ENSENADA, Mexico – When the Next-Generation Ford Ranger Raptor takes to the start line of the legendary SCORE International Baja 1000 this week (Nov. 18) it will mark the return of one of the race’s most winning nameplates.
But getting it to the starting line has been a great example of Ford Performance’s global efforts, using race teams and Ford engineers from both Australia and the United States to bring the program to life.
The Ford Ranger dominated the Baja event throughout the 1980s and ’90s, most notably in the hands of ‘King of the Desert’ Manny Esquerra who secured six multi-class Baja 1000 championships between 1981 and 1990. Ford launched the all-star Ford/BF Goodrich Rough Riders factory team in 1991 and won the 1992 Baja 1000 outright with brothers Paul and David Simon.
The Ranger’s past success has been referenced in the livery design with a nod to the late great Esquerra and the fact this truck has been sent from Australia to compete at Baja.
The Next-Gen Ranger Raptor was designed and engineered by a global team of experts. As Baja is considered a spiritual home of Ford Performance - even lending its name to one of the vehicle’s drive modes – it is the perfect location for the global racing debut of Next-Gen Ranger Raptor. The SCORE International Baja 1000 has been a grueling proving ground for Ranger Raptor’s siblings, like the stock F-150 Raptor that won its class then drove straight home in 2017, the Bronco R race prototype’s development and verification of the current production Bronco in 2019-20, or even the legendary 1969 overall win with a Bronco.
Like the 2017 class-winning F-150 Raptor, the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor has been built to comply with SCORE’s stock category, designed to show off the capability of stock street trucks. This means, the 3.0L twin-turbo V6, 10-speed automatic transmission, driveline and suspension are all stock.
“The Next-Gen Ranger Raptor is huge for us, it’s a global platform and Baja is an iconic race and we’re really looking forward to being able to show what the Ranger Raptor can do at one of the toughest races in the world,” said Brian Novak, off-road motorsport supervisor, Ford Performance. “Ford has such a great history of success with so many different nameplates at Baja, and as part of a global effort, we plan to continue that success this year with the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor.”
“The Baja 1000 is known around the world as one of the toughest off-road races on the planet,” said Justin Capicchiano, Ford Performance and Special Vehicles Engineering Manager, Australia.
“It’s a difficult race to go and enter any vehicle into, let alone a production vehicle, and the Ranger Raptor we’re racing isn’t far off what you can drive off the showroom floor. We want to show the absolute capability of this truck in one of the most grueling off-road races so that our customers can have total confidence in their Ranger Raptor.”
For its return to Baja, the race-prepared Ranger Raptor will be driven by Baja veterans Brad Lovell, Loren Healy, and Jason Hutter. Also sharing the cockpit will be the father and son team of Andy and Danny Brown who live and breathe off-roading through their Australia based global aftermarket accessories business ARB. Overseeing the team during the race is Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Curt LeDuc.
Building Ranger Raptor for Baja
Ford Performance worked with Kelly Racing in Australia to prepare the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor for Baja. Working within the rules of SCORE’s Stock Mid-Size class, modifications to the vehicle are kept to vehicle and crew safety items, wheels, and tyres, driving and safety lights, underbody and vehicle protection, and a 160-litre fuel cell fitted into the tray.
With a 10-week window to take a Next-Gen Ranger Raptor from the production line and transform it into a race-ready truck, “the process was intense,” said Todd Kelly, team principal, Kelly Racing. “The team at Ford Performance in Australia and the U.S. were amazing and while the nights were long, I’m so glad I got involved in this project.”
“I’d heard the stories about this Ranger Raptor, but it wasn’t until I got my hands on it and drove the thing that I realised just how impressive it is. The powertrain, the chassis, the suspension have been built to do Baja, so all we had to do was work within the rules of the class and fit the cage, the fuel system, and safety gear,” Kelly said.
“I was lucky enough to do a lot of the driving during the shakedown testing in the Outback and I was completely blown away with how capable the truck is out of the box. I was finding that I was pushing it as hard as I could across dunes and along rutted tracks and yet the truck still felt like it had heaps left to give.”
All-star off-road team to drive Ranger Raptor at Baja
Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Brad Lovell, who runs one of Ford Performance’s key off-road racing teams, Lovell Racing, was drafted to help further develop the race Ranger Raptor in the U.S. and to be one of its pilots in the race. Lovell recently captured the 2022 Ultra4 4600 class national championship driving a Ford Bronco.
The six-time SCORE-International Baja 1000 class winner was thrilled to be selected to help with the vehicle’s race prep, and to help select the other drivers. “I love Baja and I’m really pumped to be working with Ford Performance on this project,” said Lovell.
“The truck was built by Kelly Racing in Australia, arrived on a plane in California and we headed straight to Johnson Valley for testing with final prep support from our good friends at Huseman Engineering. All the guys who drove it were impressed with it but being right-hand drive we all needed a little reprogramming for what it’s like to be driving on the other side of the truck and not smoke the opposite side against the rocks.
“We, along with Ford Performance, assembled a great crew to help at the race, from fellow Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Curt LeDuc, who’ll be running the team from HQ, to Dan Huseman who’s been working on the truck here in the U.S, to Loren Healy and Jason Hutter who are both great racing drivers with plenty of off-road wins under their belts. It’s also a real treat to be driving with the Browns.
“And it's been great working with guys from the global Ford Performance team supporting us on the ground here in California with their know-how on both the Baja race and the Ranger Raptor, it has been invaluable,” Lovell said.
Partnering with the best
When it came to developing the base vehicle to help prepare the Next Gen Ranger Raptor for Baja, Ford Performance approached companies who had an intrinsic role in developing the road-going version.
“We worked with partners who assisted in development of the standard vehicle, as they have that solid understanding of the vehicle’s attributes, and therefore the potential changes needed to handle the tough conditions in Mexico,” said Andrew Philpott, Ford Performance, commercial manager, Australia.
“Because many of our partners had extensive off-road racing experience, we not only had a head-start on the work that needed to be done but could draw on this expertise and guidance to expedite vehicle development.”
Involved with accessories development for Next Gen Ranger and Everest from the beginning, ARB’s Regional Export Manager, Danny Brown, was an early collaborator on this project. He was able to share his off-road racing experience with Ford Performance during the planning and build of the race-ready Ranger Raptor.
ARB Managing Director Andy Brown will also drive during the event, alongside navigator and son Danny Brown.
“ARB is proud to partner with Ford in its quest to conquer the grueling Baja 1000 with the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor,” said Andy Brown. “ARB has a long and storied relationship with off-road racing dating back to the ’70s, we know first-hand the benefits the end consumer receives from the knowledge gained when you put products in extreme environments and test them to their limits.”
The Ranger Raptor will be powered and protected by Shell’s low carbon biofuel blend which consists of more than 30% sustainably sourced bio components.
“As a global energy company, our purpose is to power progress together by providing more and cleaner energy solutions,” said Selda Gunsel, Vice President of Fuels and Lubricants Technology at Shell. “Providing more energy while reducing emissions is a huge challenge, but we recognize that multiple solutions, including low-carbon biofuels, will be required to achieve this target.”
Ford Performance has also had tremendous support and guidance from its collaborators throughout the project, especially the teams and experts at Herrod Performance, Kelly Racing, Method Race Wheels, FOX, BF Goodrich, Racetech, Garret, PWR, TRW, MoTeC, and Proloom Motorsport.
The race-prepped Next Gen Ranger Raptor will kick off its SCORE-International Baja 1000 campaign in Ensenada, Mexico, on Nov. 18.