To most of us Cosworth means motor racing. But now it’s applying its engineering skills to wider fields – and seas, and skies…
By Gordon Kirby
Founded in a tiny north London garage in September 1958, Cosworth’s motor sport record includes 13 Formula 1 World Championships, 176 GP wins, 17 USAC/ CART/Champ Car titles, 284 Indy or Champ Car victories including 10 Indy 500s, and hundreds of other wins in F3000, F2, Formula Atlantic, F3, Formula Junior, sports cars, touring cars, midgets and world rallying. Even in their wildest dreams, Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin could not have imagined their new partnership would bring such acclaim.
Cosworth began by building racing versions of the Ford Anglia 105E four-cylinder engine for the new Formula Junior category. The company’s first win was scored by no less a man than Jim Clark, the great champion-tobe who drove a Ford Cosworth-powered Lotus 18 to victory at Goodwood in March 1960. Over the next few years Cosworth engines dominated FJunior, F3 and then F2, becoming the most successful engine builder in these categories.
After moving to Northampton Cosworth’s Fl debut came in spectacular style in June 1967, when Clark won the Dutch Grand Prix driving a new Lotus 49 powered by the equally new Cosworth DFV V8. The legendary DFV and its derivatives went on to dominate Grand Prix racing over the next 15 years, winning 155 races and all but two World Championships until 1983. In 1976 a turbocharged version of the DFV, called the DFX, began winning USAC races in America, and over the past 35 years through a series of turbo V8s — including the XB, XD and XF engines — the Northampton firm has become even more successful in Indycar racing.
Cosworth has also undertaken development projects for many of the world’s major car manufacturers including Ford, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz, and established itself in an unchallenged position as the world’s most successful independent race engine builder. But in recent years it has undergone a transformation, diversifying and expanding into numerous non-motor racing businesses.
The trigger for the change took place five years ago when it was driven out of F1 at the same time that CART collapsed. CART was replaced for a few years by Champ Car, and new owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jerry Forsythe bought Cosworth in order to maintain an engine supply for the struggling series. They both recognised that Cosworth needed to diversify outside motor racing, and the company’s CEO Tim Routsis was tasked with devising and implementing a new business strategy.
Routsis arrived at Cosworth in October 2003 after running Pi Research, a leading manufacturer of electronic data systems for racing cars. At the time Cosworth was owned by Ford, but within six months it decided to sell, and the engine builder was fortunate to fall into Kalkhoven and Forsythe’s hands. Routsis has only good words for the pair.
“They are terrific and sophisticated investors,” he says. “They’ve both got enough experience to understand that the roles of the investor and management team are quite distinct and separate. To that end they have been fabulously supportive of Cosworth. They’ve never imposed, overruled or instructed. The company strategy has come from the management team.
“Kevin certainly has a passion for Cosworth. There probably isn’t a day where he won’t ring me or I him, purely as a ‘How goes it?’ conversation. He’s incredibly interested in what we’re doing and very attentive. Clearly he derives great pleasure from the journey the business is on.
“He and Jerry obviously have an effective relationship as shareholders,” adds Routsis. “Jerry doesn’t need to stand alongside Kevin to understand what’s going on in the business. He’s happy to take a supporting role. He clearly trusts Kevin’s judgement. From my position as CEO that’s terrific, because it means I have means one shareholder to engage and we have a good working relationship.”
Routsis explained the genesis of Cosworth’s diversification, starting in 2004 and ’05. “I certainly can’t say we saw the depths of the economic recession that the whole world went into. But what we could see were signposts that motor sport was starting to find it incredibly difficult to get sponsorship, which is its lifeblood. There were very clear signs that things were only going to get harder. We learned a hard lesson that being dependent on one market in particular, which itself was dependent on discretionary income, was a high-risk business strategy. The challenge was to find entirely new business.”
Before embarking on the road to diversification Routsis and his management team analysed Cosworth’s strengths. “We identified new markets by saying, ‘what do we put into making motor racing engines and where are there other adjacent markets that have problems which can be solved by the application of those resources and capabilities?’
“In late 2004 and early ’05 motor sport was about 95 per cent of our business, and in ’07 it was under 15 per cent. 2006 was probably the low point. At the end of that year we came out of F1 completely. Although Champ Car was still going it was at a reduced level and that meant we had to let something like 60 per cent of the workforce go.
