Ricardo’s roll of honour
For a company with 100 years of engineering innovation, it’s hard to pinpoint one highlight to focus on, as Ricardo’s MD, Mark Barge freely admits. “I’ve been here over 30 years and there’s loads, so it’s hard to answer that question honestly.
“Audi at Le Mans was a game changer. And that wasn’t because you could change the gearbox in under four minutes. Race teams are highly skilled at making the best interpretation of the regulations in which to make theirs the fastest vehicle in the elapsed time. What was a game changer were the targets that Audi gave us to produce the LMP transmission. In 2000 that was 700Nm, 5000kms durability and 20,000 shifts with a very small development window. We had to pass first time. And we did it. We did it by not doing it the old-fashioned cottage industry way. We did it using a completely integrated approach with the client’s engineers and our own motorsport team. You have to design the concept to fit in their vehicle chassis system. By combining our own let’s say ‘core technical consulting’ skills, advanced analysis, advanced simulation tools, rig-base testing… We delivered!”
While the 24 hours on the smooth Le Mans circuit is one challenge, the multiple terrains and conditions in the WRC are a whole new ball game. It’s fair to say that Ricardo’s viscous coupling system – already in use in Ford’s Sierra XR4X4 and Sapphire Cosworth on the roads, had its heyday in WRC. It is one of Steve Sapsford’s choices: “The viscous coupling was our innovation that went on to turn the whole WRC on its head. Peugeot’s Group B 205 T16 and then Ford’s specifically designed RS200.”
Barge was also part of the development, recalling the relentless testing: “I sat with some of the best drivers over the years like Stig Blomqvist, taking notes. When you experience the first time a car leaves the ground in Finland it’s just incredible.”
Those two innovations both came during Barge and Sapsford’s time at Ricardo. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate earlier marvels too. There’s the Ferguson P99 Formula 1 car driven to victory by Stirling Moss in the drizzle at Oulton Park in 1961, the only time a 4WD car has won a Formula 1 race.
Or, from 1938/9 the supercharged Alfa Romeo Tipo 162 threelitre V16 that was sadly destined never to race.