Ford’s double-barrel shotgun!
Over the past two seasons, Ford Racing’s Neil Woolridge was in the championship hunt with his Class SP Ranger, but the Ford’s older-generation 4,0-litre V6 engine lagged behind the multi-valve Nissan and Toyota V6 engines. Now Neil is bringing a gun to the gunfight, and it’s a diesel, no less
Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst, Quickpic, Motorpics
“To finish first, you first have to finish.” It’s an old saying in motorsport circles that is patently true.
Neil Woolridge, former national off-road champion, and his navigator, Kenny Skjoldhammer, know all about this saying. Although their Ranger proved incredibly reliable, it couldn’t match the opponents for speed, so for a win they pinned their hopes on the frontrunners not making it to the finish.
In 2005 the Big Three of off-road racing in South Africa (Ford, Toyota and Nissan) threw their combined weight behind a new premier off-road class for production vehicles, to replace the my-budget-is-bigger-than-your-budget Class T.
“Class T was spectacular, but it was getting a bit ridiculous. It became a scenario where big budgets bought more technology and speed, and we wanted to keep the racing close and fair, and make the premier production class more accessible to privateers.
“And that’s how the Super Production (SP) class was born. To reduce costs, the rules allow the different players to share some components like the six-speed sequential gearbox. But between us we also agreed that one manufacturer would not be disadvantaged by, say, having an inferior rear differential. In this case the diff could be modified, so that the racing could be closer and the vehicles more reliable,” says Neil, the man responsible for preparing the off-road racing Fords in his Pietermaritzburg workshop.
The theory of class SP was good, but in reality the Ford Racing team started off with its back against the wall. In standard trim the Ranger’s V6 engine delivers 154 kW of power and 323 Nm of torque. Compared to the Toyota V6’s 175 kW and 376 Nm, and the Nissan V6’s 198 kW and 385 Nm, the Ford’s V6 mill, with two valves per cylinder and single overhead cam, seemed to be staring down the barrel, so to speak.
This was confirmed in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, when the class SP Ford Ranger, with its 12-year old SOHC V6 engine, never had the top speed to challenge, especially the Nissan works team. But it did possess something that some of its competitors lacked: uncanny reliability, and a highly experienced driver and navigator who knew when to push, and when to take a more circumspect approach.
This ensured that, over those two years, the Ford Ranger finished 15 of the 16 races it started. It also ensured that the Ford Racing team was always in with a championship-winning chance.
In 2008, with one race left to run, the Ford actually led the championship. But the Ranger’s incredible reliability record finally let it down in the last race when a part, ironically supplied by one of the rival teams, failed.
The two Nissan Navaras of Duncan Vos and Hannes Grobler pipped Neil and navigator Kenny Skjoldhammer to the championship line.
“Thing is, we’re not in this to just prove how reliable the Ford is. We want to win races, and win them on merit and with speed, and not because some of the other top guys retire from the race. So when the plans for the 2009 season were discussed, some interesting options came up, which also took into account Ford’s marketing strategies for the year,” says Neil.
With no new V6 engine on the immediate horizon for the Ranger, Ford Racing looked in the direction of turbodiesel power.
“As Volkswagen demonstrated in the 2009 Dakar Rally with the Touareg TDIs, diesel power is the way of the future. And diesel seems to be the direction the massive European Rally Raid scene is heading towards, so we decided to break new ground in the local Super Production class too. The most obvious engine at our disposal is the existing 3,0-litre TDCi common-rail engine, as used in the Ranger range.”
“So I spoke to my motorsport contacts in Europe, who helped us build the original Mitsubishi Pajeros and the class T Ford Ranger I used to race. They warned that the stress and high levels of extra heat generated in a racing environment may prove too much for a four-cylinder engine, and that reliability may be compromised. In fact, they said that heat dispersion would be our biggest challenge in going the turbodiesel route,” explains Neil.
So the hunt continued for a suitable diesel engine. It obviously had to be a unit that is currently used by another production Ford. This Ford turned out to be the Transit panel van, as sold in international markets.
The new 3,2-litre five-cylinder engine features direct injection and common-rail technology, and only recently made its international debut. But the cherry on the cake came when Neil found out that this multi-valve engine is earmarked for use in the Ranger bakkie too, in about three years time. More good news followed when it was clear that sourcing two engines immediately wouldn’t be a problem.
“So we ordered the two engines, and our turbodiesel endeavours began,” says Neil.
