History of motorsport excellence

History of motorsport excellence

A legacy we are continuing to build

The history of Ricardo’s involvement in motorsport is rich and varied, spanning eight decades and involving varied racing disciplines and technologies.

As early as the 1920s, our founder, Sir Harry Ricardo, was involved in the application of internal combustion engine technology for motorsport. Sir Harry designed the three-litre engines used by Vauxhall racing cars in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy in 1922. The first major accolade came in 1936, when Ricardo developed a diesel variant of the Rolls Royce V12 kestrel engine and helped ‘Flying Spray’ set a new diesel speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats – 159 mph – a record that would stand until 1950. Half a century later, Ricardo would return to Bonneville with another car – the JCB Dieselmax – to snatch the diesel record back once more, at over 350 mph.

We also undertook pioneering work with Wifredo Ricart (Alfa Corse, under the leadership of Enzo Ferrari) in the 1930s, collaborating on the design of the Alfa Romeo Tipo 162 three-litre V16 supercharged engine. The engine was designed to challenge the all-conquering German racing teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union.

In the early 1960s, one of the original founders of what would become our renowned driveline and transmissions capability, Harry Ferguson, developed a Formula-1 car to prove the feasible high-performance application of four-wheel-drive technology. The resulting P99 was driven to a single Formula-1 win in 1961 by Stirling Moss. The principles went into further development and were later applied to an innovative luxury coup√© – the 1966 Jensen FF – the first ever four-wheel-drive road car, and the first to feature ABS.

In the 1970s, we continued to pioneer the advancement of high-performance four-wheel-drive applications, with the invention of the viscous coupling. This was widely used on a range of production and motorsport applications, most notably in several Group-B rally cars in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, Ricardo provided key analytical support to Formula-1 and sportscar engine manufacturers on advanced valve-train and crank-train dynamics.

In the mid 1990s, the company was a key supplier to Ford during their dominance with the Ford Escort of the rallying world, whilst also developing transmissions for the Jaguar XJ220 and McLaren Formula-1 road car.

Ricardo’s presence at Le Mans and World Endurance Cars came to the fore in the late 1990s and early 2000s, by supplying transmission technology for the dominant Audi R8 during its multiple wins. Our presence continued into the diesel era, with the design, development and supply of a truly unique transaxle to the Peugeot 908HDi FAP.

During the early 2000s, Formula-1 teams, including Benetton and Renault, were actively using Ricardo’s transmission modelling and dynamic simulation software to develop launch strategies and gearshift simulations. Ricardo also worked in conjunction with EEMS on pioneering fuel-flow meters (FFMs) for the British Touring Car Championship, the output of which influences today's Formula-1 FFMs.

In the mid 2000s, Ricardo’s presence in Japan was cemented with the Japanese GT series mandating the use of a Ricardo transmission due to significant improvement in performance and reliability, reducing cost per mile for the teams. Substantial R&D work was also undertaken with helium trace technology, to understand and model air and fuel flow for the development of V10 engines for Formula 1.

From 2003 to 2006, Ricardo designed, developed and delivered the highly innovative Petronas World Superbike engine, dramatically increasing performance and reliability, while in 2006 it contributed to the development of the world’s fastest diesel engine for JCB, the Dieselmax.

Between 2007 and 2010, Ricardo supplied technical consulting and advice to various regulating bodies regarding the future direction of motorsport technical regulations, culminating in the Global Race Engine concept.

Ricardo continues its legacy today with the supply of transmissions for the Porsche Cup Series, the longest-running, largest and most successful series in motorsport. Our teams continue to deliver product and engineering solutions in GT3, singleseater, rally, and endurance racing, and furnishing Formula 1 with over 40,000 components over the past 10 years.