As part of their revitalised motorsport programme that will cover road and off-road racing, Ford Performance have announced they’ll take on the Dakar Rally next year, using a specially prepared vehicle based on the Ranger Raptor.
What Ford are calling an “extreme racing version” of the fourth-generation Ranger Raptor has been built to Dakar’s T1+ regulations. This is the category for prototype cross-country 4x4 vehicles that usually produces the outright winner in Dakar’s Auto division.
"To lead the charge at one of the ultimate global off-road events – the Dakar Rally – has been a goal of ours,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports in explaining Ford’s reason for their first factory-backed assault on Dakar.
T1+ vehicles currently include Toyota Gazoo Racing’s HiLux utes, X-Raid Minis, the BAIC’s Jeep lookalike BJ40 and the Prodrive Hunter, all of which are built around a spaceframe chassis and subject to limits on wheel size and suspension travel, as well as specific dimensions and weight. While the HiLux, Mini and BJ40 feature bodywork resembling the production vehicles they’re based on, the Hunter is completely bespoke, with no production equivalent.
In addition to these vehicles, the Ranger Raptor T1+ will also be competing against Audi’s RS Q e-Tron E2 for outright Auto division honours. Where the T1+ vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines, the Audis are fully electric and fall under the T1.U “Ultimate” class for vehicles powered by renewable energy.
Both T1+ and T1.U are subject to 170km/h speed limits, while the related T1.1 class for prototype cross-country 4x4s and T1.2 class for prototype cross-country 4x2s allows 180km/h top speeds.
Working under Dakar’s T1+ rules will allow Ford to utilise their 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 with its all-aluminium block and heads. This light, but powerful (around 335kW in ‘high-output’ factory spec) petrol engine is not currently available in any locally-available Ford (the Aussie Ranger Raptor uses a 3.0-litre EcoBoost V6), but will be fitted to units of the upcoming F-150 pickup for the Australian market.
M-Sport in the UK and Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) in South Africa have partnered with Ford Performance in creating the T1+ Ranger Raptor. Both companies brought extensive experience in competition vehicles to the Rally-Raid Ranger project, with NWM pivotal in developing and building vehicles to compete in the South African Rally-Raid Championship and other events subject to T1+ regulations.
“Partners like M-Sport and NWM bring their expertise to bear,” Rushbrook added. “Together, we can do amazing things in the sand dunes of the Arabian Peninsula.”
Ahead of the 2024 Dakar this coming January, the rallying Ranger Raptor will be tested at lead-in events like the Baja España Aragón in Spain and Rallye du Maroc in Morocco.
Ford are tempering expectations ahead of their Dakar debut, though, with the initial goal of just finishing the event before setting more ambitious targets for 2025 and beyond.
“Our first time in Dakar will be a learning adventure that will help inform how we compete in the future,” said Rushbrook. “But as with all racing, we’re not just racing to win, we’re also racing to help build better products for our customers.”
For 2025, Ford Performance and M-Sport will produce an all-new Ranger Raptor for the T1+ category, applying what they’ll learn in 2024.
“We’ve achieved great success over the years with Ford in FIA WRC rally racing and can’t wait to apply this same level of focus, energy and effort to competing with the Ranger in Dakar,” said Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport managing director.
The 2024 Dakar Rally is scheduled for 5-19 January in Saudi Arabia.
UPDATE: At the Baja España Aragón in July, Ford entered two Ranger Raptor T1+ vehicles and both performed strongly in an event won by Nasser Al-Attiyah in a Toyota Gazoo Racing HiLux.
The two-day, 545km off-road rally saw the Overdrive Racing HiLux of Timo Gottschalk finish second behind Al-Attiyah, with Carlos Sainz third in an Audi RS Q e-Tron E2, even though the Audis weren’t competing for points.
Ford’s driver lineup of Nani Roma and Alex Bravo in the #208 Ranger finished seventh overall, while Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in the #218 Ranger finished twelfth. Roma was eighth in the Prologue and as high as fourth in the overall standings before dropping back in the final stages.
Ford’s next hitout for the Ranger Raptor T1+ will be at the Rallye du Marc on 12-18 October.