Picture this: We're at Ocotillo Wells. Temperatures are hovering around 90 degrees. Clouds from a tropical storm are building over the mountains to the south. Despite the threat of rain and high winds, we're able to get our video guys up in the helicopter we rented. It's time to race.
Pro driver Chad Ragland got a full briefing from Ford and Mopar representatives who were on hand to witness the timed runs and to answer any questions. Each rep gave us exact instructions on the truck settings best suited for our high-speed full-out laps.
We ran both trucks in high-range four-wheel drive with the stability and traction controls shut off, just as any reasonable off-road driver would choose in this type of terrain. Of course, we set the Raptor in Off Road Mode.
Each truck completed four runs over the course at speed, and we collected route data with our Racelogic VBOX recorder over the last three. As it turned out — and it's not too surprising — as Chad became more familiar with the course, the last run from each truck was the fastest timed run, and those are the official results we've presented here.
We've broken down the 4.73-mile course into four discreet sections, showing you exactly how each truck performed over the different stretches. The first and last sections had the roughest obstacles, so that's where we saw the slowest times. The slowest speed in the Raptor was 8.8 mph; the slowest speed in the Ram Runner was 12.7 mph.
Sections two and three (as designated on our route map) offered more high-speed running over machine-cut dirt roads and through wide-open river washes. Again, these two sections gave us our fastest top speeds for both trucks. The Raptor recorded the overall fastest top speed, hitting 79.1 mph on the smoothest part of dirt road in section three, while the fastest speed registered in the Ram Runner was 75.8 mph. During the transitions from the river wash to the better-maintained dirt roads, the Raptor's power and smarter traction control system stood head and shoulders above the Ram Runner. Still, as you can see from the graphics, the Raptor did not beat the Ram Runner by much.
In contrast, sections one and four offered more serious terrain where speeds were much slower to ensure safe navigation. In these sections, the Ram Runner — with its stronger front suspension springs and shocks and better approach angles — were likely able to handle the bigger bumps and holes with more control. This is where the Ram Runner pulled away from the Raptor.
So who won? When you look at the four sections, you see the Ram Runner won two and the Raptor won two, with the overall fastest time going to the Ram Runner, with a total loop time of 6 minutes 25 seconds. The Raptor's time was just 33 seconds slower, with a total lap time of 6 minutes 58 seconds.
The winner of our 2012 Duel in the Desert goes to the Mopar-built Ram Runner. In this bout, aftermarket beats factory.
After the contest, Ragland had this to say about the trucks:
Mopar Ram Runner
"I was impressed with the Ram Runner's extreme off-road capability — we jumped, slammed into mounds, cut through deep sand, all of it — and it came through it all like a pro ... rarely getting into the bump stops or touching the skid plates.
"Those front shocks are impressive. During our first set of runs, I could feel myself tighten a bit as we headed toward the big rocks and ruts, but then the front end just sucked it all up. ... By the later runs I could feel our times getting faster because I knew those big springs and shocks had no problems."
But Chad points out the Ram Runner isn't perfect.
"There needs to be some kind of effective way to deal with the traction and engine controls when running wide open in the desert. Sure, we know not everyone is going to push it like we do, but if you make the hard parts, there's got to be a software piece there, too."
"I have to say on the fast gravel roads, this truck is balanced. The traction at speed is so smooth — considering how well the engine gets power to the wheels, it's stunning the wheels don't feel like they're fighting each other. Each tire and even the front and back seem to be working like one big traction team.
"It really felt faster going into and out of the loose cornering we had to do. The front end especially felt like it was really digging/pulling the truck well. And the braking system never got in the way of the throttle. I was really impressed with how responsive the throttle was and how well the transmission knew to hold or downshift to a better gear.
"Maybe I shouldn't say this knowing that the Ram Runner had the faster time, but if I had to pick one truck, the better overall performer, for both on- and off-road, I'd have to pick the Raptor."
We know there will be some who cry foul, accusing us of biasing the course in favor of the Ram Runner, but the truth is we knew we needed a very diverse course, with harsh obstacles as well as high-speed straights. And we chose a relatively long course that gave us everything we could want.
We could have factored in criteria like fuel economy, road handling characteristics, pricing, value, zero-to-60 times, off-road prowess, payload capacities, etc — our list could go on and on — but even if we did include all those criteria, we'd still have to assign a particular value to each of those categories based on our perceived importance, with a total adding up to 100 percent. Clearly, the vast majority of points would still be given to the single off-road course time. And yes, we know, if we had done it that way, it may have meant there would be a different winner — or maybe not.
When, and if, we decide to do that kind of test, we'll be happy to let you know who wins. For now, we're happy with what we have here. And we hope you are too.
This test was designed to be the ultimate Duel in the Desert, where two fighters step into the cage and only one comes out the victor, with only one all-important timed run to decide the winner. Fair, maybe not; but interesting and exciting, oh yeah. Congratulations to Mopar's Ram Runner.
See more photos from the Duel in the Desert Shootout on our Facebook page.
Duel in the Desert Shootout