Encouraged by their third-in-class finish at the Baja 1000 back in November, Ford Racing and the Special Vehicle Team are taking the new F-150 SVT Raptor R back to the desert, this time to run it in the 2009 "Best in the Desert" series.

"This is a great opportunity for everyone involved in the Raptor program to get more real-time data on how the truck performs in the most extreme conditions," said Cliff Irey, Manager of truck motorsports for Ford Racing Technology. "We need to push the truck harder than we'd ever expect our customers would to ensure that the production F-150 SVT Raptor is the ultimate factory-available high-speed off-road truck."

The race team will be privately funded and will participate in all five points races in the series. The truck will be piloted by veteran helmsmen and former "Rough Riders" Rob MacCachren and Steve Olliges. MacCachren has 100 event wins and 15 championships under his belt, while Olliges has 30 class wins and seven off-road championships to his name. Both drivers have won their classes at the Baja 1000 at least once in their careers.

The plan is two-fold: competing in these off-road events is good PR for Ford, especially when the truck places well like it did at its first race at Baja. The SVT Raptor R is also a test-bed for production technology, as most of the components used are production-spec and will find their way on to the production version of the truck when it goes on sale this summer. Unfortunately, the 500-hp race engine won't. When the Raptor first goes on sale, it will be equipped with a Flex Fuel version of Ford's 5.4L V-8 that makes 320 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Ford is now saying that the 400-hp 6.2L V-8 won't debut until early 2010.

Along with the more-powerful engines, production Raptors will also get special Fox Racing Shox, specially-developed 35-in. BFGoodrich tires, a special "Off-Road" stability control setting, Hill Descent control, a 4.10 rear end and a seven-inch wider track. The suspension will be able to travel 11.2 inches in front and 12.1 inches in the rear for maximum off-road capability. Pricing has not yet been announced.

Source: Ford