Watch out Hilux! SA-built Ford Ranger bakkie to compete in 2024 Dakar Rally

Published Jun 14, 2023


Pretoria - Ford Performance Motorsport have thrown down the gauntlet with the announcement that it will be competing in the legendary Dakar Rally.

Next year, a Ford Ranger works team will be lining up in the gruelling event in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly as a “finish and learn” effort, with the previous generation Ranger seen in the current SA Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC).

This in preparation for a fully-fledged assault in 2025, using all-new custom-built Ranger Raptor built to Dakar’s T1+ class regulations.

That’s not the only South African Ford connection.

Apart from the all-new Ranger being built locally at Ford’s Silverton plant, Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), in collaboration with long-time Ford partners M-Sport, will head vehicle development, servicing and event management.

Built in Pietermaritzburg, NWM is responsible for the two Ford Rangers that compete in the FIA T1+ class of the SARRC.

The joint Ford Performance, M-Sport and NWM team has implemented a series of development phases through 2023 and continues testing with the Ranger T1+, based on the previous-generation global Ranger, with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine.

Test races are expected to include Spain’s Baja España Aragón and Morocco’s Rally du Maroc rallies in July and October before tackling the Dakar Rally next year.

"To lead the charge at one of the ultimate global off-road events has been a goal of ours,” said Mark Rushbrook, the global director of Ford Performance Motorsports.

“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.

“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.

“We came first in the stock mid-class category in the Baja 1000 at the end of last year, with only minor changes to comply with the race rules. We cleaned it and then shipped it to Australia where it won its category in the Finke Desert race.

“We compete in some of the world’s biggest and baddest races, hence Dakar is now in our sights,” he said.

Rushbrook played his cards close to his chest when asked about engines and transmissions for the 2025 Dakar. “At this stage there’s not much we can say about that.”

It was the same response when it came to possible driver line-ups.

Ford recently introduced a new global Ford Performance branding livery but there's no confirmation yet that the Dakar bakkies will be sporting it.

Ford Motorsport has been on an aggressive drive recently. It has announced that it would be competing with the Mustang GT3 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other global GT3 series, as well as power unit suppliers for the Oracle Red Bull and Scuderia Alpha Tauri Formula 1 teams from 2026.

But it’s the Dakar that will grab South Africans’ attention, with our rich and successful history in the event, especially with the Toyota Hilux.

Never mind Ford versus Ferrari, it’s going to be Ford versus Toyota in the desert.

IOL Motoring