Weekend Courier - - Driveway - Craig Duff and Richard Black­burn

A FORD Mustang will re­turn to the Bathurst 1000 for the first time in 33 years af­ter Ford Aus­tralia an­nounced it will re­join the Su­per­car cham­pi­onship next year.

Cam­paigned by the Dick John­son Rac­ing Team Penske and Tick­ford Rac­ing in next year's cham­pi­onship, the Mustang will start the sea­son at the Ade­laide 500.

For Ford rac­ing leg­end John­son, it is a re­union of sorts, as he drove a Mustang to fourth place in the 1986 Bathurst 1000 un­der Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship reg­u­la­tions.

Ford with­drew from Su­per­cars in 2015.

The re­turn to the track was an­nounced in tan­dem with the launch of Ford Aus­tralia's new performance di­vi­sion, which will sell sportier ver­sions of the Mustang, Fi­esta and Ranger.

The brand has re­sisted calls from Su­per­car teams to al­low the Mustang to race in Aus­tralia but lo­cal boss Graeme Whick­man said he launched the plan af­ter reg­u­la­tions were amended to let two-doors race in the se­ries.

“There’s been a lot of spec­u­la­tion and calls for Mustang to be on the track, and as a Ford Performance model that’s raced around the world, it's fit­ting that Aus­tralia's most pop­u­lar sports car should be on our race tracks,” Whick­man says.

The Mustang was a fa­mil­iar sight at Aus­tralian race­tracks in the 1960s when Ian Geoghe­gan won three suc­ces­sive ti­tles pi­lot­ing the orig­i­nal Pony Car in 1967-69.

Alan Mof­fatt then had an amaz­ing strike rate with the Trans-Am Mustang in the im­proved pro­duc­tion ATCC, win­ning 101 of 151 races from 1969 to 1974.

Its re­turn will add lus­tre to the performance brand, which will fet­tle the Ranger Rap­tor dual-cab ute that goes on sale late this year and the Fo­cus ST hot hatch due in 2019.

On ar­rival in Aus­tralian show­rooms in 2016, the Mustang im­me­di­ately be­came our most pop­u­lar sports car. Ford has sold more than 1600 ex­am­ples so far this year, ac­count­ing for nearly half of the un­der-$80,000 seg­ment’s sales.

The Ranger has also been a stand­out suc­cess for the brand. Last year it was the sec­ond-best sell­ing ve­hi­cle in the coun­try, more than fill­ing the gap left by the lo­cally made Fal­con.

The Ranger Rap­tor will join the Mustang on the track next year as the of­fi­cial re­cov­ery ve­hi­cle for the Su­per­cars se­ries.

The Fi­esta ST uses a 1.5litre three-cylin­der (147kW/290Nm) and six-speed man­ual gear­box to drive the front wheels, mak­ing it an ob­vi­ous com­peti­tor for the Volk­swa­gen Polo GTI.

Ford Performance aims to fill our ap­petite for performance cars; Aus­tralia is among the lead­ing mar­kets for Mercedes-AMG and BMW M performance cars and VW’s Golf GTI makes up about a quar­ter of Golf sales.

Ford Performance uses us­ing light­weight com­po­nents, aero­dy­namic kits and en­gine en­hance­ments to pro­duce sportier ver­sions of reg­u­lar road-go­ing cars.

Dick John­son said the Mustang deal is “mu­sic to my ears... it’s great to be back in the Ford fold, and we'll con­tinue to en­sure that we give Ford – and its mil­lions of fans – some­thing to cheer about”.

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