Bronco Stampede at the 2022 King of the Hammers Off-Road Race
Since the introduction of the sixth generation Bronco, Ford has made a big push in motorsports. This was no where more evident than at the 2022 Ultra4 King of the Hammers, where the Blue Oval sponsored three teams in the 4600 Stock Class at the 4WP Everyman Challenge.
The Broncos were piloted by Fun-Haver teammates Vaughn Gittin Jr and Loren Healy, brothers Brad and Roger Lovell, and Bailey Cole and Jason Scherer. Gittin, Healy, and Scherer also competed the next day in Bronco-based buggies in the unlimited Nitto Race of Kings. For the uninitiated, these are the biggest names in Ultra4 with dozens of wins and championships between them.
Ford debuted the 4600 Class Broncos at the 2021 King of the Hammers, but they wouldn’t take the green flag until later in the season at the El Rey de Las Bajas Ultra4 race with Brad Lovell behind the wheel. Lovell won the class handily and backed up the victory with another win at the Ultra4 National Championship in Oklahoma. At that time only one Bronco had been raced, but with zero mechanical issues the drivetrain and suspension had proven themselves reliable.
Ford has campaigned Broncos in other competitions as well, including the Rebelle Rally, with Shelby Hall winning the X-Cross Class in a stock Bronco Sport in 2020. A fully custom tube chassis Bronco was built by Geiser Brothers to compete in Class 2 in the SCORE International Baja 1000 with a host of top-notch talent including Cameron Steele, Curt LeDuc, Jason Scherer, Shelby Hall, and more. Unfortunately, the team was overshadowed by the Glickenhaus Baja Boot in both 2019 and 2020. Would Ford suffer the same fate at King of the Hammers at the hand of two-time 4600 Class winner Justin Reece and his leaf sprung, four-cylinder Toyota pickup?
Three identical Broncos were built by Geiser Brothers in Arizona for the 2022 4WP Every Man Challenge (EMC) 4600 Class at King of the Hammers. The “stock” designation often throws people for a loop; the rules are not nearly as strict as Stock Mini designation from sanctioning bodies in desert racing, but it is the most restrictive class at King of the Hammers. The rulebook requires the factory frame and complete body right down to functioning headlights, originally offered engine and transmission, only a single shock per corner, and up to a 35-inch-tall DOT approved tire. The wheelbase can only be extended up to three inches, and the suspension configuration must match what the factory offered. In other words, if it came with a solid front axle and leaf springs it must retain the solid front axle and leaf springs, if it came with independent front suspension with coilover struts it must retain IFS and struts. The transfer case and axles can be upgraded to different units.
In keeping with the rules, these Broncos use the factory 2.7-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 and 10-speed automatic transmission. The transfer cases were swapped out for Advance Adapters Atlas II units with more gear reduction for the rock trails found in King of the Hammers. From there the drivetrain gets more exotic, with portal front hubs from 74Weld added to the factory independent suspension to increase ground clearance and reduce angles on the RCV axles. Out back a more traditional Dynatrac ProRock XD60 is used with an ARB Air Locker and 35-spline axle shafts from Spidertrax. Portals on the solid axle would increase ground clearance, but a compromise must be made with either limited uptravel or increased ride height and a higher center of gravity. Perhaps most important are the Fox front coilover shocks, rear smooth body shocks (bypass shocks are not allowed in 4600), and hydraulic air bumps at each corner. While the components themselves are high quality, it is the hours of suspension tuning that separate the Broncos from most of the other vehicles in the 4600 Class.
The Broncos qualified up front for the race, with Lovell the fastest at 2:46, followed closely by Gittin and Cole. Current rules put the 4600 vehicles behind all of the 4500 (Modified) and 4800 (Legends) vehicles, meaning that Lovell left the line on race day with 95 vehicles in front of him. For reference, mixed class starting would have put him off the line 37th. The course consisted of an 81-mile loop through desert terrain that had been pounded by unlimited desert trucks earlier in the week at the Toyo Tires Desert Challenge followed by a 70-mile loop through 18 boulder strewn canyons. The rough desert course worked to the advantage of the Broncos and their well-tuned suspensions though, as they were able to work their way through the field despite low visibility due to heavy dust.
