PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa - Neil Woolridge Motorsport-designed and built Ford Rangers have dominated the tough Rally dos Sertões in Brazil once again, claiming a record fourth consecutive win in 2019.
With the event considered the longest and toughest in the 26-year history of the Rally dos Sertões, it spanned eight days, starting on 25 August in Campo Grande and covered nearly 3 000km of competitive racing and an additional 3 000km of liaison en route to the finish on 1 September on the beautiful beaches of Aquiraz.
Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), in association with Brazil's X Rally Team, fielded seven V8-powered Ford Rangers in this year's edition, competing in two classes: three in T1 Codasur (formerly known as T1 FIA) for full FIA IRS-specification entries, and four in the less expensive T1 Brazil category for solid rear axle vehicles.
Despite the extremely varied and challenging nature of the route, it was the T1 Brazil-class entry of Lucas Moraes and Kaique Bentivoglio that emerged victorious in their X Rally Team/MEM Motorsport entry, which is near-identical to the championship-winning Class T Rangers the NWM team runs in the highly competitive South African Cross Country Series (SACCS).
"To race in the NWM/X Rally Team Ford Ranger this year was the best decision for us," 29-year-old Moraes said. "The car handled very well and was always taken to the limit. It was great throughout this tough race and gave us the perfect result."
Three-time winners Cristian Baumgart and Beco Andreotti (NWM/X Rally Team) had another strong outing to finish second, just 8 min 44 sec behind the winning Ford. They led the race until 150km from the end of stage six when they were caught out in the dust of another competitor and rolled. Despite this incident, the damage was repaired, and they fought back to secure the second step on the podium.
"We were hoping for the win and were on track to achieve it, but that's the magic of Sertões, going from hero to zero, then back again," Baumgart said. "The team worked very hard and everyone put their hearts and 100 percent effort into it. We tried our best to make up lost time, but I think we can be satisfied with second place, and seeing Lucas and Kaique taking the win in one of our vehicles.
"As a team and constructor, it was an amazing achievement to have six of our seven Rangers make the finish, and we hope to come back stronger next year with even more cars as we make the Brazilian cross country scene even better," Baumgart added.
Team-mates and reigning Brazilian cross country champions Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea ended fourth, with Mauro Guedes and Filipe Bianchini crossing the line in eighth place.
Rookie Fernando Rosset and Fabricio Bianchini came home in an impressive 12th place, with Michel Terpins and Maykel Justo finishing 18th. Sylvio de Barros and Josi Koerich were the only Ford Ranger competitors that didn't make the finish, having suffered a nasty roll on the opening stage of the race. Fortunately, thanks to the exceptional strength and build quality of the NWM Ranger, they were unhurt in the crash.
"This is a great result for NWM and X Rally Team, and certainly for Lucas and Kaique who produced a faultless performance throughout the race, and were rewarded with a well-deserved victory," said NWM team principal, Neil Woolridge. "This was our sixth year at Rally dos Sertões and was by far the most difficult to date, yet our vehicles proved exceptionally reliable and fast, as the results show.
"Claiming a fourth Sertões win on the trot is simply amazing, and is a tribute to the outstanding work of our entire NWM team in designing and continually developing the cross country Ranger to ensure that it remains competitive and capable of winning landmark races such as this," Woolridge added.
"I must also congratulate and extend our appreciation to our partners in Brazil, X Rally Team, who have been instrumental in our combined success in this event, and are the driving force behind the NWM Ford Ranger becoming the leading contender and the vehicle of choice in their domestic championship."
NWM operations manager Lance Woolridge, who raced in the 2016 edition of the Rally dos Sertões and finished second overall, added: "This is a really special event with beautiful views and amazing terrain which makes it a really challenging race. Our vehicles won seven of the eight special stages, and I am really proud of the cars we built and our team who worked incredibly hard to make this fantastic result possible.
"We were also happy to see Sylvio and Josi walk away without a scratch after their crash, which is a testament to the dangers of the sport and the safety with which our cars are built!"
For the NWM crew, there is no time to sit back and enjoy the celebrations, as they are back in action at the team's workshop in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, busy preparing for the penultimate round of the SA Cross Country Series - the Lichtenburg 400 on 13 and 14 September.
Reigning Class T champions Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable have enjoyed a clean sweep of the five races held so far in the 2019 season, and are on the verge of securing their second consecutive Production Vehicle title in this highly competitive series.
Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea will also be back in action in South Africa for this event, having produced some strong finishes this year in the SACCS.
Overall Results - 2019 Rally dos Sertões
1) Lucas Moraes / Kaique Bentivoglio (NWM / X Rally Team / MEM Motorsport Ford Ranger)
2) Cristian Baumgart / Beco Andreotti (NWM / X Really Team Ford Ranger)
3) Guilherme Spinelli / Youssef Haddad (Mitsubishi L200 Triton)
4) Marcos Baumgart / Kleber Cincea (NWM / X Really Team Ford Ranger)
8) Mauro Guedes / Filipe Bianchini (NWM / X Rally Team Ford Ranger)
12) Fernando Rosset / Fabricio Bianchini (NWM / X Rally Team Ford Ranger)
18) Michel Terpins / Maykel Justo (NWM / X Rally Team Ford Ranger)