Long Form

Riding right seat in the Bronco R in Baja shows the prototype truck's good and bad side

Legendary off-road racer Sue Mead went to Mexico and brought back this story about what it's like to ride in the Bronco R.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Professional racer Brad Lovell throttled the Bronco R out of the dirt parking lot at El Rancho Taqueria in Valle de la Trinidad, Baja California ahead of the SCORE Baja 1000. The synapses in my brain instantly lit a bank of grey-matter cylinders that were experiencing a rush of adrenaline. As the Bronco's turbo punched air through the Ford motor, an alluring and seductive exhaust note filled the soft desert air. It was the type of a serenade that's worshipped by those who are wired for racing.

This whistle stop village, situated in a broad valley with nearby access to some of the toughest off-road trails used in Baja racing, is home to approximately six dozen inhabitants. It is cherished by off-roaders and dirt racers for its Pemex fuel station and muy delicioso tacos.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead suits up before her ride in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A small corps of Ford Performance team members, along with a cadre of engineers from Geiser Brothers off-road racing had descended on the town with the mission of putting some on-and off-road miles on Ford's prototype truck.

Visible to the naked eye was a body designed to tease the looks of the upcoming street-legal Bronco, with cues that harkened to the original icon. It was punctuated by a color scheme and a "2069" badge that reflected Rod Hall's legendary 1969 Baja 1000 win in a Bronco; the number honored Hall and reflected the class the Bronco R would compete in the next day. The shell rode on top of a purpose-built, roll-caged race truck, with a stock motor, transmission, transfer case and front differential; the "race rear end" and other add-ons were not from the Ford stables.

Ford confirmed that the engine and transmission in the Bronco R are the same components that will be in the 2021 Ford Bronco.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead met up with the Bronco R race team in Valle de la Trinidad.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Earlier in the week, the "R" had been experiencing issues with its added-on race bits. Its first high-speed pre-run earlier in "Valle de T" had illuminated the need for more time and testing. All involved knew those were a limited commodity but, as the long, mud-splattered hood was removed, tools were placed at-the-ready and a team of experts filled every available orifice the Bronco R has to fix its teething troubles.

Electrical wiring was replaced in an effort to remediate issues with fuses and the cooling system of the race vehicle that was developed in skunkworks only five months before-- and had only been driven approximately the same number of miles in testing as the grueling race was long.

As the Bronco R roared back to life, I donned a race suit, helmet, HANS device, and gloves, and slipped sideways through the webbed window. Lovell, one of the world's top racers and fabricators with multiple Baja 1000 wins sat in the driver's seat while I took my spot up front.

Tapped to be on Ford's seven-person Dream Team of notable off-road racers for the '19 Baja 1000, Lovell started our ride along Baja California's Rt.3, in the northwestern quadrant of this Mexican state. "The ride is really smooth," I hollered into the mic, as cactus, yucca, and desert scrub blurred along the roadside. Lovell picked up the pace. "It is smooth and handles really well," he responded.

The other seat in the cabin is a single back seat that is bolted in. During races, that seat is generally reserved for engineers and this ride along was no exception. Its occupant was Brian Novak, Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor. The reserved-but-amiable mechanical engineer has an impressive CV as a track racer and heads up Ford's Le Mans, NASCAR, and Virgin Australia Supercars Racing programs.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead hops into the Bronco R for her 100-mile ride.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

During the ride, his job was to monitor telemetry and, like a parent of a child with a cough and running a high fever, Novak was watchful and concerned. It was less than 24 hours before the green flag would wave at the start of the 2019 Baja 1000 in Ensenada and thousands of eyeballs in Mexico and around the world would be on the Bronco R.

I settled in for the ride in my side-hugging Recarco race saddle. Crisp air blew in through the open windshield and buffeted the world around me. Having raced 30,000 off-road miles around the globe over the last few decades, I felt instantly at home, although mesmerized by the Star-Wars-like bank of controls, gauges, digital readouts, and graphics.

As we turned onto a dirt track to run the truck along a section of race course with undulating terrain, snaking turns, and mud troughs, I noted that Lovell's hands stayed steady and quiet on the wheel. "You're right," said Lovell. "The steering is tight and a bit heavy, which works well."

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead rides right side in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Lovell alternated between letting the intelligent transmission up-and down-shift on its own merit and using the paddles to motivate the truck, pointing out that both fulfilled their assigned function. Most impressive, to me was that the Bronco's Fox suspension seemed perfectly calibrated to allow the 'R' to float, when needed, and collect the reins for straight-line, steady and buttoned-up motoring, when required.

By the time we crested the mountain ridge that led into Ensenada, the lights of this seaside city, known as La Cenicienta del Pacifico (Cinderella of the Pacific), filled the night sky with a glistening yellow glow.

Nearly one hundred miles in, I was impressed with the Bronco R, but noted that the team spent the last 40 minutes of the drive frequently instructing me to push an override switch control, as an ominous red warning light illuminated the dark.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead's ride revealed the good and bad of the Bronco R's engineering and design.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As we pulled it into the make-shift workshop behind the La Pinta hotel, where a team was waiting to apply fixes and address the overheating issues, I knew the next Bronco chapter is still in outline form, awaiting its instructions to become a true work of art.

This new race horse in the Ford stable had an extraordinarily qualified team of trainers, racers, and support staff. After that initial ride, I thought that the Bronco R had a good chance to complete the world's most arduous challenge over the dirt, sand, mud, mountains, dry lake beds, washes and boulders that make up the Baja 1000. I also thought: this is a colt that might need more time.