The Lovells suffered a mechanical issue early in the race when a boost hose ruptured, resulting in a huge decrease in power. Their crew was able to resolve the issue in Remote Pit 1, but in the meantime the rest of the field had passed them by. That left Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Eric Davis in the class lead with Bailey Cole and Jason Scherer directly behind them. Gittin drove the first lap of the race before handing the reins of the Bronco to Fun-Haver teammate Loren Healy and his navigator Jesse Amyx. Gittin and Healy finished the race on the same set of off-the-shelf DOT approved 35-inch Nitto Trail Grappler tires that they started with, minimizing downtime on the course.
While not crossing the line at the same time in “Ford Versus Ferrari” Le Mans style, the Broncos did sweep the podium when the checkers came out. Healy crossed first, beating all of the 4500 Class finishers (although it should be noted that 4600 does bypass some of the notable trails such as Sledgehammer and Jackhammer). The Lovells finished second, 22 minutes behind Team Fun-Haver. Bailey Cole and Jason Scherer rounded out the podium 11 minutes later. The only other vehicle to finish in the 4600 Class was Martin Lange over two hours later.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of the amazing team at Ford Performance and Fun-Haver Off-Road working together to make this win possible,” Gittin said at the finish line. “It’s so awesome when a great plan comes together!” Healy added. “After years of hard work and development on the stock class Bronco we executed our plan precisely and had a perfect day taking the win! Couldn’t be prouder of our team!”
Not everyone was as excited at the results as Ford was. Some competitors complained that they couldn’t match the Bronco teams’ budgets. While the “Every Man” Challenge name was often cited, the 4600 Class rules explicitly state “The spirit of the stock class is to allow OEM and aftermarket vendors the opportunity to showcase their products while providing a venue for teams to compete in a true drivers’ class in vehicles that closely relate to street driven versions of the same.” The complaint was not new, in fact it is as old as the Every Man Challenge itself. The first year the race was won by John Currie and Gerald Savvy in their 4600 Class Jeep Wrangler, which beat all other competitors from all classes. The next year the pair swapped in a V8 engine, moved up to 4500, and won again.
“It takes lot more than money to earn these types of results,” Vaughn Gittin Jr. explained. “The only difference between Broncos and most of the top trucks in 4600 is the portals, and they are commercially available to the public through 74Weld. If everyone in 4600 counted their time of building a vehicle at a shop rate of $125 per hour the numbers would be pretty close between their current 4600 class vehicles and the Broncos (with the exception of portals). My perspective is that it is amazing of Ford to make the investment to prove out the platform and inspire and make parts available for the next generation of Bronco racers.”
It isn’t even the first time that portal axles have been used in the 4600 Class. In 2020, Jesse Haines piloted his Mahindra Roxor to victory equipped with his own axles that use Toyota 8-inch differentials and Humvee portal boxes. At that time competitors grumbled about Haines’ unfair advantage, despite him driving a leaf sprung vehicle with a 96-inch wheelbase.
Roger Lovell broke down their success for other 4600 teams interested in getting similar results. “Spend more time prerunning the course, learn the fastest lines through different sections, and find opportunities to pass.” Roger revealed that his brother preran the first lap eight times prior to race day, making notes in the GPS about details such as where they would need to winch. He also stressed the importance of the people behind the scenes in the pits, which made all the difference for the Lovells on race day. “You have to empower them and give them the tools and information they need to succeed,” he explained. “I don’t know all the answers, and tried to share a bit of what has worked for us over the last 14 years.”
Ford and the Bronco teams are smart enough to realize that increased competition is good for the entire class and Ultra4 racing in general. Ford has even partnered up with more existing Ultra4 teams following King of the Hammers. While the Broncos swept the podium in the 4600 Class at the 2022 Every Man Challenge, they aren’t taking anything for granted on race day or the days leading up to the race. “While our team may look like it is high dollar from the outside, there are a lot of things we are doing that aren’t expensive,” Healy explained after the race. “They just take time and effort.” Team Fun Haver is certainly making the effort, they have committed to running the entire 2022 Ultra4 season in 4600 and realize they have a target on their back after their commanding win at King of the Hammers.