Ford hints at bigger ambitions in off-road motorsport

Comments from Ford Performance boss Mark Rushbrook are positive news for off-road motorsport

Dakar Raptor

Ford Performance and M-Sport revealed half of a four-strong driver line-up for its Dakar program on Friday. Carlos Sainz and Nani Roma are big names. Both are former winners of the world’s toughest rally and both have their sights set on keeping the likes of Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah off the podium’s Saudi Arabian top step in January.

But what about the Blue Oval? How does Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance see it?

He’s unequivocal. The dirt is front and center for Ford.

“The scale of our ambitions in off-road racing are unparalleled in Ford’s recent history,” said Rushbrook. “And nothing is more clear in that ambition than our challenge to take the Ford Raptor to the legendary Dakar rally.

“Taking on such an enormous challenge requires the best engineers, designers, team members, navigators and drivers, and in Nani Roma and Carlos Sainz Sr, we have two of the most experienced and successful drivers in Dakar history.

“The Ford Raptor is already showing promising signs in testing and having two of the best drivers in the world with us for the ride gives us confidence for the continued development of the truck.”

Ford’s taken its fair share of heat in the last decade and a bit – when it departed the World Rally Championship as an official manufacturer in its own right at the end of 2012, there were question marks over its continued off-road participation. M-Sport painted half of its own flag blue and kept it flying.

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Mark Rushbrook took charge of Ford Performance six years after Ford's withdrawal from the WRC as an official manufacturer

Obviously, Ford has continued to commit significant resources to the WRC since 2012 – the last World Rally Car (2017) and the current hybrid Puma have benefitted from major technical involvement from the firm’s Charlotte facility.

Ford’s announcement of its return to Formula 1 as an engine supplier in 2026 had caused some concern from those on motorsport’s muddier side. Rushbrook talking of “unparalleled ambition” in off-road is hugely encouraging, not least for M-Sport and the unstinting commitment the British firm has shown.

Words:David Evans