DEARBORN - As a way to reach younger consumers and ignite their passion for its vehicles, Ford Motor Company is expanding its motorsports programs to encompass action sports, one of the most viewed sporting events today.
“Millennials comprise nearly one-third of the adult population in the United States, and they have gravitated toward stage rally, rallycross and drifting,” said Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America Motorsports. “They consume motorsports differently than other segments of the population – online and through gaming – and so we are going where the fans and consumers are. To reach younger enthusiasts and consumers and to ignite their passion for Ford, we are expanding our motorsports programs to encompass action sports.”
Nontraditional forms of motorsport – drifting and rallycross, and stage rally and off-road truck racing among younger demographics – have captured the fascination of many around the globe and are becoming the motorsports of choice for Millennials.
Ford Racing has significantly increased its presence in action motorsports during the past three years. The performance powertrain engineering exercise began in drifting in 2005, then moved to the support of Vaughn Gittin Jr. and the Team Falken Formula Drift program in 2008. Involvement in X Games 2009 to showcase the arrival of the Fiesta in North America was the next step. In January 2010, a partnership with Ken Block was formalized, and what started as a technical effort in 2005 is now a multidiscipline four-athlete action motorsports program based squarely on reaching a valuable market.
The next step in the process is the formation of the Octane Academy founded by Ford, an ongoing consumer program that will allow Ford enthusiasts to experience the world of action sports with the athletes who are defining the culture and the competition.
“Our involvement in action motorsports with drivers such as Ken Block, Brian Deegan, Tanner Foust and Vaughn Gittin Jr. and through Octane Academy gives Ford Motor Company a high-profile place in the action sports culture,” said John Felice, general marketing manager at Ford Motor Company. “The fact these athletes have chosen Ford allows us to engage with a new generation of Ford owners in a way that’s relevant to them. We repeatedly see a Ford Racing fan is more likely to buy a Ford product when they are in the market for a car or truck.”
Block: WRC, X Games, RallyCar
Block’s action sports background is in motocross and skateboarding and as co-founder of DC Shoes. While he may be one of the most famous rally drivers on the planet, he is a relative newcomer to the sport. Block launched his rally career in 2005 and has enjoyed international success not only for his fearless driving in stage rallies around the world, but for his highly acclaimed Gymkhana videos on the Internet. Gymkhana THREE, featuring the Ford Fiesta, has amassed more than 33.3 million views in the 10 months since its release.
Block sought out Ford in late 2009, looking to forge a relationship with the Blue Oval: “I am stoked to be rallying in a Ford,” he said at the time. “They are an impressive force in the sport. From the days of the 1970s Escorts to the Group B RS200 to the modern-day Focus and now the Fiesta, Ford just does an excellent job at rally. And I couldn’t be happier to now be part of this amazing heritage.”
Block’s Ford Racing program features the Ford Fiesta and is a hybrid of World Rally Championship, RallyCar, Gymkhana World Tour and X Games. Mix in the one-off events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Gymkhana, and Block remains one of the busiest athletes in the world.
“Ford is a great fit for me in terms of what I'm trying to do career-wise right now," said Ken Block. "Whether it's WRC, RallyCross or Gymkhana, they've got me covered with what I need when it comes to my racecars. Plus, there's that rich Ford history in rally that I grew up watching, so to now be racing Fords is an amazing opportunity for me.”
Deegan: Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, X Games, Global RallyCross Championship
Deegan’s relationship with Ford brings his career full circle. At 17, Deegan left his home in Omaha, Neb., with a credit card in his pocket and a dirt bike in the back of his F-150 pickup. His dad gave him one year in California to make it in the world of motocross. Deegan has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, becoming an icon in the action sports world and generally being credited as the inventor of freestyle motocross.
