The news follows a class win and a one-way course record at last weekend's Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs, where the very same Ranger Raptor that took class victory at the Baja 1000 in Mexico last November was used.
Unlike Baja and Finke, where a production-based vehicle was entered, Ford's Dakar entry will be a purpose-built T1+ class racing vehicle, using a 3.5-litre V6 ‘EcoBoost' engine that will target outright honours.
That means it will compete head-on with the factory Toyota Hilux that won in both 2022 and 2023 with Qatar driver Nasser Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Mathieu Baumel. The pair also won in a Hilux in 2019.
Ford's effort will use South African-based Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM), who has raced a T1+ class Ranger in the South African Rally-Raid Championship – won in 2022 by Toyota's formidable Al-Attiyah/Baumel – as both Ranger and Hilux have been manufactured there for both local South African and export markets.
Additionally, Ford will work with long-standing World Rally Championship partner, M-Sport, which is also a partner for the S650 Mustang GT3 program that will make its race debut in 2024.
In spite of this, the Ford Performance boss tempered expectations for 2024, which will be used as a development run before an outright tilt at victory in Dakar 2025.
“Our first time in Dakar will be a learning adventure that will help inform how we compete in the future,” he said.
“We cannot underestimate the enormity of the challenge ahead of us. We need to finish and learn first with Ranger T1+ and partners like M-Sport and NWM, who bring their expertise to bear. Together, we can do amazing things in the sand dunes of the Arabian Peninsula.”
The driver and co-driver are expected to be announced ahead of the Baja Espana Aragon in Spain (July 21-23), which will be one of several test and development events for the Ranger before the Dakar on January 5-9, 2024.