The standard engine, part of Ford’s Puma range, comes with a single turbocharger, coupled to an intercooler system. The Ford Racing technicians removed this turbo, and in its place strapped on two separate turbos – a small one for providing boost from idle speeds up to about 2000 r/min, and a big one for providing big boost between 2000-4000 r/min.
“But that was only the beginning. The two turbos only fitted on the right-hand side of the engine, and that’s exactly where the Ranger’s steering rack was. We didn’t want to modify the steering system, which has proved highly reliable, so we decided to instead turn the Ranger into a left-hand drive. This also fitted in with my plans of eventually marketing the Ranger TDCi to European Rally Raid teams,” says Neil.
With the two turbos and steering system accommodated in the suddenly not-so-spacious-engine bay, the team ran into a new set of problems. The standard diesel injectors were just not up to the task of feeding the engine with enough fuel.
“So we sent the injectors off to Bosch in Germany, and they modified them to our specifications. But when the ‘new’ injectors arrived here, and were fitted, they didn’t work!
“So we had to send them back to Germany, and this caused us to miss the first round of the championship in the Western Cape. When the injectors finally arrived for the second time, they were fitted… and success! Then we ran into another snag…” smiles the former off-road champion.
Programming the engine management system so that the two turbos, the injectors and all the other electronic bits worked in perfect harmony proved to be a challenge in itself. But after many hours of fiddling, this system was also sorted. Performance inlet and exhaust manifolds, and a new exhaust system were added.
According to Neil, the 3,2-litre oilburner now produces about 220 kW of power at about 4000 r/min, and a massive 700 Nm of torque at 2000 r/min. So when it comes to the numbers, Ford now has the firepower to take on the Navaras and Hiluxes.
But, explains Neil, heat build-up and dispersion is still a grey area that will require some fine-tuning and development work … just as his contacts in Europe had predicted.
“The amount of heat we have to deal with in this set-up is unbelievable! At the moment we are running a total of nine coolers on the bakkie for various components, but the engine itself is still operating at about 50 degrees Celsius hotter than would be ideal.”
Cooling systems include one for the fuel, two intercoolers for the air sucked into the engine, one for the rear differential, one for the gearbox, one for the transfer gearbox, and one for the power steering fluid. So there’s a lot of cooling going on in the Ford.
“According to the regulations we are not allowed to change the vehicle’s profile, so we can’t add scoops, as VW, for instance, employ on the RaceTouareg TDI. Instead, we came up with aircraft-derived NACA ducting, to channel air through non-protruding ducts to the coolers. We also improvised with a unique snorkel system, for deep water,” says a satisfied Neil.
An external snorkel would be vulnerable to branches when racing, so the Ford Racing team came up with an ingenious solution. Air enters through a roof-mounted duct behind the front seats, goes through a clever system of piping and an air filter mounted in the dash in front of navigator Skjoldhammer, and from there to the engine’s air intake system.
The improvisation doesn’t end here. Also new is a custom fuel tank, which was moulded into a shape that fits “over” the drive shaft. This improves the centre of gravity, and benefits handling.
In the interior Neil and his team fitted a full fire extinguisher system, which is also linked to the engine bay. At the push of a dashmounted button, the system is triggered, and within moments the cabin and engine bay will be filled with flame-dousing foam. Although the Ranger carries normal fire extinguishers too, this system was fitted in anticipation of something going wrong with all the extra heat of the diesel engine around.
The rest of the Ford Ranger TDCi package consists of tried and tested components. These include high-quality Donerre fully adjustable shock absorbers (two per wheel) and Eibach springs, BF Goodrich racing tyres, uprated brakes, and several composite material body panels.
The turbodiesel engine sends its grunt permanently to all four wheels via that sixspeed Sadev sequential gearbox. Both front and rear differentials feature limited slip innards, and the centre diff is also lockable.
Neil Woolridge is visibly brimming with confidence, even though the new Ranger TDCi’s first competitive outing ended after only 100km into the main race. What was initially thought to be a serious electrical issue was eventually traced to a battery that failed… a brand new, R6000 racing battery.
But this is a diesel, Neil… do you really think you will give the works Nissans and Toyotas a run for their money when it comes to speed? Surely the Ranger TDCi will use less fuel, being a diesel and all, but as fast as the other class SP bakkies? Aikôna, we can’t believe that.
Neil Woolridge smiles. Then he continues, matter-of-factly:
“Jump in. Let’s go for a ride.”