South Racing and Neil Woolridge Motorsport have joined forces with Argentinean rally star Federico Villagra, with support from YPF, and will run a Ford Ranger in January’s Dakar Rally, the world’s most famous off-road motor sport competition. The event starts in Buenos Aires on January 3rd and finishes back in the Argentine capital on January 17th.
This will be Villagra’s second Dakar appearance and he has attracted personal support from Ford Argentina for the exciting challenge. The former FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) star finished an excellent 12th overall with co-driver Jorge Perez Companc last January and set a fourth quickest time on a tricky stage between Chilecito and San Juan in Argentina. This time around the 45-year-old, from Córdoba, teams up with navigator Andrés Memi.
Villagra is a well known figure in rallying circles in the WRC and his native Argentina and competed in the former series between 1998 and 2011, achieving two fourth-placed finishes in the Rally of Argentina and the Acropolis Rally in Greece in 2009.
Nicknamed ‘Coyote’, Villagra has taken part in a wide range of motor sport activities, including Supercross and Motocross, and finished ninth overall in the 2013 Rally of Morocco after taking up cross-country rallying at that year’s Baja Poland. He won a clean sweep of Argentinean rally championship titles between 2001 and 2007 before concentrating more on tackling rounds of the WRC, although he returned to win his domestic series in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“After experiencing my first Dakar in January with a very good result, this time I will have the privilege of having the support of YPF and Ford, with the assistance of South Racing and Neil Woolridge Motorsport,” said Villagra.
“Our objective is to achieve a good result and arrive in Buenos Aires amongst the leading group. Days ago, we had the opportunity to conduct a test with excellent results. The Ranger has unbelievable power and is very docile at high speeds. It feels very stable, mainly across the crests of the dunes and on the dune edges on the way down. Taking part last year has helped me a lot. The findings were important and allow me to find the balance as a driver. It will be very demanding for Andrés and I, but we should both be prepared both physically and mentally.”
Memi, 45, is an experienced competitor in his own right and has raced motorcycles, cars and even trucks on the Dakar. He is a winner of rounds of Argentina’s Cross-Country Rally Championship and, like Villagra, has considerable experience of racing motorcycles in Motocross and Supercross, skills that are invaluable in reading the dunes and the lie of the land on events like the Dakar Rally.
Memi tackled the first South American Dakar in 2009 on a motorcycle and finished 29th in the 450 category and has been working in on and off-road driver training in recent years away from the motor sport scene.
Scott Abraham, team principle of South Racing, will be in charge of event management logistical and servicing arrangements. He and his team are also responsible for ensuring that team members are fully briefed prepared and equipped and that each assistance vehicle and support truck is fitted with the correct equipment, spare parts and supplies.
Based near Frankfurt in Germany, the young, customer-driven team also has workshops in Portugal and is a partner on the Dakar project with Neil Woolridge Motorsport.
“We are looking forward to the Dakar immensely. Federico and Andrés completed their final shakedown with the Ford Ranger last week and certainly got to grips well with the car,”
says South Racing’s managing director, Scott Abraham.
According to Abraham, this Dakar will be a real challenge for all the teams. “It will be a tough test, not only for the cars, but also on the service crews who are the heart and soul of the team. I am really proud to have a group of people who are so passionate and committed to the cause. It is a pleasure for us to also be working with such a high level of support from YPF and with Ford Argentina’s assistance with our logistics. They have helped no end in getting the project up and running for Federico and South Racing.”
Villagra’s Ford Ranger has been designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport, the South Africa-based operation that ran the two factory-backed cars in 2014 in conjunction with South Racing which handled the team’s complex logistical programme.
“We learned a lot from our first outing on the Dakar Rally in January, and have applied this to developing an even more competitive vehicle for the 2015 event,”
says Neil Woolridge, head of Neil Woolridge Motorsport.
“The experience gained from competing in selected international events and domestic championships with the Ranger throughout this year have enabled us to make a wide range of improvements to the chassis, suspension and performance of the vehicle, and this will be a significant advantage for the team on the 2015 Dakar.”
