Ford Performance’s Key Motorsport Moments

The birth of the Ford Motor Company came about when its founder Henry Ford won his first and last ever race. This clearly suggests that racing is in the company’s DNA. 

Ford’s win in 1901 over Alexander Winton, who was considered America’s greatest racer, brought about the interest of investors who were inspired by his ability to engineer and build a car that could be much more exceptional than his experienced competition. The year 1903 is when Ford officially founded his company and his dream to manufacture automobiles on a mass-scale was born. 

From birth, Ford Motor Company has used racing as a platform to prove that their products and technologies could compete against some of the best and experienced in the world. The last official count of Ford’s accomplishments stands at 176 Formula One, 676 NASCAR, 91 World Rally and 330 V8 Supercar wins, not to mention many other countless victories and podium finishes at grass roots, national and international racing levels. 

Ford and the Making of the NASCAR Mustang

The Ford Motor Company has been associated with NASCAR for a very lengthy period. The very first NASCAR race at Daytona Beach and Road Course in 1948 was won by a Ford, which was piloted by Red Byron and run by Raymond Parks. The following year in June 1949 at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina , Jim Roper won the first Strictly Stock Division race which was a category that later would become the premier NASCAR Cup series. Roper right out of the showroom drove a Lincoln, which was Ford’s premium brand, to the Charlotte Speedway where he claimed the famous victory. 

In 2018, Ford announced that in the 2019 season, their Mustang would compete for the first time at NASCAR’s highest level. Although having being racing from 1964, it was only in 2019 when they competed in the highest level of NASCAR. 

Ford at Le Mans

At the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Ford achieved a great accomplishment where they finished the race in first, second and third in the same race with the iconic GT40. This great feat has been described the company’s executive, Bill Ford as “the defining moment in Ford’s racing history“. Fifty years later, Ford made their return to France for the Le Mans race with the Ford GT to attempt walking away with the victory again. 

The Ford Escort

The Ford Escort is an iconic vehicle, which is loved by motorsport enthusiasts all over the world. This is mainly thanks to its association with rallying and the likes of Bjorn Waldegard, Ari Vatanen, Roger Clark, Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Marcus Gronholm and Mohammed Ben Sulayem.In South African motorsport, the Escort’s rallying legacy is just as successful in the hands of legends; Sarel van der Merwe and co-pilot Franz Boshoff. From 1979 to 1982, the Escort Mk2 BDA achieved a consecutive championship-winning streak. In 1992 and 1993, Sarel almost claimed championship glory in an all-wheel-drive Ford Laser. This vehicle finished as runner-up in these two seasons however, it had won a significant amount of races. Enzo Kuun, a young South African rally superstar who went on to win multiple championships has the Ford Laser to thank for opening doors for him. 

Ford and the World Rally Championship

M-Sport, Ford’s partners in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), celebrated its 250th consecutive points finish in January 2020. The record started in 2002 with Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae. Since then, 22 drivers and 28 co-drivers have contributed to the accomplishment, which consists of 7 world titles, 50 victories and 185 podiums. 

Ford Mondeo in SA Touring Cars

In the early 1990s, the AA Fleetcare Series and Touring Car Championship were often considered the high-water mark South African circuit racing. This Series attracted international drivers and custom machinery and this gave credibility to the phrase which states ‘Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday‘. Back behind the wheel of a Mondeo was Sorel van de Merwe, teaming up with Steve Wyndham and then later with Ben Morgen rood. In 1994 at the International Touring Car Championship, which was held at Kyalami, is where international driver flavour was added by New Zealand born Paul Radish and British born Kelvin Burt. 

Ford Mustang wins Australian Supercars

During the 2019 Australian Supercars Championship, Kiwi-driver Scott McLaughlin dominated in his DJR Team Penske Racing Mustang. Out of the 36 races in the season, McLaughlin won 18 of the races, including the infamous Bathurst 1000, which gave the Mustang its maiden championship. 

Ford Sierra XR8 a homegrown hero

Ford’s Motorsport department developed the Sierra XR8 locally by using the Mustang’s existing carburettor-fed 5.0-litre V8 engine. Roughly 200 production versions needed to be built in order for the Sierra to qualify for the rules of the championship. Just like that, the fastest production Sierra in the world was instantly born here in South Africa in the 1980s. John Gibb and Serge Damseaux raced the XR8 in the 1985 Group 1 Championship. Later, Willie Hepburn raced a wilder version, which was known as “The Animal” in the Modified Saloons Series. 

