- Bapi Rubuluza and Fanifani Meyiwa had their SA Cross Country Series debut in the Ford NWM Development Team Ranger V8 at the Sugarbelt 400
- The new pairing finished the 51km prologue seventh in Class T
- A calm and calculated approach to the two 160km main race loops saw the team gain valuable experience and confidence, and were rewarded with sixth place in Class T, 17th overall
With only one test session under his belt in the powerful Ford Ranger V8 (#T49), and having last competed in 2007 in a standard production vehicle, it was a baptism of fire for Bapi. Similarly, Fanifani’s prior experience was as a rally navigator, and the pair had never sat together in a race car before the Sugarbelt 400 – so the duo had several massive hurdles to climb, and the odds were certainly stacked against them.
Nevertheless, they adopted a calm and calculated approach with one objective – complete the full race distance, and learn as much as possible over each kilometre. And they did exactly that, completing the 51km qualifying loop seventh in Class T and 33rd overall.
Aside from picking up one puncture over the tough and challenging route, they completed the two 160km main race loops without incident, bringing the Ranger home in a solid sixth place in Class T and 17th overall – an impressive performance, considering half the field failed to finish.
“It was fantastic to see our Development Team finish their first event in Class T, which was important for them to get seat time in the car,” Neil added. “Their pace and confidence in the Ranger clearly improved throughout the race, and it will only get better. Completing this event was very important for Bapi to learn the car and for Fanifani to get a handle on the navigation, as the three-day Desert Race is up next and will be a huge challenge for them.”
Bapi was delighted to cross the finish line, and have the first race under his belt. “I am very excited to be racing, and to reach the finish at this event,” he said. “Every kilometre was about learning, and we achieved our aim of completing the full race and not damaging the vehicle. Fanifani and I are learning to work together in the car, and the more distance we covered the better it got. The first finish is good, and we aim to keep it that way in the next races, which will be crucial to help us improve throughout the season.”
Although Fanifani was tired as a result of the long-distance nature of cross country racing compared to the sprint format that he was used to in rallying, he was very satisfied with the result. “This race was completely different to what I am used to, but I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was nice to have Bapi driving as he knows cross country racing, so he helped me a lot and I enjoyed racing with him.”
The next race is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Upington from 18 to 20 June 2021.