A FORD Mustang will return to the Bathurst 1000 for the first time in 33 years after Ford Australia announced it will officially rejoin the Supercar championship next year.
The Mustang will be campaigned by the Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske and Tickford Racing in next year’s championship, beginning with the Adelaide 500.
For Ford racing legend Johnson it is a reunion of sorts, as he drove a Mustang to fourth place in the 1986 Bathurst 1000 under Australian Touring Car Championship regulations.
Ford hasn’t had an involvement with Supercars since withdrawing in 2015.
The return to the track was announced in tandem with the launch of a new performance division at Ford Australia which will sell sportier versions of the Mustang, Fiesta and Ranger.
Ford has been resistant to calls from Supercar teams to allow the Mustang to race in Australia, but president and CEO Graeme Whickman said he launched the plan after the Supercar regulations were amended to let two-door coupes race in the series.
“There’s been a lot of speculation and calls for Mustang to be on the track, and as a Ford Performance model that’s raced around the world, it’s fitting that Australia’s most popular sports car should be on our race tracks,” Whickman said.
“We know fuelling the passion of motoring enthusiasts is important. Both DJR Penske and Tickford Racing know how to win. We felt the time was right to get ourselves back into something that was in our DNA and that is racing.”
The Mustang was a familiar sight at Australian racetracks in the 1960s when Ian Geoghegan won three successive titles piloting the original Pony Car in 1967-69.
Alan Moffatt then had an amazing strike rate with the Trans-Am Mustang in the improved production ATCC, winning 101 of 151 races from 1969 to 1974.
Its return will add lustre to the launch of the new performance brand, which includes the Ranger Raptor dual-cab ute that goes on sale late this year and the Focus ST hot hatch due in 2019.
The Mustang arrived in Australian showrooms in 2016 and immediately became the country’s most popular sports car. Ford has sold more than 1600 of the iconic Pony cars so far this year, accounting for almost one in two sales of sports cars priced under $80,000.
The Ranger has also been a standout success for the brand.
Last year it was the second-best selling vehicle in the country, more than filling the gap left by the demise of the locally-made Falcon.
The Raptor will join the Mustang on the track next year as the official recovery vehicle for the Supercars series.
The Fiesta ST uses a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine and six-speed manual gearbox to send 147kW/290Nm to the front wheels, making it an obvious competitor against the Volkswagen Polo GTI.
Ford Performance is designed to take advantage of Australians’ appetite for performance cars. We are one of the leading markets in the world for Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s M performance cars, while the Volkswagen Golf GTI makes up roughly a quarter of total Golf sales.
Ford Performance uses using lightweight components, aerodynamic kits and engine performance enhancements to produce sportier versions of regular road-going cars.
Sean Seamer, the CEO of Supercars Australia, says the category was proud to add the legendary Pony Car to its grid for 2019.
“I know Australians, New Zealanders and our fans around the world will be just as excited as I am to see the Mustang take to our tracks in the world’s best touring car racing,” he says.
Seamer says he’d welcome other manufacturers entering two-door coupes into the championship, an obvious reference to the arrival of the Camaro in Holden showrooms later this year. That would give teams the choice to run either the US-built Chevy nameplate or the ZB Commodore from next year.
Dick Johnson says the Mustang deal is “music to my ears”.
“It’s great to be back in the Ford fold, and we’ll continue to ensure that we give Ford — and its millions of fans — something to cheer about.”
Overseas, Ford Performance is involved in Le Mans with Chip Ganassi Racing and the World Rally Championship with 2017 champions M Sport. It also has an involvement in NASCAR.
Holden has welcomed the return of Ford to Supercar racing, saying the Ford-Holden track rivalry is one of the greatest in motorsport history.
“It’s a legendary rivalry on the racetrack, so bring it on,” says Holden Australia’s executive director, marketing, Kristian Aquilina.