Ford outlines its historic motorsport moments

With a rich history in motorsport, many of these Ford motorsport stories and pictures may conjure a sense of rich nostalgia amongst many of you. Let’s take a look at these seminal moments for the American brand.

Back in 1901
It is said that the first-ever motorsport race happened when the second automobile was produced. Evidence of early racing activities is well documented, even in 1901 when Ford managed to snatch victory from who was considered the best racing driver in America at the time, Alexander Winton. The humbling upset took place at the Sweepstakes Race at Grosse Point in Michigan which, in turn, brought investors to the company who were attracted to Ford’s engineering prowess. In 1903, eighteen months after the race, Henry founded the Ford Motor Company and put his dream of making a mass-produced automobile into action.

NASCAR Mustang
The first car to win a NASCAR race was a Ford, at the Daytona Beach and Road Course in 1948. The following year, the first Strictly Stock Division race – the category which went on to become the premier NASCAR Cup Series – was won by Jim Roper at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina in June 1949. Roper drove his Lincoln, Ford’s premium brand, straight off the showroom floor to North Carolina to compete and claim the famous victory. More recently, in 2018, Ford announced that it would be entering a Mustang into NASCAR for the first time, starting in the 2019 season.

Ford at Le Mans
Ford’s podium lockout during the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race, where Ford finished first, second and third in the same race with the GT40, has been described by company executive chairman Bill Ford as “the defining moment in Ford’s race history”. The film Ford v Ferrari (2019) documents these events brilliantly and is most certainly worth a watch. Half a century later, the company returned to France to attempt victory again, this time with the Ford GT, which is also sold as a road-going machine to those with the financial means, of course.

The Ford Escort
The Ford Escort is popular for its motorsport achievements in both Europe and South Africa. Escort rally cars came to fame with names like Björn Waldegård, Ari Vatanen, Roger Clark, Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Marcus Grönholm and Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
Locally, the Escort’s was made famous by Sarel van der Merwe and co-pilot Franz Boshoff. The Escort MkII BDA went on a consecutive championship winning streak from 1979 to 1982. Sarel came close to championship glory in 1992 and 1993, this time driving an all-wheel-drive Ford Laser. The Ford Laser won its fair share of races, eventually ending runner-up in both seasons. The Ford Laser also opened the door for a young South African rally superstar named Enzo Kuun who went on to become a champion, multiple times.

World’s fastest Mustang
The 2020 NHRA Mustang Funny car driven by Bob Tasca III produces 8 200kW and will reach 530km/h in under four seconds.

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

Ford Mondeo in SA Touring Cars
The AA Fleetcare Series and Touring Car Championship in the early 1990s is often considered the high-water mark of SA circuit racing and attracted international drivers and bespoke machinery that really gave credibility to the phrase ‘Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday’. Sarel van der Merwe was once again back at the wheel of a Ford, in the form of the Mondeo entry, pairing up with Steve Wyndham and later with Ben Morgenrood.

Ford Mustang wins Australian Supercars
Kiwi-driver Scott McLaughlin dominated the 2019 Australian Supercars Championship in his DJR Team Penske Racing Mustang. McLaughlin won 18 of the season’s 36 races, including the iconic Bathurst 1000, to hand the Mustang its maiden championship. You can view behind the scenes action on the team’s official YouTube channel here, and catch some of the action on the Supercars channel here.

Ford Sierra XR8
The Sierra XR8 was locally developed by Ford’s Motorsport department using the Mustang’s carburettor-fed 5.0-litre V8. In order to qualify for the championship’s rules, around 200 production versions needed to be built and just like that the fastest production Sierra in the world was instantly born, right here in South Africa in the early 1980s. The car was raced in the 1985 Group 1 championship by John Gibb and Serge Damseaux, and later a wilder version known as “The Animal” was raced by Willie Hepburn in the Modified Saloons series.

Ford and Ken Block
Ken Block’s flamboyant driving and exploits with his highly modified rally and rallycross Ford Fiestas and Focus models, and his wild 1965 Mustang – the only four-wheel-drive version in the world – have made him a YouTube sensation. Block’s breathtaking array of fast Fords also includes a very special RS200 from the legendary Group B rally era, a modernized version of the iconic Escort Cosworth which he competes within rallies around the world, and a wild 680kW 3.5 EcoBoost V6-powered F-150 Hoonitruck.

Ford Capri Perana
Johannesburg businessman and SA Hall of Fame inductee Basil Green is synonymous with modifications to Fords and his meticulous work were enough to have them approved and sold through Ford’s countrywide dealer network with a full factory warranty. Of all his creations, everyone comes back to the iconic Ford Capri Perana V8, which was SA’s fastest locally produced road car and was unbeatable on the track in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Perana V8, which was raced locally with its distinctive orange Gunston livery and driven by Bobby Olthoff in the Group 5 category, won 13 of the 14 races in the 1970 season. With a lightweight V8 from the Mustang, it was capable of over 270km/h on the old Kyalami circuit’s long main straight and topped the saloon car lap records at every one of South Africa’s tracks. Around 500 of these Peranas were built by Basil Green Motors, and their rarity is catapulting their value both on home soil and abroad.

Ranger in South African Cross Country Series
The V8-powered Ford Ranger competed in the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) for several years, winning on its debut in 2013 with the young Lance Woolridge behind the wheel, along with co-driver Ward Huxtable. Last year, the team, which is run by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), won six of the season’s seven races in Class T.

Earlier this year it was announced that the team would campaign the race-prepared Ford Ranger in the premier FIA-class of the SACCS. NWM made the jump to the top-tier with its current V8-powered Ford Ranger, but an all-new Ranger powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 petrol engine is currently being built and is due to make its debut in the second half of 2020.
Sarel and the ‘Stang

In the early 1990s, Sarel joined forces with Ford for South Africa’s most powerful, loosely regulated era of WesBank Modifieds. To get their hands on a competitive car they contacted Jack Rousch who was campaigning a Ford Mustang in IMSA and NASCAR in the US, even winning the IMSA GT Championship in 1993. In his book Supervan and I, Sarel remembers buying the car for R500 000, ‘a bargain’ he describes.

The Mustang arrived in Port Elizabeth for the last round of the 1993 championship and in 1994 the Mustang with its 450kW 6.0-litre V8 and spaceframe chassis, as well as Sarel at the wheel, won the championship. It was just the beginning of Sarel’s glorious relationship with the ‘Stang.

In 2000 and 2001 he raced the Mustang alongside the ever-popular Gugu Zulu as a mentorship programme. Sarel picked up the championship silverware in both those years as Gugu Zulu adapted to the V8 Mustang. Sarel re-emerged from retirement in a Mustang for the inaugural 2009 Simola Hillclimb event, piloting a widebody Mustang produced by Owen Ashley.

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