DEARBORN - Steve LaRoza entered the 2012 off-road season with a different approach as one of the first to challenge competition in an EcoBoost-powered F-150.
The EcoBoost enthusiast will be the fifth Ford driver to compete with an EcoBoost livery this weekend in the General Tire Vegas to Reno race. The seventh Best In The Desert race is notably the longest off-road race in the United States as the point-to-point race stretches over 550 miles and brings out the best off-road racing teams in the world.
With over 300 entries, the race is open to all Best In The Desert classes – cars, trucks, UTVs, quads and motorcycles. LaRoza will battle his EcoBoost F-150 against 19 other teams in the Best In The Desert 7200 Class with 11 of those teams running Ford trucks.
LaRoza won the Best In The Desert 7200 Class Championship in a Ford truck in 2006 and 2007. After almost retiring, LaRoza put in a call to Ford Racing and jumped at the opportunity to work on the new project that was underway that would make him one of the first-ever to compete in the EcoBoost-powered F-150
“Not only is this a pioneering moment for Ford Racing, but it is a pioneering moment for the entire 7200 class,” said LaRoza. When asked about his overall experience with the EcoBoost-powered F-150 this season he said, “It’s unreal, just unbelievable. I thought I was done racing but after talking to Ford Racing about their new projects, I thought I would be their best test dummy.”
LaRoza worked with Ford performance engineers, and Danzio Performance, who completed the 2012 EcoBoost project using the Life Racing F-88 GDI engine management system.
“The main difference from the Ford trucks I’ve run in the past is that I have to run a stock EcoBoost sealed engine compared to my competitors that can run modified engines,” said LaRoza. “The fact that you can just walk out and buy a car or truck with this in it is awesome. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
Another difference is the reliability of the EcoBoost engine and the lack of motor maintenance which allows LaRoza to compete in a second off-road series, the Valley Off Road Racing Association (VORRA). Most off-road truck teams compete in one series and enter in a few one-off races due to the expense and upkeep.
“Not only do I save hundreds on gas every race, but I save thousands in motor maintenance,” LaRoza claimed. “Most competitors spend $15,000-$20,000 every other race or every 1,100 miles on their motor. I just have to change the oil and fluids.”
The overall and class points leaders in VORRA, LaRoza has tested his EcoBoost truck on short tracks as well as the expansive routes in Best In The Desert, where he has one second-place finish in two series events this year.
“The EcoBoost can compete in multiple series because of the reliability of the motor which is the most important,” said LaRoza. “It can really hold its own in both series even beating V8 engines in VORRA, and I only have 1800 miles on it. I’m really looking forward to what it can do this weekend.”
The perfect test will be the Vegas to Reno race that has the toughest and most varied terrain in the world with daring narrow canyons, massive dry lake beds, and paths defined by boulders. The F-150 has a 64-gallon fuel tank and will give LaRoza much better fuel economy in race form compared to the three miles per gallon he averaged in previous years. The slight fuel advantage will come in handy with the race starting early Friday, Aug. 17 and running through the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 18.
“Compared to last year, I’ll make significantly less stops for gas which is huge,” said LaRoza.
With increased fuel mileage that does not sacrifice horsepower, LaRoza will have a competitive advantage in the EcoBoost while charging through the desert and mountains with elevations ranging between 2,500 feet and 9,000 feet and speeds breaching 100 mph.
“This advantage will be huge,” said LaRoza. “The good news is we really don’t have to drive it hard to make it go fast. As long as we have a good chassis, the EcoBoost is a great choice for this class.”
The EcoBoost-powered F-150 is a gasoline direct-injected, twin-turbo V6 which is about four inches shorter than the typical trophy truck run in Best In The Desert.
LaRoza added, “Realistically, I think this is the wave of the future in this class. There were a lot of people interested in the EcoBoost before the season and now, after seeing that the motor has lasted, there is more interest than ever.”