Ford and Ken Block

Ken Block is well known for his flamboyant driving and adventurers with his highly modified rally as well as rallycross Ford vehicles which consist of Fiesta’s and Focus’s. He also has in his fleet a 1965 Mustang, which is the only four-wheel-drive version in the world. All his exploits have made a YouTube superstar. With amazing showcases, Block’s commitment to providing the best entertainment to his fans is unmatched. Filmed at the infamous Pike’s Peak Hillclimb Course, Block’s Climbkhana video was one of the best ever performance driving to be produced and this video received a lot of love from fans, with over 27 million views on YouTube. 

Block’s impressive collection of modified Ford’s includes a very memorable RS2000 from the legendary Group B era of rally. The collection also consists of the iconic Escort Cosworth that is modernized which Block uses to compete in rallies worldwide. Lastly is a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6-powered F-150 Hoonitruck, which produces 680kW that Block used to race for Climbkhana Two in China at Tianmen Mountain. 

Ford Capri Perana with secret SA sauce

Basil Green, who is a Johannesburg Businessman and SA Hall of Fame inductee, is synonymous with modifying Ford’s, so much so that his work was so excellent to be approved and sold through Ford dealerships around the country with a full factory warranty. Out of all of his creations, one was truly special, the Ford Capri Perana V8. This was South Africa’s fastest locally produced road car and in the 1960s and 1970s, it was unbeatable on a racetrack. 

Raced locally by Bobby Olthoff in the Group 5 category with its distinctive orange Gunston livery, the Perana V8 won 13 of the 14 races in the season of 1970. The Perana V8 was capable of over 270km/h on the old Kyalami circuit’s long main straight, thanks to its lightweight V8 from the Mustang. The Perana V8 also topped the saloon car lap records at every single track in South Africa. Basil Green Motors built roughly 500 Peranas and because of their rarity, their value has catapulted both locally as well as abroad. Basil Green Motors also produced a variety of other fast Ford’s from their model range, namely: the Escort and Cortina. 

Ranger tops South African Cross Country Series

The Ford Ranger powered by a V8 has been leading the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) for a number of years. Its first win was in 2013 on its debut with a young Lance Woolridge at the wheel, co-piloted by Ward Huxtable. Over the years, the pair have won numerous race victories, with them peaking at scoring back-to-back Class T Production Vehicle titles in 2018 and 2019 for the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team. The team, which is run by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), won six out of the seven races in a season in Class T in 2019. This included a magnificent overall victory in Heat 2 of the Toyota 1000 Botswana Desert Race. Earlier in 2020, an announcement was made that the team would campaign the race-prepared Ford Ranger in the premier FIA-class of the SACCS. NWM, with its current V8-powered Ford Ranger, made the jump to the top-tier. However, an all-new Ranger is currently being built. This Ranger, which is powered by a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 petrol engine, is due to make its debut in the second half of the year. 

Sarel and the ‘Stang

Early in the 1990s, Sarel joined forces with Ford South Africa’s most powerful and loosely regulated era of Wesbank Modifieds. In order to attain a competitive car, they contacted Jack Rousch who was campaigning a Ford Mustang in IMSA and NASCAR in the USA and even winning the IMSA GT Championship in 1993. Sarel remembers in his book Supervan and I, buying the car for what he describes is a bargain at R500 000. The ‘Stang made its arrival in Port Elizabeth for the final round of the championship in 1993 and in 1994, the Mustang producing 450kW from its 6.0-litre V8 and spaceframe chassis, and with Sarel at the wheel, the championship was won. This was only the beginning of Sarel’s great relationship with the ‘Stang. Sarel raced the Mustang alongside the late and great Gugu Zulu as a mentorship programme in 2000 and 2001. As Gugu Zulu adapted to the raw power of the V8-powered Mustang, Sarel picked up the championship silverware in both years. For the inaugural 2009 Simola Hillclimb event, Sarel re-emerged from retirement in a Mustang, at the wheel of a silhouetted wide-body ‘Stang which was produced by Owen Ashley. The Mustang showcased much agility and carried speed on the narrow 1.9km long course and was even unbeatable with ‘Supervan’ at the wheel, taking the overall victory on the debut. 

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