“We recognised that this business is all about high integrity, high quality, low volume, high complexity engineering. That’s true of both the electronics and mechanical engineering we do. I made a conscious decision that we would have a balanced portfolio. We wanted markets and industries where we could see that they weren’t dependent on each other, so that if one of them caught a cold the whole business would never catch pneumonia again.
“One of the reasons Cosworth is growing as rapidly as it is at the moment is because it’s a one-stop shop,” Routsis adds. “We can handle a problem from concept through to realisation. It was clear to me we had to have the electronic dimension as well. In the modern world you don’t get mechanical systems that don’t have electronics intimately involved with them.
“It seemed a folly to put ourselves in the position where we were specialising only in one part of the delivery chain. We had to have the unique selling point of being a one-stop shop.”
Routsis identified four areas for Cosworth to pursue — aerospace and defence, the wider sports market beyond motor racing, automotive engine and component manufacturing, and clean energy. “The next question was ‘how do we attack them?’ We knew we had a good brand name, and we decided the right way to do this was to produce a technology demonstrator that showed our capability.”
Cosworth’s management and engineering team designed and built a single-cylinder, 80cc, two-stroke, direct-injection engine for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the remote-control ‘spy in the sky’ used by the military. “We could see a big increase in the use of smaller tactical UAVs,” explains Routsis. “A lot of those were powered by derivatives of really quite lowtechnology gasoline engines, and the feedback we were getting was that they were not very reliable. There was a growing need for a relatively small, reliable, properly designed heavy-fuel engine. So we did that and we were fortunate enough to win a fairly large contract from the US Navy to develop it.”
Bruce Wood, Cosworth’s technical director, has designed a brace of successful Formula 1 and Indycar engines including the current Fl V8, and he’s been at the centre of Cosworth’s diversification. “The little UAV engine was interesting,” he says. “Suddenly we were learning at a fast rate. It had been quite a few years since I’d learned at that rate. I think it was a pivotal moment for lots of people at Cosworth, to suddenly realise that we came here for a love of good engineering, not for racing.
“Through the UAV side, our machine shop is doing a whole host of aerospace and military ground vehicle bits. There’s a lot of small-batch and prototype manufacturing that fits in well with the way we make things.”
Today, Cosworth manufactures a wide variety of engines, including a 700bhp V12 for Aston Martin’s new One-77 supercar and a 630bhp 3.5-litre V8 for Group Lotus’s Type 125 customer car, and it re-entered Fl in 2010, building 80 leased engines for the Williams, Lotus, Virgin and HRT teams.
It has also developed a Cosworth-branded turbocharged engine for Subaru’s Impreza STI CS400 road car with further performance enhancements to suspension, brakes and wheels. Then there’s a development programme for the title-winning Bikelt Cosworth Yamaha motocross team, and Cosworth develops and supplies direct-injection control systems to BMW, Ford’s World Rally Car and most British Touring Car Championship competitors. All these engines and components are developed and tested in Cosworth’s seven dynamometer cells, which are complimented by three additional powertrain dynos.
Over the years Cosworth has designed almost 3000 pistons for a wide variety of road-going and racing engines. Last year it produced a new piston for the Lycoming Thunderbolt engine used in Red Bull’s air racing championship. Cosworth employs 22 people in its piston department, and all its pistons are forged in-house.
The company has also greatly expanded its electronic data-gathering systems business, both within and outside racing. In 2010 it built Fl steering wheels for Lotus, Virgin and HRT, and supplied steering wheels to Paul Drayson’s LMP car and Panther Racing’s IndyCar team, as well as helping Team Penske develop its IndyCar steering wheels. These wheels are manufactured at its electronics facility in Cambridgeshire, which also produces Pectel Control System units used by a wide variety of racing teams, including Prodrive’s Aston Martin LMP cars and many BTCC competitors.
It supplies electronic control systems to a number of one-make, spec car series including the Superleague Formula, World Series by Renault, Formula Renault and Formula Nippon, and hopes to win the contract for IndyCar’s new 2012 formula. In addition Cosworth supplies Fl wind tunnel data systems to Ferrari, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India and Lotus Renault, plus the Auto Research tunnel in the USA and automotive tunnels for Honda in the US and Japan.
