The Past, Present and Future of the Ford F-150 Raptor

Mar. 19, 2009 By

Printed with permission from Dirt Sports Magazine from the 2009 January/February issue.

Ford Raptor

Ford SVT Vehicle Development Engineer Gene Martindale (above left) and STV Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi were two of the primary figures in the birthing of Ford radical 2010 F-150 Raptor and the race-bred Raptor R. With their success at SEMA and the Baja 1000, both men have every right to be smiling.

It was an early morning on opening day at the 2008 Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The Ford booth, always one of the finest at this massive November show, is buzzing with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for something big.

For the normally reserved Jamal Hameedi, Ford SVT chief engineer, the morning was nothing short of extraordinary for the assembled team – all anxiously milling about – that were responsible for what the world would officially see for the first time in just moments. Under silk wraps stood two silhouettes; one on the main stage and one on it own turntable that represented huge investments of time, talent and corporate vision.

Soon it was showtime, and the Ford suits made their obligatory speeches before pulling off the first cover. After months of innuendo, fuzzy spy photos and endless Internet speculation, there in a resplendent shade of orange stood SVT’s remarkable 2010 Ford F-150 Raptor, a purpose-built, high-performance off-road truck that was designed, in Ford’s words, to be “versatile enough to take on the most challenging desert adventures, as well as the everyday commute.”

Taking cues from its own desert racing past and with interest in off-road performance growing steadily, the F-150 SVT Raptor was designed to fulfill the desires of our highly demanding market. According to Hameedi and company, the high-performance off-road truck market is one that’s largely untapped, allowing the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor to become the first to set the bar for this type of unique vehicle.

In fact, the radical Raptor becoming a reality is quite remarkable. America’s cataclysmic crash in the last, dark quarter of 2008 may well evolve itself, perhaps sooner than later, into yet another costly lesson on the greed of modern capitalism. From the core of this country’s manufacturing base came word that the Big Three – General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – were also bleeding billions of dollars a month in losses. There was no massaging the fact that these were (and still are) desperate times in the automotive business, a trend that eventually became a world-wide crisis.

But, history shows that in times of extreme strife often emerge corporate entities that make bold statements that support an optimistic and brighter future. And with news of the latest market low or the closing of yet another banking institution whipping up a frothy media frenzy from CNN to TMZ, Ford Motor Company came to the 2008 SEMA show with a ballsy corporate objective that seemed squarely out of place when juxtaposed against all this doom and gloom.

Then, with a pull of the second silk cover, Ford dropped another bomb on the automotive and media world, they were going to depart from Las Vegas to Mexico and actually race one of their new trucks – dubbed the Raptor R – at the following week’s Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. The nerve.


Baja and the Big Blue Oval
Ford came to Baja to race what is arguably the coolest production truck ever built.

Desert off-road racing is something Ford knows and does well, as they came to Baja with eight championships in nine divisions in the 2007 Best In The Desert series and four more titles in CORR. Over history, Ford has also shown its leadership at the Baja 1000 race winning more overall four-wheel title than every other manufacturer.

Ford Raptor

With lots of experience at marathons like Vegas to Reno, Ford's combination of experienced driving, seasoned crews (including the BFG pit network) and plain hard work paid off in a surprising Class 8 podium at Baja.

Anyone with an appreciation of Baja race history knows that the earliest of pioneers took on that inaugural Mexican 1000 armed only with the most elementary of machines. They were race vehicle cobbled together from old Volkswagen beetles and old pick-up trucks. The Baja 1000 was the ultimate test of man and machine. But even in those distant days, Ford’s Blue oval was there. The company’s Baja legacy has roots back to legendary Bill Stroppe and the first generation Ford Bronco. Stroppe’s Bronco’s were driven by such famous names as James Garner, Rod Hall and Parnelli Jones.

By 1971, Stroppe, Jones and Ford changed the off-road landscape with their radical “Big Oly” Bronco. The radical creation not only won the 1971 and 1972 Mexican 1000s, but the golden Ford became the most famous off-road race car in history. The success of Stroppe’s operation eventually led to sly entrepreneur into building now highly-coveted Stroppe Broncos that not only resembled their racing counterparts, but were available via the Ford dealership network beginning in 1971. 

