When Ford Motor Company introduced its newest-generation of Ford Ranger, there was heavy anticipation of a Raptor variant being released. However, for most Americans the concern was if the truck would actually make it to America. This wouldn’t be the first time a Ranger Raptor rolled elsewhere, but wouldn’t clear the jump to American soil.
This time around though, Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley made it clear that the Next-Gen Ranger and Ranger Raptor would be coming stateside. A huge plus for those looking for a lightweight and off-road capable truck that wasn’t as boisterous as the F-150 Raptor. What better way to showcase the truck arriving in North America than to test it at the legendary Baja 1000 off-road desert race.
The Baja 1000 has long since been the pinnacle of off-road racing. Since its inception as “The Mexican 1000” back in 1967, many racers have climbed into their off-road rig at a chance to secure a first place position in their class. The original race boasted only four classes, but today many more have been added to the fold. This year, Ford decided to put one of its entries into the Stock Mid-Size class with its Next-Gen Ranger Raptor. Although an easy win was destined, as it was the only entry, the Baja 1000 isn’t just about first place, it’s about finishing. This race for 2022 was particularly difficult with only 137 official finishers out of 236 entries.
“I can’t tell you how rough the course was. I have spent a lot of time racing King of the Hammers and this course was reminiscent of that. We have silt. We have blown out tires. The rock over the summit was unbelievable. Really technical and difficult. Slow. It took a lot of patience in a lot of areas. We ran it smooth and smart in our Ford Ranger.” says Brad Lovell. “My competitor Loren Healey is driving with us today. Andrew Brown came over from Australia to help us out. The truck was amazing the whole time. The biggest issue we had was a broken light mount. We pulled into the BFGoodrich pits and welded it up. We are on the same set of BFGoodrich tires we started with. Everything was perfect. It was a flawless execution.”
The grueling landscape just south of California is a vast and desolate space where drivers and their vehicles face obstacles ranging from landscape derived to spectator sabotage. As drivers face fatigue, uneven terrain, and more, there are two things they rely on: experience and their vehicle’s build.
It’s rare, if ever, that a rookie wins at the Baja 1000. Ford knew this and decided to utilize the professional driving skills of Brad Lovell, Loren Healy, Jason Hutter, and the father and son duo of Andy and Danny Brown of ARB. Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Curt LeDuc oversaw the entire operation making sure things went smoothly.
To prepare the Next-Gen Ranger Raptor for its race duties, Ford Performance paired with Kelly Racing in Australia. Under the rules of SCORE’s Stock Mid-Size class, the only modifications were to vehicle and crew safety items including wheels and tires, driving and safety lights, underbody and vehicle protection, and a 160-liter fuel cell. This means the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 10-speed automatic transmission, driveline and suspension are all stock. Not only did the rules constrict the build, but the crew at Kelly Racing only had a 10-week timeframe to transform the Ranger Raptor from dealership stock to race-ready.
“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 realized 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,” Todd Kelly, team principal, Kelly Racing.
Ford Performance didn’t just enlist the help of Kelly Racing to build this Baja bearer, they also approached companies that were instrumental in the production version of the Ranger Raptor. “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.
While Ford and ARB partnered for much of the build, the Ford Performance team also received support and guidance from its collaborators throughout the project, especially the teams and experts at Herrod Performance, Kelly Racing, Method Race Wheels, FOX, BFGoodrich, Racetech, Garret, PWR, TRW, MoTeC, and Proloom Motorsport.
The combination of professional drivers paired with product partners and builders created a Ranger Raptor that handled the Baja 1000 to completion. The happy ending just after the 26-hour mark not only showed the Ranger Raptor’s endurance, but its ability to handle difficult even when limited to a stock engine, transmission, driveline and suspension. Hats off to the Ford team for creating a new truck with off-capabilities and for passing the Baja 1000 test.