Fierce. (Photo Credit: Ford)

Ford’s already put the 2017 Raptor through some significant off-road races this year, but next month it goes to the big show: the 2016 Baja 1000. This might be the closest-to-stock vehicle that’s ever braved the crunchy dustball race, and it’d better finish or that “Baja Mode” button is going to be a lot harder to sell.

Is this a sticker-and-tire package or what?

The 2017 Ford Raptor is the second generation of the company’s surprise-hit off-road performance pickup truck. Take an F-150, add power, add better shocks and tires along with an advanced traction control system and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet sand-spraying toy straight from the factory.

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Ford delivered on this concept with its first iteration of the Raptor in 2010 and has been running with the idea ever since. First there was a 5.4-liter V8, then a 6.2. These vehicles are sold as “toys on Sunday, commuter cars Monday.” While most of the ones I see around LA are focused on the latter, I can also attest the Raptor is the standard vehicle for professional and amateur Baja adventurers.

So what makes the new Raptor special? 

It’s got EcoBoost, bro!

But seriously. Today’s Raptor, slated to hit showrooms in the very near future, is based off the new-for-2015 aluminum-bodied F-150 and is powered by an uprated version of that truck’s range-topping 3.5-liter turbocharged V6.

The new truck’s traction control system has a whole suite of driving modes, the most hardcore of which is “Baja Mode.” Made for fast desert driving in high-range 4WD, Baja Mode puts the truck’s electronic safety-governing nannies in the least-intrusive setting, sets the electronic throttle to a more “linear” response curve while the transmission shifts later and quicker to keep you in the power band as Ford explained in a press release.

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But as impressive as Ford’s off-road racing heritage may be, if you’re going to put a “Baja Mode” in your truck you better take it racing at Baja. And you’d better finish.

How many Ford dealerships have “Baja 1000 Winner* *Stock Full-Size Class” banners ready to print and unfurl when the new Raptor rolls into showrooms in earnest?

Even if they don’t, they’re going to have a much bigger marketing problem if the truck “born in Baja” doesn’t finish the race.

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With that in mind, you’ve got to respect Ford for going for it. Especially in a seriously close-to-stock truck.

How close is this thing really to the one I can buy off a lot?

Foutz Motorsports took this preproduction red-on-white Raptor from stock trim to race-readiness, and the list of modifications is impressively short.

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“We did the minimum of what we had to do to get it legal to race... we didn’t add anything to this truck that we didn’t have to do for safety purposes,” racing driver and builder Greg Foutz says in Ford’s promotional video above.

The Raptor that’s going Baja racing has nothing on the stock truck beyond a chromalloy steel safety cage, racing seats and harnesses and a few LED light bars according to Ford.

The BF Goodrich KO2 tires on the race truck will be the same ones you get at a Ford dealership, and the only changes to the OEM Fox shocks and optimizations in the springs and valving for the race truck’s weight.

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Stock shock tubes, stock air filter, stock oil coolers. Even the dang radio is still in there.

I have a feeling Foutz will run a relatively conservative race, since winning would be nice but finishing is key to Ford’s marketing strategy around this truck.

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But this is not a man who needs to drive slow to bring his equipment home—Foutz has been working on and driving desert race vehicles for longer than some of his competitors have been alive. He also drove the original Raptor at Baja in 2008, and after five races at this year’s Best In The Desert series he seems to be stoked on the new truck’s 10-speed transmission and extra inches of wheel travel over the old truck.

Is Ford going to hobble this truck in and flout an unopposed class win?

Foutz will actually have his work cut out for him if he really does want that class win.

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Sometimes a “factory class,” or “stock full” as it’s being called in this year’s Baja 1000, is run with a celebrity car like the Raptor unopposed so it can claim a “class-victory” just for wobbling across the line before time runs out. Not this year.

The 2016 Stock Full class is actually going to be one of the best ones to watch: living legend Rod Hall will be running it in a freaking Hummer, Marc Van Tassell and his crew of overland sponsors are in a Toyota Land Cruiser and Valvoline is putting drifto hero Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck alongside Cummins pro driver Roger England in a pair of old diesel-powered Dodge trucks.

In other words, the 2016 Baja 1000 is a huge race for Ford and suddenly one of the coolest stock-class grids I can remember.

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Teams have been pre-running the race course for a couple weeks now to suss out the terrain, but the actual 2016 Baja 1000 goes down November 16th to 20th. If you want a little preview of the hell competitors will go through, run through our account of last year’s Mad Maxian hellfest on wheels. Stay tuned for more details on the competitive field and the actual event this year.