The Ford Ranger Raptor created a whole new segment when it blasted onto South African roads in 2019, delivering true race-developed performance and technology to create the market’s first high-performance off-road pickup. Now, this thoroughbred Ford Performance DNA will be showcased in the extreme world of cross country racing, as the Ranger Raptor is the official route reconnaissance vehicle for the second half of the 2021 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS).
“The Ranger Raptor completely redefined the concept of performance by delivering exceptional ‘off the shelf’ high-speed off-road capability never before seen in the pickup segment,” says Doreen Mashinini, General Manager Marketing at Ford South Africa. “Two years later the Ranger Raptor remains in a class of its own.
“We are delighted to extend our partnership with the SA Cross Country Series by sponsoring a Ranger Raptor as the official route vehicle. It’s the perfect fit for this unique and highly capable vehicle where its race-inspired attributes, including its specially developed FOX shock absorbers and Baja mode, will be showcased in the challenging world of cross country racing and the extreme terrain it covers,” Mashinini says. “It also bolsters our involvement with SACCS as a series sponsor, and creates further Ranger brand synergy with our motorsport programme in the premier FIA-class through Neil Woolridge Motorsport.”
The Ford-sponsored SACCS Ranger Raptor will be driven by Evan Hutchison, the series route director and multiple cross country champion. Hutchison also previously owned the FOX Suspension agency in South Africa, and remains a FOX brand ambassador.
“The safety of competitors, spectators, landowners and officials is our primary concern, and it’s essential to have a route reconnaissance vehicle that is up to the challenge of identifying, plotting and pre-running the race routes at realistic recce speeds,” Hutchison says. “This helps us identify possible caution areas for the high speeds that the competitors reach, therefore contributing to the safety of events.
“The Ranger Raptor is the only vehicle of its kind that is up to this challenge straight off the showroom floor, and I am really looking forward to putting it through its paces for the remainder of the 2021 season,” Hutchison says.
Approximately six weeks before each race, Hutchison will use the Ranger Raptor for the initial route planning and plotting, working with local farmers, authorities and communities to arrange access to land for the race routes. Thereafter the GPS track is finalised, along with the all-important road book and route marking – all of which are key in not only signalling the direction of the route, but highlighting hazards and caution areas.
In the days leading up to the race weekend, Hutchison will drive the entire race route once again to confirm that there aren’t any last-minute changes. He also visits numerous points throughout the race to ensure the smooth running of the event. Where necessary, the organisers also repair farm roads and infrastructure immediately after the action is wrapped up to ensure the terrain is restored and sustainability is assured. All of this results in the route vehicle completing multiple laps of the race route, which is a tough task – and one that the Ranger Raptor is uniquely capable of taking in its stride.
Under the skin, the Ranger Raptor’s unique chassis frame was specially developed and extensively modified for high speeds and endurance in the toughest driving conditions. Built to withstand high-impact off-road encounters, the Ranger Raptor’s frame consists of various grades of high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steel, and has been specially designed to support the Ranger Raptor’s increased track and wheel travel.
The Ranger Raptor’s imposing stance is achieved through the 51mm taller ride height, 283mm ground clearance, 150mm wider front and rear track, while the 850mm wading depth lets you know that this is a serious off-road performance machine. A 32.5-degree approach angle, and ramp-over and departure angles of 24 degrees, provide impressive go-anywhere capability.
It boasts Position Sensitive Damping (PSD) shock absorbers exclusively manufactured by FOX for this model. They provide higher damping forces at extremes for unparalleled off-road capability, and lower damping forces in more moderate conditions for a smoother ride on-road. Front-wheel travel is increased by 32 percent, and rear travel by 22 percent compared to the standard Ranger.
The high-performance 2.5-inch (63.5mm) diameter dampers are supported by aluminium control arms, with protruding shock absorber towers at the front. A bespoke coil-over rear suspension arrangement features an integrated Watt’s linkage that allows the axle to move vertically with very little lateral movement. This enables it to tackle tough terrain at high speed while providing exceptional levels of control and comfort – thus delivering the best of both worlds.