Cosworth has found new markets for its Pi Research electronic data systems in yacht racing, from the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean series to local dinghy racing. These waterproof data systems were used by the British Olympic sailing team and gold-medal winner Ben Ainslie in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Pi systems are also used by historic Battle of Britain memorial aeroplanes and those operated by the Empire Test Pilot School in the Mojave desert, a training school for test pilots from around the world.
Cosworth has even applied its Pi syste,ms to monitoring the output of wind turbines. “We were keen to enter a market where there was natural growth and the clean-tech market fitted, whether it be wind turbines, nuclear fusion or fission and various other renewable energy technologies,” says Jog La11, Cosworth group sales director. “We ensure the owner/ operator gets maximum output from these wind turbines by monitoring for any potential failures, whether it’s gearbox, shaft or bearing failure. We provide the data that details what the timeframe of these probable failures are. We may also suggest reducing the speed of the turbine so that future catastrophic failures don’t occur.”
Then there’s the thriving automotive aftermarket business run by Charles Adams. This segment of Cosworth’s empire includes supplying blocks, heads, pistons, valves etc to the many DFV, BD and YB engines running in historic races worldwide. Adams’ division develops and maintains the Duratech Ford/ Mazda engine which powers the Focus and Mazda MX5 and the Caterham C5R260. And it provides parts and performance components for a wide variety of Japanese sports compacts. These components are predominantly developed in California at Cosworth’s Torrance facility and sold throughout Europe, the Middle East, Russia, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region. Cosworth also sponsors the Time Attack club racing series in the UK, which caters to Japanese Subaru and Mitsubishi sports compacts.
Martin Tolliday, general manager of Cosworth’s sports business unit, works out of the facility in Torrance. “We’re focusing on aftermarket and the Japanese sports imports in general while growing our aerospace and defence activities,” he says. “I think there are big opportunities in the United States, especially with Cosworth’s UAV engine. The other big opportunity in the US is with clean technologies and wind power in particular.”
Dynamic stress analysis is yet another area where Cosworth has found new business. “We offer stress analysis, torsional and vibration analysis,” says Tolliday. “Over the years Bruce [Wood]’s team has developed a complex system of tools and has plenty of experience with rotational forces and so on. We find a lot of people come to us for this service. It is really a case of making people aware of the many things we can do.”
Tolliday says Cosworth’s rapid response is attractive to many industries. “The speed with which we can react to people’s problems is appealing. We can help find a solution, whether it’s analysis and simulation or physical, mechanical and electrical parts or processes. That’s where we’re expanding the business.”
Routsis couldn’t be happier with Cosworth’s growth: “By the end of 2007 we had got to a position of being able to win substantive multi-million pound orders in adjacent industries, and by the end of ’08 the business was solidly profitable. By the end of 2009 it was completely debt-free and last year the business doubled.”
Cosworth opened an office in Pune, India at the end of 2009. “We aim to open further sites around the Pacific Rim and have much more demand serviced locally,” says Routsis. “The industries Pune is currently addressing are defence and automotive, but we expect it will expand to address all our four markets in that area, and that’s the business model we will apply around the globe.
“At the same time we’re developing our presence in North America and Europe. We’ve barely scratched the surface, and that’s really reinforced by the rate of growth we’re seeing at the moment.”
On top of all this, Cosworth is beginning to explore branding new products. “We’ve taken on a group chief marketing officer, Rick Temmink, to look at Cosworth’s global marketing strategy,” says Routsis. “But I’m cautious about what we do with the brand, simply because it takes years to build a reputation but you can lose it in a heartbeat.”
Wood provides a keen synopsis of Cosworth’s diversification and the value of racing in the company’s make-up. “It’s been nice to find that there’s a place for us in the real world besides motor racing,” he says. “But motor racing is our heritage, it’s where we started. I hope there will never come a day when Cosworth will be without motor racing. It’s a critical part of what built the company and is still a part of our methodology. I think the mindset that comes from motor racing is the important part of what we offer, and it’s important that we don’t ever lose that.”
I think it’s safe to say that Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin would approve of their baby’s remarkable transformation.