• Ford SA and Neil Woolridge Motorsport have partnered to run a development and empowerment team in the SA Cross Country Series (SACCS) for 2021.
• Ford provided funding for the season, with NWM supplying and maintaining the vehicle for the championship.
• Driver Wiseman Gumede will make his motorsport debut with the team, alongside KZN rally champ navigator Fanifani Meyiwa.
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Ford South Africa and its long-standing motorsport partner, Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), have joined forces for the 2021 season to run a new Development Team in Class T of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS).
This pioneering new initiative will see Wiseman Gumede (42), a workshop delivery driver for NWM for more than a decade, making his motorsport debut in the driver's seat of the Ford NWM Development Team entry. He will be joined by Fanifani Meyiwa (43), who has several years of experience as a rally navigator and claimed the 2018 KwaZulu-Natal regional championship. Together they will compete in all seven rounds that make up the 2021 SACCS calendar, commencing with the Dullstroom 400 in Mpumalanga on 26 and 27 March.
Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa, says: "Motorsport is an important component of our brand-building for Ford and the locally produced 'Built Ford Tough' Ranger. It also provides the ideal platform to promote diversity and inclusion in what is an expensive and exclusive sport that remains out of reach for most aspirant competitors.
"The Ford Neil Woolridge Motorsport Development Team addresses the need to empower a broader range of competitors to participate in motorsport at the highest level while attracting a more diverse range of fans and spectators to the sport. It's a great project that will generate significant interest as Wiseman and Fanifani embark on their exciting journey into the exciting world of cross country racing."
Gumede and Meyiwa will compete in the SACCS Class T Production Vehicle championship in a 5.0-litre V8-powered Ford Ranger, designed and built by Neil Woolridge Motorsport at its facility in Pietermaritzburg. This Ranger V8 is identical to the vehicle that powered Lance Woolridge and co-driver Ward Huxtable to consecutive Class T titles in 2018 and 2019.
As a newcomer to motorsport, Gumede undoubtedly has a lot to learn, but he is over the moon about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He says: "I started as a driver at NWM, and now I'm going to be a racing driver. I thought it was a joke when Neil Woolridge asked me at the end of last year if I would like to race, but it's real, and I can't wait to spend more time in this amazing vehicle. I'm going to take it easy at the beginning as I have so much to learn about driving and racing the Ranger V8, so my plan is simply to finish the first race and get as much experience as possible."
Meyiwa is no less enthusiastic: "I was very excited when Neil called me to discuss joining the team as the co-driver. I've always watched these amazing cross country cars racing on TV, and now to be part of the team is a dream come true. Cross country racing is new to me, but I think Wiseman and I will work well in the car together, and our objective will be to finish every race.
"It's a very good thing to have more black drivers and navigators involved in the sport. This will create a better understanding of the cross country series and the vehicles competing in the championship, and I think a lot more people will follow the racing."
Neil Woolridge, NWM team principal, adds: "We are excited to see our plan of bringing new competitors, and specifically black African drivers and co-drivers, into cross country racing, finally come to fruition. This is important for the future of the sport and NWM and Ford as manufacturers to grow the level of participation and interest to new audiences.
"There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make this happen, and we appreciate Ford South Africa coming on board as the overall sponsor for this project, which adds an exciting and much-needed new dimension to our motorsport programme with the Ford Ranger."