Additionally, the braking system on the Ranger Raptor offers extreme stopping power through new and bespoke components. Front braking is performed by twin-piston front callipers, increased in piston diameter by more than 20 percent compared with the standard Ranger to 51mm, along with 332 x 32mm ventilated discs. Rear braking performance is also enhanced with 54mm diameter rear callipers and 332 x 24mm ventilated discs. The rear brakes include a separate brake actuation master cylinder and booster to increase braking performance.
In keeping with its outstanding off-road capabilities, the Ranger Raptor is equipped with an integrated heavy-duty tow bar with two heavy-duty recovery hooks. A pair of sturdy recovery hooks are provided at the front of the vehicle too, surrounded by a strong 2.3mm thick bash plate made of high-strength steel for enhanced underbody protection for components such as the radiator, power steering system, front cross member, engine sump and front differential.
To further underline its impressive off-road credentials, the Ranger Raptor’s Terrain Management System (TMS) includes an exciting Baja mode, inspired by Mexico’s famous Baja Desert Rally, which enables ultra-responsive, high-speed off-road performance. In this mode, vehicle systems like Traction Control are pared back to allow spirited off-road driving without intervention from the vehicle’s on-board systems. Gear selection is optimised to deliver maximum performance from the 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo diesel engine, and the mapping for the advanced 10-speed automatic transmission will hold gears longer and downshift more aggressively. The Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) is also linked to the TMS, providing varying levels of assistance and responsiveness according to the specific drive mode selected.
The interior of the Ranger Raptor reinforces the Ford Performance credibility. The sports seats are uniquely designed and trimmed in Technical Suede for maximum grip, providing optimum support during high-performance off-road driving, while also providing exceptional comfort when cruising in town. This is complemented by blue stitching and leather accents, as well as the aggressively styled instrument cluster with distinctive red needles for the dials that emphasise the race-bred credentials.
The steering wheel features perforated leather hand grip sections, paired with Raptor DNA lightweight magnesium paddle shifters for crisp gear changes. The Raptor logo is debossed into the spoke bezel of the leather-trimmed steering wheel, along with a motorsport-inspired red “on-centre” marker.
Ford in SACCS
Ford South Africa has a long and successful pedigree in local cross country racing, in partnership with Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM). This includes claiming the 2018 and 2019 Class T Production Vehicle titles with Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the V8-powered Ford Ranger, designed and manufactured by NWM – an official Ford Performance partner – at its facility in Pietermaritzburg.
For the 2021 season, the Ford Castrol NWM team competes in the premier FIA-class with an all-new Ranger, powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 petrol engine. Lance Woolridge and co-driver Elvéne Vonk claimed an exceptional debut victory for the new Ranger on its first outing at the Mpumalanga 400 in March.
A third-place finish at the 1 000km Desert Race in July places Woolridge and Vonk third in the FIA-class standings. Team-mates Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer, who were quickest in the Desert Race qualifying and Sunday’s first loop but lucked out of a podium result, are currently eighth in an extremely close battle with just 10 points separating fifth and 11th positions in the rankings.
Ford South Africa also supports the Ford NWM Development Team in the 2021 SACCS championship to increase diversity in motorsport. Bapi Rubuluza and Fanifani Meyiwa are competing in Class T in the championship-winning Ranger V8 to bring new competitors and fans into the series. Additionally, NWM supports four privateer Class T Ford Ranger teams. Malcolm and Frans Kock lead the championship after the Desert Race, with four Rangers in the top five places.
Next up are rounds 4 and 5 of the SACCS championship, the 4×4 Mega World 400, which will be based at Nampo Park in Bothaville, Free State, on 1 and 2 October 2021.
Published by: Charmaine Fortune
Photography by: Coline Mileman
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