Baja 1000 Race Results

Following a 24-hour weather delay, 264 vehicles left the start line early Saturday morning with racers from 39 U.S. states and 22 countries.

After issues with a broken skid plate that wreaked havoc with some underbelly parts, a damaged front suspension, and overheating issues, the Ford pulled the plug at Race Mile 580, as the truck was on track to enter a remote and rigorous stage of the race, where it would have been nearly impossible to get support to the onboard crew.

From there, the Bronco R was able to be driven on paved roads to the finish line in Ensenada, where the team celebrated its efforts and Ford formally announced its sponsorship of SCORE racing for the next three years.

"The Ford production parts performed flawlessly; where we have an opportunity to improve is in the fabricated parts that allowed us to race in an event like the '1000 –to show the rugged capability of our trucks," said Novak. "We will be back."

When the course closed at 11:27:28 p.m. PT on Sunday, there were 145 official finishers for a 54.92 finishing percentage, especially good considering the difficulty of the race course.

Ford has teamed up with Microsoft to study traffic congestion.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Computers are everywhere. We wear them on our wrists, carry them in our pockets, and rely on them to function in a modern world. As computing evolves, automakers like Ford are using high-level technology to work to solve everyday problems.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker has partnered with Microsoft to simulate the impact thousands of vehicles traveling has on congestion. They're early in to the project, still developing the quantum computing aspects of the project, which will take the problems of today and scale them to predict the problems of tomorrow. Then, the two companies will use the information to dive deeper into possible solutions to those problems.

"Quantum computing has the potential to transform the auto industry and the way we move," said Julie Love, senior director of quantum computing business development, Microsoft. "To do that we need to have a deep understanding of the problems that companies like Ford want to solve, which is why collaborations like these are so important."

When rush hour happens and congestion picks up, it's not uncommon for drivers to use various apps to change their route using traffic apps like Waze. However, these apps often route drivers the same way, creating congestion on side streets. Ideally, new computing would work to balance those routes to allow the least amount of congestion possible on all streets.

Dr. Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer, Ford Motor Company described the problem and possible solution in a recent post on Medium.

Simply put, it's not feasible to have traditional computers find the optimal solution from a huge number of possible route assignments in a timely manner. That's where quantum computing can help. Essentially, existing digital computers translate information into either a 1 or a 0, otherwise known as a bit. But in a quantum computer, information can be processed by a quantum bit (or a qubit) that can simultaneously exist in two different states before it gets measured. Upon measurement, however, either a 1 or a 0 appears randomly and the probability for each is governed by a set of rules called quantum mechanics.

This ultimately enables a quantum computer to process information with a faster speed. Attempts to simulate some specific features of a quantum computer on non-quantum hardware have led to quantum-inspired technology — powerful algorithms that mimic certain quantum behaviors and run on specialized conventional hardware. That enables organizations to start realizing some benefits before fully-scaled quantum hardware becomes available.

The partnership between Microsoft and Ford started in 2018 to specifically focus on reducing traffic congestion in Seattle, a city undergoing tremendous rapid growth that is confined in its footprint by waterways and mountains.

The collaboration tested numerous scenarios in their efforts to solve Seattle's traffic congestion, with as many as 5,000 vehicles. Each vehicle in the scenario had 10 different route choices. In 20 seconds, computing software weighed each of those suggestions and delivered a route that resulted in a 73 percent improvement in total congestion compared to traditional route suggestion methods. The result was an eight percent drop in the time of the commute.

Ford remains hopeful that future advances in quantum computing will further the company's mission to work to reduce congestion.

In November, Tesla introduced the Cybertruck.

Photo courtesy of Tesla

Tesla showed off its new Cybertruck ahead of the L.A. Auto Show in November and reaction was mixed (to put it lightly). Consumer sentiment regarding the promise of all-electric trucks from Ford and General Motors has been better received, at least if you use social media as a gauge.

Today, no EVs for sale in the U.S. are trucks, though buyers can put a deposit down on a Cybertruck and a Rivian R1T. An exact timeline for an electric F-150 has yet to be publicly announced. Earlier this year, General Motors announced its electric pickup will go on sale in 2021.

2019 Ford Electric F-150 pickup Ford showed off the capability of an electric truck this year, but it's not the Ford electric truck.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Which company would customers rather buy their electric truck from? Autolist surveyed roughly 1,100 current car shoppers in late November and early December and asked them for their thoughts on the upcoming trucks from Ford, GM, Tesla, and Rivian.

Assuming they all had similar specs and features, GM was the top choice, garnering 29 percent of the vote. Ford got 27 percent while Rivian had 24 percent and Tesla nabbed 20 percent.

"Frankly, these results are good for all four brands," said Chase Disher, analyst at Autolist.com. "It shows that Ford and GM can leverage their considerable -- and existing -- truck followings to boost interest in their EV models. Meanwhile, it shows that Tesla and Rivian could be poised to grab a meaningful share of a crucial new growth segment."

While pickups remain the top-selling vehicle segment in the U.S., there is some indication that an electric pickup would bring new buyers into the segment. Of those surveyed, 50 percent said that they had never owned a truck while 49 percent had. Of those that had never owned a truck before, many considered the Tesla Cybertruck as their top choice with 25.8 percent of the vote. The Rivian R1T (24.8 percent), Ford F-150 Electric (24.7 percent), and GM Electric truck (24.7) followed.

Among those that had owned a truck before, GM was the most popular option with 35 percent of the tally while Ford earned 28 percent, Rivian had 23 percent, and Tesla got 14 percent.