Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ford Raptor Team USA Leads SCORE Class at Dakar Rally

Report provided by Chris Collard, Team Media Manager

January 10, 2011, Copiapo, Chile:
Stage 8 of the 2011 Dakar Rally was a great day for the FabSchool-General Tire Ford Raptor Team. The Stage, which encompassed 776 km, was the forth of five extremely difficult days of the rally. Beginning in the Chilean coastal town of Antofagasta, competitors again headed towards the unforgiving interior of the Atacama Desert. The first 268 km, the liaison or paved section, brought them to the base of the sand dunes near Pan de Azucar. From there they began another 500+ kilometers of dunes, hard-pack and loose rock.

If you have been following the progress of Team Raptor USA you know that Sue Mead and Darren Skilton have been practicing disciples of the “You have to finish to win” philosophy.  The duo has been maintaining a fast yet cautious pace; doing everything they can do to reduce navigation errors and the possibility of damaging the vehicle. Early frustrations of being passed by a number of cars each day have diminished as they have slowly climbed the leader board from 126th. Their strategy is paying off.

Darren Skilton, co-driver and team manager for the Dakar Ford Raptor team, said this morning, “We lost a lot of vehicles in the past three days. It is very, very dangerous out there, especially when it gets dark. People are breaking, rolling, getting stuck… your can hear engines screaming as drivers try to push their vehicles to the limit.  We had a really rough time the other night. It was about 3 a.m. we’d been trying to make our way to a waypoint and ran into a dozen other teams doing the same thing. The problem was that no one could get up a really steep and really loose dune. There was no moon and we could find no way around. We ended up sleeping for a while, when we awoke it was a mess. Cars everywhere, a T4 rolled over nearby. It was just crazy.”

During the past year, in the months preparing for this type of challenge, the team considered product selection very carefully. Dakar is a very expensive race to attend. If just one aspect is compromised or overlooked, it could mean the difference between winning, not finishing, breaking and going home on a tow strap, or worse.  Over the past four days in the Atacama, the team has passed dozens of cars with punctured or destroyed tires. While no tire is indestructible, and flats are often driver error, the team’s General Grabber tires have been bulletproof thus far. FabSchool, while preparing the Raptor’s roll cage and adding King Racing shocks, installed an ARB Air Locker in the rear axle. It has been an invaluable asset in providing 100% traction to the tires with the flip of one button on the dash.

In the dunes, the team is regularly reducing tire pressure to 18, 13 and even 7psi.  These low air pressures would not be attainable without the use of the Walker Evans bead lock racing wheels.

Because this type of competition subjects engine and drive train components to some of the harshest conditions know to internal combustion engines, oil selection was not taken lightly. Team Manager and co-driver Darren Skilton chose Royal Purple lubricants for the entire truck. Chief mechanic Troy Johnson said, “Racing is brutal on engines… and your motor oil is not the place to compromise quality.”

As of the start of competition earlier today, Stage 9, a mere 270 kilometers, the Dakar Ford Raptor team was in 51st position in the automotive class.  The track today is a loop run from the bivouac near Copiapo, into the Atacama and back to the bivouac. Though shorter than other stages thus far, today’s course will challenge teams with three major dune crossings.  At this point all vehicles in their class (SCORE Class), with the exception of Eliseo Salazar of Chile in a Robby Gordon HUMMER, have been eliminated from the race.


Word is just into the Dakar Village headquarters that Salazar in the Robby Gordon HUMMER have burned up a transmission in the sand dunes and are out of the race!!! This will put Sue Mead, America’s first female driver of record, and teammate Darren Skilton officially in first place for all SCORE Class vehicles!  If the team can keep the Raptor in tact and complete the next four days and Special Stages, this could mean a spot on the podium and a Dakar Class Championship.

With this news, several TV crews are gathering around the team’s MAN Support Truck for interviews with the team when they arrive. Sue and Darren have passed checkpoint two and the completion of day’s Stage. They should be on the paved road heading for the bivouac this very moment. We’re sure their spirits are through the roof at this time.

We’ll keep you posted with details as they arrive.  You can view real time Iritrack position updates at and follow the team at Facebook under Dakar Ford Raptor. Or, stay tuned here.

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