Deegan’s career has evolved, and his first opportunity with Ford came in 2009 when he launched the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (LOORRS) racing a Ford Ranger. He then joined a one-off effort at X Games to drive a Rockstar Fiesta. Deegan won the championship in Pro Lite that season and the newcomer’s fourth-place finish at X Games surprised many as he had little seat time.
“I’m a Ford guy – always have been – and I’m really excited about working together. In order to be successful as a racer, I need to be with the best,” Deegan said. “When you think of racing, especially off-road truck, Ford has dominated, and there is nothing I’d rather be behind the wheel of.”
Deegan’s program is a combination of two truck programs (Pro Lite Unlimited – Ranger and Pro 2 Unlimited – Raptor) and his X Games/Global RallyCross Championship program in the Fiesta. He is currently second in the championship in both LOORRS classes. Deegan comes to X Games looking to add rally gold to his 14 X Games medals. For Deegan, a racer at heart, the transition to four wheels from two has been enjoyable and has allowed him to expand his motorsports calendar.
Foust: X Games, Global RallyCross Championship, European RallyCross Championship
Tanner Foust has carved a niche for himself in the world of action motorsports, showcasing the skills that have made him a three-time gold medalist at X Games as well as a champion drifter and rally driver. He balances an ever-expanding broadcast career that has seen him host various programs on SPEED Channel and now serves as co-host of the critically acclaimed Top Gear USA on the History Channel.
Foust first drove a Ford Fiesta at X Games in 2009, finishing third overall and losing to eventual champion Kenny Brack in what has been described as an epic semifinal showdown. Foust fell in love with Fiesta and the rallycross concept and has dedicated himself to a program built around both. Foust enters X Games 17 as defending champion and championship leader in the U.S.-based Global RallyCross Championship. He is points leader in the European RallyCross Championship. Foust is arguably the best rallycross driver on the planet.
“There is no doubt Ford is on fire right now with its complete lineup of cars and trucks,” said Foust. “Internationally, small cars with 2-liter engines are considered affordable sports cars, as opposed to the perception we have in the United States that cars like the Fiesta only get great fuel economy. RallyCross and X Games are a great showcase of the performance capabilities of these platforms. For Ford this is nothing new, as they have been at the top of the racing world in compact cars since the early ’70s.”
Gittin Jr.: Formula Drift
Gittin Jr.’s Formula Drift program was certainly a nontraditional motorsports program for Ford Racing, but to his credit Gittin Jr. has taken that opportunity to showcase Mustang to a new fan base and has now become synonymous with Ford, Mustang and drifting worldwide.
Gittin Jr., a former IT professional who taught himself to drift, stands at the pinnacle of drifting in North America as the reigning Formula Drift champion. A sport with roots in Asia, drifting has traditionally been dominated by imports, but Gittin Jr. has pushed American Ford V8 power to the top of the charts.
“I’ve been building a relationship with Ford since 2007. What I didn’t realize was that we were laying the foundation for this action motorsports movement within Ford Racing,” said Gittin Jr. “On this, the 110th anniversary of Ford Racing, it is pretty cool to look back and see that I have been involved in starting something that in its own right is historic at Ford. I am very fortunate I have reached a point of my career where I can pick and choose the people I want to work with and represent. I choose to be with Ford, and I have chosen the Ford Mustang because it gives me a distinct advantage out on the track.”
Ford’s deep racing roots
Ford Racing predates the founding of Ford by nearly two years. Racing is the foundation upon which Henry Ford established the company. Not only has motorsports provided a showcase for Ford and its products and to prove out technologies, it also has forged an emotional attachment with consumers. Legions of loyal followers during the 110 years since Henry Ford won his only race at Grosse Pointe have united under the Ford banner.
Through thousands of races Ford has demonstrated its prowess on the famed courses and circuits of the world, claiming victory at Le Mans, Indianapolis, Daytona, Monte Carlo, Nürburgring and Laguna Seca among others and now for a new generation at X Games, where Fiestas have dominated the biggest stage for action sports for the past two years.