2022 marks 50 years at the forefront of global motorsport transmission development for Ricardo. For over half a century, we have been partnering with top-tier motorsport customers to deliver championship winning products and engineering innovation in the field of competition-ready transmission technology.
In this article, we go back to our roots and taking a nostalgic look into the intriguing world of Group B rally, which was integral to the development of 4-wheel drive technology.
Group B Rally: Challenges and Opportunities
Ricardo’s journey in the motorsports industry began in 1971 with the founding of Ferguson Formula Developments Ltd (FFD) by Major A.P.R. Rolt (Tony) in Coventry. The company was focused on the development and commercialisation of 4WD technology.
When the FIA introduced the Group B regulations in 1982, it allowed for and promoted the development of the most powerful and sophisticated rally cars built to date. The technical development opportunities presented by these new regulations, together with the growing popularity and coverage of motorsport in the media, meant that the Group B rally attracted some of the world’s biggest OEMs to showcase their engineering prowess.
That is why Ford entered the fray in 1984. The OEM sought to develop a new generation of drivetrain with the power and performance required to effectively compete in Group B. It would need to cope with the unique and varying demands of different surfaces, grip levels and shock loadings all a characteristic of rallying. In addition, Ford were also determined that this vehicle would deploy 4WD technology to compete with existing offerings from Peugeot and Audi.
Ford RS200: Developing an Icon
It was from this brief that the Ford RS200 for competition was developed. The OEM brought FFD on board to support the development for the drivetrain solution.
Born from the ashes of the Ford RS1700T, FFD and its partners developed a unique drivetrain architecture. It took power from the mid-mounted 1.8l Cosworth BDT 4-cylinder engine forwards to a front mounted 5 speed transaxle incorporating both the centre and front differentials. A driveshaft connected to the front transaxle also took power backward to the rear wheels through a rear-mounted viscous coupling differential. This supported attainment of a 50:50 weight distribution, vital for optimised vehicle dynamics.
Despite Ford's relatively late entry to the highly developing world of Group B, the RS200 delivered success and podium finishes for the OEM. This included a podium finish for Kalle Grundel on home turf at the 1986 WRC Rally of Sweden.
A lasting legacy
Unfortunately, Group B presented many challenges to the safety of both the drivers and the spectators, and by the end of 1986, Group B was abolished by the FIA. However, the legend of the mighty RS200 was already well established and its legacy would lead FFD, and later Ricardo, to continue to deliver excellence and innovation at the forefront of topflight rallying to this day. Additionally, we will also be reviewing our involvement in modern-day World Rally Championship later this year.
Dave Gardiner, Plant Manager at Ricardo, looks back on his time with Ferguson Formula Developments Ltd:
"My first job when joining FFD thrust me into the fast-paced world of motorsport and the unique demands that this industry places on individuals and companies alike. Something must have a felt right as some 37 years later I am proud to still be part of the Ricardo motorsport family."
Martin Starkey, Managing Director of Ricardo Performance Products, also reflects on the legacy of FFD and the RS200 programme:
"Ricardo is proud to still have a handful of the team who were present back in the mid 1980's to this day delivering programmes at the forefront of world motorsport. We continue to offer world-class engineering expertise in the motorsport transmission market, representing the best of the impressive choice that UK manufacturing can offer to the motorsports industry.”
Join us for next month’s retrospective which takes us off to Le Mans for the start of one of the most successful runs of any manufacturer at the infamous Circuit de la Sarthe.