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.

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Ford just announced specs for the new hardcore off-roader.

Ford

After years of speculation over the Bronco's return, Ford finally pushed the revived SUV to market last year. The rumor mill immediately kicked back into action with speculation of a higher-powered Raptor version of the Bronco to match Ford's F-150 Raptor here in the U.S. We've seen teases and a short film on the SUV, but today, The Blue Oval announced specs for what will surely be a highly desirable new vehicle in 2022 and beyond.

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor The Bronco Raptor gets upgraded cooling and engine tuning to handle high-temperature operation.Ford

The Bronco Raptor gets an exclusive twin-turbo 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 that makes 400 horsepower, which is a big improvement over the standard SUV's V6 that makes an already healthy 330 horsepower. Four-wheel drive and a ten-speed automatic gearbox are standard. Ford says the Raptor also comes with a new towing mode that allows a max tow rating of 4,500 pounds - a 1,000-pound improvement over the base Bronco. Trail Control, trail Turn Assist, and Trail One-Pedal driving are also present here.

The Raptor gets seven of the standard Bronco's G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) driving modes, including a new Baja Mode that works with the engine's turbo system to reduce lag and improve performance during high-speed runs in desert temperatures. An active exhaust allows four selectable sound modes, including normal, sport, quiet, and Baja, and the Raptor's intercooler helps keep operating temperatures at reasonable levels when running in hot weather.

Using the Bronco's modular design, Ford gave the Raptor unique front and rear quarter panels, fender flares, and door appliqués. The new body components add 9.8 inches to the Raptor's width, and removable running boards help improve rock crawling abilities. Model-exclusive amber LED running lights accent the Raptor's front end, and Raptor logos set the hardcore model apart from its "lesser" counterpart.

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor Amber LEDs and special badging designate the much-upgraded Raptor model.Ford

Inside, the Bronco Raptor gets a 12-inch digital gauge cluster with configurable view for vehicle performance and other information. Black marine-grade vinyl seats and rubberized flooring are standard. Orange accents on the dash vents, door netting, and steering wheel help break up the all-black interior, and Ford offers a synthetic suede upholstery upgrade for buyers wanting a little more comfort with their capable off-roader. A 12-inch infotainment touchscreen and 360-degree camera system are also standard.

Bronco Raptor hopefuls can start placing orders in March, but be aware that there will be a wait involved for everyone. Ford says that the majority of 2022 Bronco Raptors will go to existing reservation holders based on their reservation timestamp. It's worth noting that many 2021 Bronco buyers are still waiting for the SUVs, which are being converted into 2022 orders, so the wait time for the Raptor could be severe for anyone without a standing reservation.

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Off-road performance truck

Shelby American announces new Ford F-150 Raptor

Shelby just announced the new truck, which has a starting price of more than $124,000.

Shelby American

The third-generation Ford F-150 Raptor is a true off-road menace, with a strong turbocharged V6, beefy tires and shocks, and a luxury-level interior. Most people would consider the truck overkill for all but the hardest-core off-road enthusiasts, but the wizards at Shelby American have other ideas. As it has done with Ford vehicles for years, Shelby gave the new Raptor a performance makeover, and the finished product is quite impressive.

Shelby F-150 Raptor There's no mistaking a Shelby-tuned Raptor. Shelby American

The F-150 Raptor is already a capable beast, but Shelby turns things up a few notches. Performance upgrades include a performance intake and high-flow filter, an aluminum intercooler, a tune that pushes power to more than 525 ponies and 610 pound-feet of torque, a Shelby exhaust, and a BDS lift kit. The Shelby Raptor rides on 18-inch wheels with 37-inch BFG KM3 Mud Terrain tires.

If you’re thinking Shelby slaps a few go-fast parts on the Raptor and calls it good, think again. The truck’s interior features embroidered custom leather upholstery and exclusive floor mats. A unique serial number plate is mounted in the dash. Shelby also fits billet racing pedals, carbon fiber accents, and deep tinted windows.

Outside, the Raptor gest several touches to let everyone know it’s not a standard Ford. A special Shelby hood with intake and extraction vents is standard, along with power side steps with rock sliders. A bevy of Shelby logos and badging grace the truck’s body, and both bumpers have been replaced with steel units to accommodate light bars and additional tow points.

Shelby F-150 Raptor Shelby fits performance parts and gives the truck a tune.Shelby American

If you’re hoping to be one of the insane few to own a Shelby Raptor, get your wallet ready. The truck’s base price starts at $124,820, which includes the MSRP of the truck itself. That said, it’s unclear how extreme demand and supply chain issues will impact Shelby’s ability to get new trucks to modify.

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