One of the interesting trends in motorsports over the past couple of decades has been the growth of single-make racing series organized by automakers. Among the earliest was the Porsche Carrera Cup that debuted in 1990, but there are now many ranging from the relatively more affordable Mazda Miata MX-5 Cup and Toyota GR Cup to the high-end Ferrari Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. The newest entry coming in 2024 falls somewhere in between those with the Ford Mustang Challenge featuring the Mustang Dark Horse R.
Like other vehicles for single-make series, the Dark Horse R is a turn-key, factory-built race car that comes in a single specification for all racers. As with the new Mustang GT4 and GT3, the Dark Horse R was developed by Ford Performance and like those from other brands, it’s not street legal although it shares a lot with the pony cars that customers can buy from any Ford dealer.
Ford is no stranger to selling turn-key racing Mustangs with a history that goes back to the 1960s with the original GT350 and Cobra Jet, to the modern Cobra Jets, FR500s and S550-based GT4.
The Dark Horse R is essentially a Mustang Dark Horse stripped of all its road going trappings and then fitted with the parts necessary to make it a viable and most importantly, safe race car. The body-in-white is built at the Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant alongside all other Mustangs and then a full roll cage is installed at Watson Engineering, just up the road in Brownstown Township. Watson handles the final assembly of the Dark Horse R. It’s fitted with FIA approved Recaro racing seat, and Sparco harness, fire suppression system and quick release steering wheel. There’s a MoTec data logger and display, a fuel cell and side safety nets.
On the outside, the bodywork is pretty much stock Dark Horse with the addition of a more prominent front splitter and rear wing, tow hooks, reinforced jacking points and underbody tie down hoops for safe trailering to the track or removal when it exits the racing surface unexpectedly.
The 5.0-liter Coyote V8 will get some unspecified number over 500-hp, but adds an improved oil system, transmission and differential cooling and Borla racing exhaust. There are also Brembo racing calipers and rotors all around and a specially developed Michelin 19-inch slick racing tire.
The initial Mustang Challenge series is still being finalized, but it will be sanctioned by IMSA as are the MX-5 Cup, Ferrari Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. The plan is for a 5 or 6 weekend schedule with practice, qualifying and two sprint races per weekend. The events will be run as support races for other sports car series run by IMSA. For now, the North American IMSA series is the only one confirmed, but Ford does intend to make the Dark Horse R available globally. As designed, the car doesn’t specifically fit into any other existing rule sets, but Ford hopes to see it in a variety of grassroots series in the coming years.
Series like Mustang challenge are a great opportunity for amateur racers and aspiring pros alike to gain valuable track experience and hone their skills. While not inexpensive, with identical, spec cars, the competition is more about the driver’s craft than who can spend the most money on car prep and getting just the right parts.
The Dark Horse R will start at $145,000 which is probably less than it would cost someone to buy a Dark Horse and turn it into a viable race car. Ford’s plan is to deliver the cars with plenty of time to prep for the 2024 race season, whenever that might actually start. Anyone interested can order a Dark Horse R now (