Journalist Sue Mead, racer Darren Skilton become first U.S. team to win a class in Dakar Rally

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor at the 2011 Dakar Rally – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is still proving that it can do whatever deed needs done, whenever it needs doing. Sue Mead and Darren Skilton managed to pilot a largely stock version of the desert-raiding pickup through all 12 stages of this year's Dakar rally. The team survived 16 days of some of the most brutal terrain on the South American continent and covered over 11,800 miles in the process. Their effort was enough to net the Raptor a 40th place finish over all and a first place finish in the OP class.

In fact, from what we hear, Mead and Skilton were the only contestants to even finish in the OP class, even with big names like Robbie Gordon gunning for the win.

That marks the first time that an American crew has ever managed to take a class win in the history of the Dakar Rally. The F-150 SVT Raptor that Mead and Skilton campaigned boasted the same 5.4-liter V8 that it rolled off the production line with, though a larger cooling system was fitted to handle the harsh temperatures of the course. Likewise, the pickup was equipped with a host of other race-capable bits including a new locker system for the differentials, more robust shocks, springs and tires.

Overall, Volkswagen took the top three spots in the 2011 Dakar Rally. BMW filled out the remaining spots in the top five with its entries. Hit the jump for the press release.

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[Source: Ford]

January 15, 2011; Cordoba, Chile
There is a saying in the Dakar racing circles that goes like this; "To Finish is to Win!" Does it sound cliché? Maybe. But, if you've ever competed in the Dakar Rally, or any race for that matter, you know there is no checkered flag for those who don't finish. It doesn't matter how fast you went on day #1, or how many cars you passed in day #2, or how quickly your support crew repaired your car on day #3. If you wreck the car or can't complete on day #10, any hopes of a podium finish, or any finish, will elude the best intentions. Dakar is truly a game of survival of not the fastest, but the fittest. One where the attrition rate is high, and the stakes are higher. If you consider the 430 adrenalin-charged souls who began this marathon of abuse two weeks ago, checkered flags and un-corked bottles of Champaign swirling around in their heads, less than half will be starting tomorrow's stage. Those who do, who have survived and are still standing, will be heading for the checkered flag in Buenos Aires tomorrow night.

Stage 12 - San Juan to Cordoba 678 kilometers
This would be another grueling stage for the Dakar Ford Raptor team of Darren Skilton and Sue Mead. The endless desert stages of the past week gave way to boulders, river crossings and mud. Unfortunately, the T4 trucks led out of the gate this morning, lending for refrigerator-sized ruts in the track. This caused many competitors time as they navigated tricky sections or became mired in mud. Skilton was at the wheel for the day, managing to get the Raptor safely through the 500+ kilometer Special.

Rolling into the bivouac about 10:30 pm, Mead said as she peeled a sweaty helmet from her head, " Darren, as always, did a masterful job of driving today. He's a perfectionist; I don't think we could have made it to this point without that approach... It was really rough in the beginning and I believe many teams may still be out there... including the other Ford Raptor team from Chile."

Keeping the Raptor in Motion
It is a huge undertaking to prepare and race an Out-of-the-Box, OEM vehicle in the Dakar. It is even more impressive to finish. It is not by chance that the Dakar Ford Raptor and team are where they are now. For starters, they began with the best consumer-available platform, the Ford SVT F-150 Raptor. Second is the experience of Darren Skilton and his mechanic crew, Troy Johnson and Dan Moore. The logistics of prepping the vehicle, managing the crew, shipping support truck and spare parts, and sorting out details once on the ground, can only be accomplished by a someone with Skilton's background as a race team manager.

As midnight rolled around, Skilton, Troy Johnson and Dan Moore were tearing into the front end of the Raptor to address a 'clunking' noise in the steering. Maintenance on the Raptor thus far has been nominal. Last night they inspected the rear ring & pinion and ARB air locker. Two nights ago they replaced one of the General Grabber tires which acquired a bubble in the sidewall due to heat issues. Other issues have been rocks in behind the brake backing plate and repairing a rock-damaged lower control arm mount.

Airing up and down numerous times each day the team utilizes two sources for air. The first is a Powertank, scuba-style, air tank system that is powerful enough for the team to run air tools if needed. The Second is an ARB 12-volt, under-the-hood compressor. Redundancy of this type, as team technician Dan Moore stated, "is vital for success in an event like the Dakar. " Moore continued, " Aspiration and engine lubricants are often overlooked. We change or clean the air filter every day. If there is a lot of silt, they may need to do it on the track, as the silt will just choke a motor. Racing is horribly demanding on the motor. It is running at high-rpm hour after hour. If our lubricants fail, we're out of the race. In the motor, transmission and differentials we use Royal Purples oils exclusively. RP (Royal Purple) knows what racers need and we appreciate it.

Final Stage Tomorrow
Skilton and Mead cleared today's gauntlet in 40th position for the day, landing them in 36th place of all autos, Class T1 or T2. Tomorrow's stage, a total of 826 kilometers, will include a 180km Special which concludes in a short course style stadium finish. Sources say they are expecting several hundred thousand spectators in the arrival area (finish line). American Mark Miller is still holding 7th place overall, and motorcycle riders Quinn Cody and Jonah Street are holding onto 9th and 13th respectfully in their class. You can view real time Iritrack position updates at (vehicle 374) and follow the team at Facebook under Dakar Ford Raptor. Or, stay tuned here.

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