What went wrong with the Ford Bronco R prototype at the Baja 1000

Jonathon Ramsey
Autoblog



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There were two entries in Class 2 for the 2019 Baja 1000 – which was actually 800.5 miles long – the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus Boot and the Ford Bronco R Prototype. Only the former crossed the line, the second-to-last vehicle of the 145 finishers, doing so just 47 seconds before the 34-hour time cutoff. The Bronco endured a wild bunch of issues in a wild edition of the Baja race, as a piece on Trucks.com explains. The site had a journo embedded in a chase truck, watching firsthand as a skunkworks project built in five months tried to celebrate the Broco's 1969 win with a 50th anniversary victory.

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Part of the issue was how little time was afforded the team behind the truck. Starting in June this year, engineers with Ford Performance set up shop with Trophy Truck builders Geiser Bros Design & Development and 2018 Baja 1000 overall winner Cameron Steele to create the Bronco R Prototype. Ford said the powertrain was stock, including the EcoBoost engine, the paddle-shifted automatic transmission, transfer case, and front differential. Specialist equipment included the modified Ford T6 BOF chassis, independent suspension with custom Fox shocks providing 14 inches of travel in front, 18 inches in back through a "production-based five-link" rear unit, rear differential, race exhaust, 70-gallon fuel cell, 17-inch beadlock wheels on 37-inch tires, and the limited 105-mile-per-hour top speed.

Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor Brian Novak told Trucks.com, “The Ford production parts performed flawlessly.” Those parts apparently didn't include electrical wiring, fuses, or cooling, all of which endured problems during pre-running.

What also didn't perform flawlessly was the weather. Three days of downpours before the race dropped four inches of water, forcing organizers to postpone the start for 24 hours – only the third time that's happened in 52 years – in order to clear and reroute the course. The resulting loop, thick with mud all over, didn't look anything like the course teams had pre-run before the storms, and the mud hampered all of the teams.

About 420 miles in, at the Matomi Wash, a Trophy Truck rolled while trying to climb up the wash walls and landed on the Bronco R. There was no harm done, but the team had to wait for another vehicle to separate the two. Then came skid plate damage that had to be fixed at Pit #2, the exposed underbelly taking damage to the transmission cooling lines; however, the cooling issue didn't reveal itself until gears started slipping, so there was another stop for "several hours" in Pit #3. Roughly 180 miles later, a fabricated lower control arm broke after running through a whoop section.

At around mile 580, the aftermarket cooling fan began having issues, causing the truck to overheat. Mechanics repaired the situation at Pit #5. By the time everything was fixed, around 8:30 at night, team leaders deemed the situation too dicey to enter the next, exceptionally lonely and difficult stretch and risk another breakdown. Game over, man.

SCG said it managed 1,000 miles of testing in the Boot before the race, Ford appears to have managed a little less than that. The mud played joker, Ford saying the Bronco R's "vehicle’s setup and ride height was perhaps a bit low, plus rock strikes and the weight of mud and silt took a toll.” The SCG folks showed off the 43 gallons of mud weighing 519 pounds that they scraped from the Boot after the race. Ford's team said it will return to the race, next time working up better fabricated components, and making sure to do enough testing to guarantee all the parts mesh.

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