In addition to YPF, Villagra’s Dakar programme is supported by suspension and OEM parts company Fric Rot, Brenson (Dealer Ford), Piamontesa and construction company Natania. OMP, Michelin, Rudy Project and Gold Nutrition have provided technical assistance.
Ford Ranger in Dakar 2014
Two cross country Ford Rangers made their Dakar debut in 2014 in the hands of Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez and South Africa’s Chris Visser .
After early delays, Alvarez and his navigator Ronnie Graue climbed back from the rear of the field setting several top 10 stage times on their way to finishing in a highly creditable 22nd overall. Visser and co-driver Japie Badenhorst crashed out of contention on the second day.
Ford Ranger in 2014 cross country season
Under the South Racing management a Ford Ranger finished third in the hands of the Hungarian duo of Imre Fodor and Márk Mesterházi in the Hungarian championship, winning two events and an impressive four podium positions.
The Brazilian pairing of Cristian Baumgart and Beco Andeotti were runners-up in the arduous seven-day Rally dos Sertoes in Brazil at the wheel of an NWM Ford Ranger.
While building vehicles for customer teams, the Neil Woolridge Motorsport outfit also ran two similar Ford Racing Rangers in the 2014 South African Cross Country Championship, claiming an impressive three wins and from seven events, along with two second places and a third.
The cross country Ford Ranger
Villagra’s Ford Ranger was designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport at its South African base in Pietermaritzburg, with assistance from Ford Motor Company’s Global Product Development group and Ford’s SVT Division.
The cross country version is based on a Ford Ranger 4x4 Double Cab and is homologated in the FIA T1 category. It is powered by an aluminium Ford 5.0-litre V8 engine with twin independent variable cam timing, and delivers approximately 260 kW of power and 560 Nm of torque at 4 100 rpm.
The body is made of full composite material and the Ranger rides on independent front and rear suspension, twin BOS dampers and front and rear anti-roll bars. The Ranger features Brembo air-cooled front brakes and water-cooled rears. Power is transmitted to the driving wheels by a permanent four-wheel drive system and a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox.
The Ranger also benefits from front and rear limited slip differentials, a GKN driveline, Evocorse wheels and Michelin tyres. It has an estimated top speed of 170 km/h and weighs 1975 kg.
A seventh season for the Dakar in South America
After running across the African continent since its inception in 1978 until 2007, the Dakar Rally returned to the international sporting calendar in 2009 and takes place in South America for a seventh year in January.
In excess of two million people are expected to line the streets and attend the ceremonial start in Buenos Aires on January 3rd, before the event treks west across the remote grasslands to the town of Vila Carlos Paz, home of the FIA World Rally Championship event in Argentina and notable for its rock-strewn moonscape-like tracks.
From the province of Córdoba, the route heads further west towards San Juan on January 5th and then into the foothills of the mighty Andes mountain range and an overnight halt at Chilecito. The Dakar caravan passes the snow line and crosses the spine of the Andes on January 7th and reaches the copper mining town of Copiapó in Chile.
A punishing passage through the Atacama Desert takes crews from Copiapó to the coastal mining hub of Antofagasta on January 8th and the route drills further into the very north of Chilean mining country and the town of Iquique on January 9th.
Iquique will host two separate rest days for the car and motorcycle competitors. The event crosses into neighbouring Bolivia for the second successive year and a Marathon stage to the town of Uyuni. Cars will tackle the Marathon stage without service assistance on January 10th/11th and benefit from a rest day on January 12th.
Race action resumes on January 13th with a special stage between the Pacific coastal town of Iquique and Calama, a small mining hub in the High Atacama overlooked by the towering Chiquicamata copper mine. Teams will re-cross the spine of the Andes into Argentina on January 14th and tackle a stage to the town of Salta.
The event then passes between Salta and the town of Termas de Rio Honda for the first time on January 15th and then moves on to Argentina’s third largest city, Rosario, on January 16. The final stage takes teams from Rosario in the Santa Fe province and on to the fanfare finish in Buenos Aires on January 17th.