Century Racing formally unveiled the Century CR7 T1+ on Thursday, adding a new challenger to the subcategory. The car will make its début at this weekend’s South African Rally-Raid Championship‘s Renergon 400 with Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer as driver and navigator, respectively, with the main focus being the 2024 Dakar Rally.
The CR7 is a four-wheel-drive car, a break from the team’s traditional 2WD vehicles; an AWD car was last developed by Century with the BMW X6 T1.1 in 2012. While certain components like the double wishbone rear suspension and the general shape carry over from its predecessor CR6, the CR7 otherwise draws more from the upgraded CR6-T. For example, the CR7 and CR6-T both use a twin-turbo V6 Audi RS4 engine capable of 434 horsepower, while the CR6’s 370-hp motor comes from the Chevrolet Corvette LS7. The CR7 also has less wheel travel and a lower centre of gravity.
The team has also produced two more CR7s, though those are lacking key features and are therefore not prepared for racing at the moment as further development and testing continue.
“It’s been a largely successful launch for a clean sheet product but in no way do we underestimate the amount of work left to have this car win races, let alone finishing them,” said team manager Julien Hardy. “I need to stress that this upcoming race debut is simply an extension of our testing programme, and an opportunity to see how everything works in a different environment than our two test tracks. The 4WD system is very novel and has been performing as planned but we’re still lacking information about the high speed behaviour of the car. Cooling on continuous runs is also something we need to confirm but we’re pretty satisfied with the launch spec so far.
“The aim will be to finish each loop without issues but Brian and Leonard have been instructed to stop if anything suspect is happening and are under no pressure to complete the full race distance. At this stage, preserving the car in running condition is more important than a race finish as we want to keep putting mileage on all the launch components as quickly as possible.
“It’s been a balancing act in the last few months, and a race against time once again. We were not absolutely certain about the functionality and durability of certain parts so we had to manufacture the minimum required amount for the prototype and only when we are truly convinced they are up to the task that we can give the go ahead to the machine shop to produce more. The fact that the next two cars in the production line are confirmed to be on start line in Saudi Arabia in January have put us under tremendous pressure but this is how this team usually thrives.
“It’s also a huge relief for the engineering team that everything worked so well from day one, as some of the technical solutions on this car are quite radical. We have never spent so much time going into so many details while designing a car and optimizing the package to such an extent. Being the first clean sheet T1+ in the field gave us a unique opportunity to leapfrog ahead of the competition, and only time will tell if our radical solution is the answer or not.”
The CR7 is yet another addition to the growing class of T1+ cars, which is reserved for upgraded 4×4 machines. It has mainly been dominated by the Toyota Hilux T1+, which includes the DKR Hilux T1+ produced by SVR Hallspeed, Overdrive Racing’s model, and a privateer-friendly version built by fellow South African company WCT Engineering. Toyota’s main World Rally-Raid Championship rival Prodrive has the Prodrive Hunter T1+, while MINI’s John Cooper Works Rally Plus is also a W2RC regular though much of its success has come on the Cross-Country Bajas side.
Red-Lined Motorsport, another South African outfit, introduced in 2023 the REVO T1+ that competes alongside the WCT Hilux in the SARRC. The Ford Ranger T1+ built by M-Sport and SARRC powerhouse Neil Woolridge Motorsport will make its W2RC début at the upcoming Rallye du Maroc.
“It’s not often that I get to drive an all new concept out of the workshop but this was a special experience,” Baragwanath offered. “After months of work and anticipation, it was finally time to compare the theory to real life driving and we were not disappointed. Only after a handful of sighting laps was I able to push the car and achieve similar, if not faster lap times, than the CR6, which was unexpected. The dampers and brakes were not quite in the right window but I felt at home immediately, the CR7 feeling eerily similar to drive than the CR6, except for the massive traction you experience out of corners. I am confident that our customers will be thrilled by this new machine.”
Century provided ten cars at the 2023 Dakar Rally, two of which competed as the Astara Concept 01. Baragwanath raced one of two CR6-Ts, which stands out from the usual CR6 with the aforementioned engine swap.
The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.