The Ford Castrol Cross Country Team will debut the highly anticipated, all-new FIA-class Ranger later this year in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS).
Announced to the world in February 2020 and due to make its highly anticipated debut in the second half of the season, the brand-new cross country racing bakkie is designed by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), and will elevate the team to the highest level of the sport locally in the domestic series, as well as internationally.
It will be the first vehicle in the world to compete under the FIA’s new regulations adopted early this year for turbocharged petrol engines.
It is in the process of being built at the NWM team’s workshop in Pietermaritzburg – although the build is currently on hold due to the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
With support from some of the team’s key international partners, the new contender is based on a completely new in-house design, optimised for the best possible weight distribution and performance.
“Designing and developing an all-new vehicle from the ground up enables us to use the latest technologies and components, while incorporating the valuable experience we gained in the production and constant evolution of the 25 current-generation Ford Ranger V8s we have built over the past seven years,” says Neil Woolridge, NWM team principal.
“Our team has spent more than eight intense months designing every aspect of the new vehicle, which is an exceptional achievement to produce a clean-sheet design. We’re excited to see the first vehicle coming to life, and can’t wait to finish it and start testing,” Woolridge adds.
Bigger and bolder
Although the styling of the new Ranger continues to bear clear lineage to the standard version, the latest design is wider, bolder and much more aggressive than the current V8-powered racing machine. It has also been developed to match the broader chassis and suspension layout.
The body panels are made of carbon fibre for reduced weight and strength. A unique ‘gullwing’ design has been adopted for the doors, which give the driver and co-driver access to a larger and more spacious cabin, which is also decked out in full carbon fibre.
Behind the crew, where the rear seats would be found in a normal Ranger double cab, is a specially designed 480-litre fuel cell produced by Aero Tec Laboratories in the UK – the same company that has supplied all Formula 1 teams for the past 25 years.
Although the tank won’t be filled to capacity on domestic races, it is designed to carry enough fuel for long-distance endurance stages that are typical of events like the Dakar Rally.
Air-conditioning is provided for the crew, which helps limit fatigue as the cabin temperature can easily soar well above 50-degrees Celsius when racing in hot climates.
A heated windscreen is also fitted to eliminate misting up in colder temperatures, or when driving through water crossings.
Twin turbo V6 power
One of the fundamental changes to the bakkie is its exciting new engine. The new-generation vehicle will be powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine.
This is the same engine used in the legendary F-150 Raptor and GT supercar models in the US. In this application, it relies on fully programmable MOTEC electronic engine management, along with twin air filters with dual intercoolers.
The positioning of the engine has also changed significantly in the new design. Where the Mustang-derived 5.0-litre V8 engine used in the current vehicle is located in a traditional front-mounted layout, the 3.5 EcoBoost V6 is mid-mounted well behind the front axle.
“By moving the engine back we achieve far better weight distribution, which will dramatically improve the balance and handling of the vehicle, particularly over rough terrain and jumps.
“The compact dimensions of the V6 engine has enabled us to optimise the layout even further than what would have been possible with the larger V8, and it’s also lighter which helps us reduce the overall weight of the new vehicle by 150kg,” Woolridge explains.
Despite its smaller size and capacity, the EcoBoost V6 is credited with some impressive numbers. It delivers over 300kW and 700Nm.
There’s also a brand new SADEV SC924 Evo six-speed sequential gearbox thrown in the mix. Compared to the existing transmission, the new unit is 10kg lighter, much more compact and uses a lot less oil. It is also designed to be much easier and faster to change during a service stop, if required.
The Ranger is permanent four-wheel drive with limited-slip differentials front and rear to help effectively put the power down.
It relies on latest-generation fully adjustable BOS Suspension dampers and springs – which at this stage are exclusively available to NWM. With two units mounted on each corner, it provides an impressive 280mm of travel to soak up the harshest terrain.
The new suspension components and IRS will give the new Ranger much better traction in rough and undulating surfaces, which ultimately translates into faster speeds. And, to curtail those speeds, the vehicle relies on high-performance race-spec Brembo brakes with six-piston callipers all round, incorporating water cooling to effectively dissipate heat build-up.
Along with the advanced suspension components, BOS also supplies the hydraulic jack system that is only permitted in the premier FIA category.
This bodes well for an exciting 2020 season, when racing eventually resumes. Due to the coronavirus lockdown, several races have been cancelled or postponed, and the SACCS is working on a revised calendar for the remainder of this year’s championship in line with government health regulations.