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Ford Performance boost expected from Supercars return

Holden Commodore squared up as Ford Mustang aims for Supercars success

Ford logo17 Apr 2018

FORD Australia has today announced its official return to Supercars racing, with the V8 Mustang coupe set to take on the bent-eight imported Holden ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima sedan from 2019 as the Blue Oval pushes its new Ford Performance brand.

The flagship Ranger Raptor ute will also serve as the official recovery vehicle for Australia’s premier motorsport series.

At the announcement at Melbourne’s Albert Park – which also played host to the Australian debut of the facelifted Mustang due mid-year and the Ranger Raptor that reaches showrooms in September – Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said the “time was right” to get back into Supercars after the company pulled factory support at the end of the 2014 season.

“We actually continued to support the teams quietly, even since we made a departure in 2014 because the teams and Ford have had a very strong and valuable relationship all that time,” he said.

“Since then we’ve launched the Ranger … the Escape, the Everest, the Mustang, the Raptor, and we felt the time was right to get ourselves back into something that’s, frankly, in our DNA, which is motorsport.

“But we needed to do that carefully, and it is absolutely around the Ford Performance brand.

“We have racing in our DNA and we have performance in our DNA, making sure that extends itself into the vehicles we sell and are going to sell in the likes of the new Mustang and the new Raptor on an ongoing basis.”

Speaking to GoAuto at the event, Ford Australia marketing manager Danni Winter said the brand had freed itself to return to Supercars after several years of restructuring which saw the Blue Oval pull out of local car manufacturing in 2016 and, as a result, brought the demise of the Falcon large sedan.

“Our exit was an orchestrated plan, we had a lot of things to do in realigning our brand to the market, realigning our product portfolio, and over the last several years we’ve really delivered on that,” she said.

“Our showroom is all new and we will launch a range of new models this year.

Mustang and the Ford Performance vehicle range continue to expand in that time, so we’ve got a full suite of vehicles … this year in line with that.

“The time is really right for us to invest in the broader mast brand of Ford Performance, and certainly the core DNA of those vehicles is performance.”

Ms Winter said Ford’s mix of Performance models has increased in the past few years, which, in addition to Mustang and Ranger Raptor, also encompasses the Focus ST, Focus RS and Fiesta ST – the latter confirmed today to arrive in new-generation form in the second quarter of 2019.

“It’s a large investment, not just in Supercars, but more broadly, in the whole vehicle range,” she said.

“Over the last several years, it has really grown as a percentage of our sales mix, and we will continue to see that grow as we launch the Ranger Raptor this year and we’d expect that to continue to evolve.

“So, really, its aligning the fundamentals of our cycle plan and product with our marketing strategy 2019 is the year to bring all those together as we have our complete suite of Ford Performance vehicles, as we go through our next iteration of freshened product.

“We’re really excited to bring that to our customers, we know there is a good demand for it and certainly the Supercars audience is highly engaged in all performance vehicles, whether that’s Mustang, Ranger or our small hot hatches.”

Ms Winter would not be drawn on how much of an impact the return to Supercars would have on Ford’s brand image but said the move would “take the brand forward”.

“We’re not going to talk numbers, but I think us getting back into this area really talks to the core DNA of the Ford brand,” she said.

“For a long time, we’ve been in racing – since the days of Henry Ford, we’ve always been in racing – so this is just a key testament to getting back to where we’d like to be. We always thought we would return to the sport at some point in time, and for the last several years we’ve been working on aligning the fundamentals in the business to really set up for that as we move forward with the refreshed Mustang.

“So I think the timing is just perfect to bring all those elements together to really take the brand forward.”

When asked by GoAuto if the return to Supercars signals a wider marketing push from Ford, Ms Winter said: “Today we’re only going to talk about our announcement of both Raptor and … 2019 Mustang entering Supercars.

“We’ll continue to look at opportunities as they come up and if they’re linked to the core brand, we’ll continue to re-evaluate those, but … all we’re here to talk about today is one big announcement as we move forward with what’s really true to our heritage.

“Our relationships will continue with our existing partners.”

The Mustang race program is billed as a partnership with DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing rather a fully fledged factory-backed exercise.

Despite some early reports indicating the Mustang will be powered by a twin-turbo V6, Mr Whickman confirmed that a V8 powerplant would be used by both racing teams.

“The vehicle will be running around with a V8, and that’s what is being worked on at the moment, along with all the other technical feasibility pieces, and what happens in the future obviously remains open,” he said.

“We did look at other vehicles for this … but Mustang I think is the right fit and its credentials in terms of V8 is very, very strong.”

Tickford Racing team principal and company CEO Tim Edwards said the existing V8 powerplant used in the Falcon racecar would easily transfer over.

“From a racer’s perspective, the team’s preference was to do just one change, so at least we can go into 2019 with a new aerodynamics package and we’re not confusing with what’s changed from a powertrain point of view,” he said.

Ford, Ford Performance, DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing will now all work on the homologation and aerodynamics of the new vehicle to get it ready for next year’s racing season.

DJR Team Penske team manager Ryan Story said: “It’s fairly early days in terms of design and development process, it’s something the teams are actually doing in conjunction – we have a very good fundamental understanding of how the cars will fit in the Supercars-controlled chassis, and that’s about as far as we’ve gone.

“We’ve got a heck of a lot of work to do ahead of us, so we’re hoping we can meet the deadlines and timetable.”

Mr Whickman called the Mustang a “core model” in the Ford Performance line-up, and said he expected that the success of the country’s most popular sportscar, which recorded 9165 new registrations last year, would continue.

“The Ford Mustang is one of Ford Performance’s core models, it’s a global icon, it’s one of the most popular models not only in Australia, but also in the world,” he said.

“Supercars Australia is synonymous with intense competition, high performance, and has global businesses and teams sparring wheel to wheel now it too is changing, evolving as a dynamic business and series.

“Now it looks to rewards its fans, just as Ford looks to Australians to gauge what they want to drive, own and experience.”

Last week, Holden announced it had stopped development of its twin-turbo V6 that was set to replace the V8 unit in its Commodore racing cars.

Holden’s new executive director of marketing Kristian Aquilina welcomed Ford’s return to the racetrack but highlighted the lion brand’s recent dominance in the series.

“It’s a legendary rivalry on the racetrack, so bring it on,” he said.

“The all-new Commodore has won seven of the eight Supercars races this year and Ford’s re-entry is only going to push our teams even harder and make our race cars stronger as we look to take plenty more silverware from our rivals.

“We look forward to relegating the new Mustang to the back of the racetrack!”

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