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Ford’s Dakar attack with the Ranger

Following on from its success with the Australian-built, production-based Ranger it was announced Ford was going to tackle arguably the toughest race in the world in its high selling model.

The Dakar is a tough two week event now situated in Saudi Arabia rather than the location it was named after, the Senegalese capital. Originality starting in Paris, safety was compromised ahead of the 2008 event on its route through Africa leading to its move to South America until 2019 as it moved to its current location.

Kelly Racing aided in the development of Ford’s Baja 1000 class winning Ranger, which is significantly different to the beast set to take the start in the Dakar developed by the Blue Oval’s factory World Rally Championship team M-Sport and South African experts Neil Woodridge Motorsport.

The Ranger is built to Dakar’s T1+ designed for 4×4 prototype of 2.3m in length, 350mm suspension travel, 37-inch wheels and a minimum weight of 2000kg. Powered by Ford’s 3.5-litre V6 Ecoboost engine, the Ranger is limited to a regulation specified 170km/h.

Development was started by NWM in South Africa and has since become a collaborative project, but the modifications made make this far from the Ranger parked on the showroom forecourt.

In what Ford Performance’s head Mark Rushbrook has deemed an explorative exercise to contest the 2024 Dakar Rally, a new model will debut for next year’s event.

“We studied the chassis carefully to find opportunities for structural improvements on stiffness and durability. These changes were made and validated through a rigorous test programme” said M-Sport technical director Chris Williams.

“To accelerate our development we wanted to go to Reiger for their Dakar experience. Collaboratively we created a new damper and wishbone setup resulting in an improved motion ratio and making full use of Reiger’s latest damper technology, designed specifically for rally raid.

“We’ve tested the new setup in Fontjoncouse, and twice in Morocco, with significant improvements in performance.

“One of the biggest challenges has been optimising the cooling packages on the vehicle. We focussed on simplifying and improving efficiency of the coolers.

“Using CFD we have studied the aerodynamics to understand the vehicle air flow and learn how best to extract heat at different speeds. To validate our changes we’ve tested in Dubai, South Africa and Morocco which all had ambient temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

“The next phase for the Ranger T1+ is to see how it fares in competition. The main development phase is now complete, we need to prove it in competition. From here we will compete in more relevant competitions to ensure we are match fit ahead of the 2024 Dakar Rally.”

Ford will take on Audi, Toyota, Mini and various prototype buggies led by motorsport company Prodrive with three Rangers as a customer programme is envisioned for 2025.

The 2024 Dakar Rally is due to start on January 6.