Over the past 40 years, the sport of off-road racing has seen the rapid rises of speed, technology and fun, and Ford has always been there. Robby Gordon started his truck career behind the wheel of a highly modified 1966 Ford stepside. By 1996, Gordon and Ford were unbeatable, winning races and the season championship. Ford’s legacy in off-road truck racing continues today, with Mark Post and Rob MacCachren winning the 40th anniversary Baja 1000 and SCORE championship in 2007. 

Armed with this heritage and know-how, Cliff Irey of Ford Racing worked with long-time stock full truck team owner Greg Foutz to prepare a racing version of the production Raptor in time for the 2008 Baja 1000. It would be a joint collaboration between the Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT), Ford Racing, and Foutz Motorsports. The new vehicle was to be dubbed the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor R (for race). Prepared for racing in long distance off-road endurance events, the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor R used stock components of F-150 SVT Raptor, including the transmission and brakes. The frame – the part of the truck that will take the most stress – is the same proven fully boxed frame that comes in the base F-150. The race truck is powered by a specially calibrated 500 horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 engine, but was outfitted with beefier front arms, specially made Fox Shox, and of course, all the required safety equipment.

“Ford’s commitment to using racing as a test bed for new technologies is expanding to the off-road arena with the F-150 SVT Raptor R,” said Brian Wolfe, Ford Racing Technology director. “Racing the new truck in the elite Baja 1000 was the ultimate off-road test and allowed Ford to evaluate how well the F-150 SVT Raptor would hold up under the most unique and extreme conditions.”

 “The race truck has even more suspension travel, better approach and departure angles, more horsepower, more ground clearance, and full racing specification seats, safety cage and harnesses, all of which combine to make an even faster, more visceral off-road experience,” added Hameedi.

Ford Raptor

By design, the visual difference between the production Raptor and the Raptor R that raced in Baja is minimal, right down to the broad-shouldered body work and the project’s now familiar orange-and-black paint scheme.

To help things along Ford brought some of the best stock class off-road truck drivers together to drive the F-150 SVT Raptor R in the Baja 1000, including their “A-list” guys like Steve Olliges, Randy Merritt and Greg Foutz. Also making yet another appearance in Baja was Speed television producer Bud Brutsman, who joined SVT Vehicle Development Engineer Gene Martindale. Like last year’s effort in Chasing Baja, one must guest that via Brutsman, television viewers will get to enjoy a future documentary on the trails and tribulations of trying to take a brand new, production-based truck to motorsport’s ultimate test.


A Raptor R in Your Future?
The Ford Raptor R competed in SCORE’s Class 8, which is normally reserved for highly modified race vehicles that sit just a tick below Trophy-Trucks. Thanks to a Herculean effort by all of the drivers, crew and a block of Ford personnel (many coming to a desert racing for the very first time), the team managed to bring the big orange Ford home in third place with a total time of 25:28:10. Only minor difficulties were encountered, such as a flat tire and a broken leaf spring eye (in an aftermarket spring, as Ford was quick to point out). Ford was even happier to report that Raptor parts, including the new engine, ran without issue.

"This was very exciting for all involved,” said Jamie Allison, Sales and Marketing Manager, Ford Racing. “Even with the extreme capability of the F-150 SVT Raptor right out of the box, we know our customers will want to take its performance to an even higher level. This race truck will be invaluable to Ford Racing as we examine what performance parts we’ll be able to offer customers for the production Raptor.”

In conjunction with Ford Racing and Ford STV, Foutz Motorsports built a working racer based on a prototype production truck. That was a challenge, but the resulting Raptor “R” commanded attention throughout the Baja 1000 race week.

All this begs the question: Could there be a factory program of client-raced Raptor R’s in the future? Perhaps so. “Raptor R is a natural SVT extension of the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor,” said Hameedi. “It’s very analogous to what a race prepped Cobra R was to an SVT Cobra or what a Mustang FR500C is to a Mustang GT.”

Or, more directly from a post-race press release: “The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor R in the Baja 1000 also served as a test bed for the development of a lineup of race-proven, desert-tested, off-road performance parts that will be available through the Ford Racing catalog.”

Finally, rumors have been circulating that say Ford SVT may well be producing a limited production run of Raptor R’s for sale as finished trucks for those wanting to compete or just desiring the ultimate factory off-road truck. They may not be cheap, but, thanks to an top notch effort by Ford in Mexico, at least it will be truly Baja proven. Newsletter
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