Inaugural Ford Mustang Challenge Series Kicks Off at Mid-Ohio

New Dark Horse R Series Shows Thrilling Debut Race...

The inaugural race of the IMSA-sanctioned Ford Mustang Challenge Series took place yesterday at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course, marking an exciting new chapter in Mustang racing history. The series features the new Mustang Dark Horse R, a turnkey, track-ready race car developed by Ford Performance for Mustang enthusiasts and racing aficionados.

The Mustang Dark Horse R –

The Dark Horse R entries at the Mustang Challenge at Mid-Ohio. (Ford Performance).

The Mustang Dark Horse R is a formidable machine, equipped with a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter COYOTE V8 engine, the same powerhouse found in the 2024 Mustang Dark Horse coupe. This race car is enhanced with track-focused upgrades to deliver unparalleled performance. These upgrades include advanced suspension components, high-performance brakes, and a bespoke set of Michelin race tires (295/30R19). The result is a car that is powerful, exceptionally agile, and responsive on the track.

Race Format and Series Structure –

The Mustang Challenge Series is structured to provide intense, competitive racing. Each event includes two 30-minute practice sessions, a 15-minute qualifying session, and two 45-minute sprint races. The field is divided into two classes: Dark Horse and Dark Horse Legends. The Dark Horse class is open to all drivers, while the Dark Horse Legends class is for drivers aged 45 and over, classified as bronze-level.

Schedule and Updates –

Originally announced in August, the series features a five-round, 10-race calendar. Notable changes include a date shift for the Watkins Glen International round and a new finale location at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, aligning with the SRO Indianapolis 8-Hour endurance race.

Mid-Ohio Race Results –

Taking the green flag for the first 2024 Ford Mustang Challenge race at Mid-Ohio. (Ford Performance).

The Mid-Ohio race kicked off the series with high-octane action and tight competition. Here are the unofficial top-five finishers for each class:

Dark Horse Class Top-Five Finishers:

  1. Robert Noaker – No. 13 Robert Noaker Racing
  2. Sam Paley – No. 26 Southern Paley Motorsports LLC
  3. Jeremy Fletcher – No. 22 McCumbee McAleer Racing
  4. Nate Cicero – No. 82 McCumbee McAleer Racing
  5. Reid Sweeney – No. 31 Robert Noaker Racing

Dark Horse Legends Class Top-Five Finishers:

  1. Tom Tait – No. 8 MDK Motorsports LLC
  2. Mike Stillwagon – No. 9 Automatic Racing
  3. Mitch Marvosh – No. 29 Robert Noaker Racing
  4. Nicholas Smither – No. 58 Nick Smither Racing
  5. Stephen Vajda – No. 10 NV Autosport

Driver and Team Impressions –

Robert Noaker piloting his Robert Noaker Racing Dark Horse R to the win. (Ford Performance).

Robert Noaker (Dark Horse Class Winner): “So much work had been accomplished to get to this point. We only really started about November of last year. Especially the last two weeks, we pulled 16-17 hour days just to get the cars to this point. I can’t thank everyone on the team enough. It’s a 20-person effort to make this work. I think the biggest thing is that this series still has a manual. It’s a lost art in sports car racing, and this may be the only single-make series that has a manual. It’s fun for me, and it’s what drew me in.”

Sam Paley (2nd Place, Dark Horse Class): “I’m super happy to finish second. Robert and his team really figured out the car. While we closed the gap a little bit, he closed out. I’m happy to be the best of the rest. Southern Paley Motorsports is a new program – one car looking to expand. So, I’m really happy to be up-front against some of the bigger programs. The Dark Horse R is definitely a driver’s car, especially here at Mid-Ohio. From a driver development standpoint, this weekend has been great in pushing the drivers to not make any mistakes. It’s been a really great platform. A big thanks to Ford Performance, Jim Farley and Glenn Long for putting this together.”

Tom Tait (Dark Horse Legends Class Winner): “Well I had a little bit of a higher standard there being Jim Farley’s teammate. He did an amazing job stepping up to the plate. The whole Ford team came in prepared. The cars handled fantastically. They put a lot of time into development, getting the car ready for the races. The drivers drove extremely clean, which I think needed to happen in the opener. I had Andy Lee come in to coach me. Jan Magnussen and the whole MDK Motorsports team is wonderful. The growth potential of this series is enormous. All of the engineers and developers from Ford, and all the way to the top to Mr. Farley did a fantastic job. We’re excited to see what is in store for this series.”

Mike Stillwagon (2nd Place, Dark Horse Legends Class): “I’ve been told by peers that this series was built for Mike Stillwagon, because I am a diehard Mustang fan. I named my daughter Shelby for crying out loud! This was a last-minute entry, so the car was delivered to us yesterday morning and I hadn’t turned a lap until qualifying. I just went in with a calm and clear attitude. I let the chips fall as they may, and lo and behold, I let others make mistakes and hung in there until the end. The overall appearance and sound of the Dark Horse R is killer. It’s just an awesome piece of machinery.”

Mitch Marvosh (3rd Place, Dark Horse Legends Class): “I really appreciated how clean everyone was racing. Things were getting a little loose at the end, but  everyone kept it mostly in control. It’s a very competitive series and the Dark Horse R is fantastic. It’s really a joy to be a part of the first one.”

Looking Ahead –

The Mustang Challenge Series aims to foster a competitive and enjoyable racing environment while providing a clear progression path within the Mustang racing hierarchy. Season champions will have the opportunity to choose between a cash prize or a scholarship towards a Mustang GT3 or GT4 seat, enhancing their racing careers.