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.

Trending News

Nuts & Bolts

 
 

A new ad puts DJ D-Nice in the driver's seat of a 2021 Ford F-150.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A new ad campaign from Ford Motor Company taps into a bit of hip hop history for its latest TV spot promoting the 2021 Ford F-150. The commercial features Derrick Jones, better known by his stage name D-Nice, a legendary music artist, producer and DJ in its main role.

Jones's history doesn't go as far back as Ford's, but there's some notable entries that fans of pre-Diddy hip hop will look fondly on. The Harlem and Bronx native formed Boogie Down Productions in 1986. He soon signed a deal with Jive Records and his debut record featured collaborations by KRS-One, Naughty by Nature, and Too Short.

In the late 90s and early 2000s Jones transferring out of the music world, forming a creative services company. In March 2020, Jones began hosting "Homeschool at Club Quarantine" on Instagram Live. He won a Webby Award for the effort.

The All-New 2021 F-150: Work It Out | Ford (:30) www.youtube.com

"The 'More Than Tough' campaign recognizes and celebrates the spirit of American ingenuity," said Dibrie Guerrero, multicultural marketing manager, Ford Motor Company. "By developing many innovative features to accommodate the diverse needs of its F-150 owners, Ford elevates what's possible with a little creativity and the right pickup truck."

The "Work It Out" 3-second television spot airs today on OWN, BET and TV One. It features Jones driving to a gig in a 2021 F-150 filled with DJ equipment. Respecting social distancing rules and his responsibilities toward masking up, D-Nice brings the party to the partygoers, utilizing the F-150's available Pro Power Onboard generator to run his equipment.

The ad runs with the hip-hop classic "Call Me D-Nice" serving as the soundtrack.

"Being tough has new meaning to me after partying in Club Quarantine with some of the strongest people I have ever met," said D-Nice. "I'm proud to help introduce the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 that they built tougher to take your hustle to the next level."

The new F-150 has unique features including a fold-out work self, fold-down shifter, tailgate with designated clamp-down areas, and the on-board generator.

Trending News

 
 

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E came up with a trophy at the annual NACTOY awards.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While it's an honor just to be nominated as a finalist, three vehicles stood out to the jurors of the North American Car, Truck, and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) awards. All NACTOY nominees are vehicles that have either been introduced for the 2021 model year or undergone a significant redesign.

Ford and Hyundai earned top honors with the Ford F-150 earning the North American Truck of the Year award, Ford Mustang Mach-E taking the North American SUV of the Year trophy, and the Hyundai Elantra getting the North American Car of the Year nod.

2021 North American Car of the Year: Hyundai Elantra

2021 Hyundai Elantra

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai has redesigned the Hyundai Elantra for the 2021 model year taking it from a passive daily driver to an engaging small car with a lot of zip, especially in the Elantra N model where it gets a standard manual transmission and tuning to make it a sleeper. It also has a boatload of high-tech features that make it punch far above its price tag, which starts under $20,000.

2021 North American Truck of the Year: Ford F-150

2021 Ford F-150 Tremor Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford didn't just redesign its F-150, it listened to its customers and made it better for them. Sure, that seems simple enough but while they may get accused of not going far enough, NACTOY jurors appear to have recognized how innovative the redesign is for the average F-150 customer. On-board generator? Check. Collapsable shifter? Check. Fold out work station for the driver? Check. Clamp zones in the tailgate? Check.

Ford recently made news saying that the F-150 will be the latest model that is available with the Tremor off-roading package.

2021 North American SUV of the Year: Ford Mustang Mach-E

2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Ford Mustang Mach-E is the first all-electric crossover the company has offered and Ford is aiming to do it 100 percent right the first time. Like other electric SUVs, the Mustang Mach-E comes in a variety of battery range levels. Ford is pairing those with options for all-wheel drive and premium appointments, treating the Mustang Mach-E more as a traditional vehicle than an electric outlier.

Ford recently announced a new Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition will be added for the 2022 model year.

Trending News