Class S2000 four-wheel drive Ford Fiesta.
The pair established themselves as the team to beat in recent years, having claimed consecutive S2000 titles in 2012 and 2013. Although their challenge for a third title on the trot faltered last year due to a series of setbacks, they were consistently fast and are more motivated than ever to reclaim the top spot.
Mark Cronje said: "We have the best car out there and know that we will be right at the front challenging for stage wins and overall victories. It is fantastic having the backing and support of Ford Performance and Ford South Africa, and we hope to add even more silverware to the trophy cabinet throughout the season."
According to Houghton, the team will start off their season on the Tour Natal at the end of February with the same spec vehicle they used in 2014 but they will have the benefit of the latest specification for the Sasol Rally in April 2015.
Houghton said: "We sent one of our Fiesta body shells back to M-Sport in the UK at the end of last year, and it is currently being updated to the latest level. This will ensure that we have the new upgrades for the rest of the season as we fight for championship glory."
The season kicks off on 27 and 28 February with the Tour Natal, which sees the crews charging flat-out through the Kwazulu-Natal coast's spectacular but tricky sugar cane fields. There are a total of eight rallies for the year, finishing off with the Polokwane Rally in October 2015.
DONALDSON CROSS COUNTRY
The Ford Performance team competing in the SA cross country series in 2015 will be back to full force after regular drivers Chris Visser and Lance Woolridge were sidelined with injuries for most of 2014.
Neil Woolridge, team manager of Neil Woolridge Motorsport which builds and runs the Ford Performance 5.0-litre V8-powered Rangers in the premier Class T championship said: "We're really looking forward to having our full team back in action this year.
"With the experience gained last year, including three wins from seven events, the team has proven that we have the right combination to challenge for the top step on the podium. We have rebuilt the vehicles with the latest improvements and will be going all-out for victory from the first race."
Chris Visser and co-driver Japie Badenhorst have their sights set on nothing less than the overall title after setting the pace during the final two rounds of the 2014 season, including winning on Visser's return at the Vryburg 450.
The 2010 champions have come achingly close to securing the overall titles in 2012 and 2013, having finished as runners-up on both occasions.
They will be joined by proven race winners Lance Woolridge and co-driver Ward Huxtable. Woolridge picked up a back injury at the beginning of last year, and elected to sit out for the season while recovering from an operation and focusing on his fitness.
Both Ford Rangers will be competing in the Class T category of the Production Vehicle championship which caters for vehicles with an engine capacity of 4000cc and over, using Dakar Rally-spec independent suspension all round.
The 2015 calendar has been reduced from the traditional eight events to just six, but with an emphasis on longer and tougher races in keeping with the cross country concept. There are three types of events comprising 450km sprints, endurance races covering 650 to 700km, as well as the arduous three-day 1000km marathon Desert Race in Botswana.