Ford’s all-new Ranger has taken the fight to Toyota’s Hilux in the local market and now the Blue Oval has announced it will be doing the same at the Dakar with their locally manufactured T1+ Raptor bakkie. Here is what we know after an interview with Mark Rushbrook, Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports.
There have been rumours and clandestine testing of Ford’s potential involvement at the Dakar which has now been confirmed by Mark Rushbrook; Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports.
The word Pietermaritzburg has just been featured on an international Ford press release, all credit for this to Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) who has contended the South African Cross-country Championship Series in a T1+ prepared Ford Ranger. The Kwa-Zulu Natal-based facility will now be thrust into superstardom after Ford Performance announced the local outfit will partner with British-based M-Sport to prepare a vehicle for the most challenging automotive race in the world – the Dakar!
With the Ranger Raptor T1+ bakkie, Ford will compete in the 2024 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in the Rally Raid T1+ class on a ‘finish and learn’ basis. Being their first foray into the dunes, Ford has taken the learnings of the NWM-prepared vehicle and will spend the next few months building on the platform to make it as competitive as possible in the vastly different terrain of Saudi Arabia.
“To lead the charge at one of the ultimate global off-road events – the Dakar Rally – has been a goal of ours. We cannot underestimate the enormity of the challenge ahead of us. We need to finish and learn first with Ranger T1+ and partners like M-Sport and NWM, who bring their expertise to bear. Together, we can do amazing things in the sand dunes of the Arabian Peninsula.” – Mark Rushbrook.
Rushbrook further states the learnings from the 2024 event will provide a critical source of information for the following year in which they will contend for the top step of the podium. This will require an all-new, custom-built Ranger Raptor designed within Dakar’s T1+ class regulations to ensure competitiveness and a rival worthy contender to other challengers.
For the remainder of 2023, the 3,5-litre EcoBoost V6-powered Ranger bakkie will use Spain’s Baja España Aragón and Morocco’s Rally du Maroc rallies in July and October as further test beds to develop the all-terrain contender.
Aesthetically, the previous generation Ranger will comprise the exterior of the bespoke racing bakkie for the first attempt in 2024. Thereafter, Rushbrook has stated the styling will align with the all-new model from 2025 onwards when the team will intentionally compete for wins against the likes of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s seasoned T1+ Hilux bakkie with reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and local icons Giniel de Villiers and Henk Lategan.
Speaking of drivers, Rushbrook has not alluded to who will be entrusted with the great responsibility to bring the Raptor T1+ bakkie to the finish line in Saudi Arabia. In the local SARRC events, it is Gareth Woolridge and Lance Woolridge that pilot the top-tier challengers in the varying Southern African terrain.
Just as the revered Ranger rivals the locally-loved Hilux in the South African market, watch the rivalry begin to unfold at the 2024 Dakar Rally taking place in the Arabian peninsula between the 5th and 19th of January in 2024!