CHAMPCAR/CART: Bruce Wood, Ford-Cosworth, interview

The program director for Cosworth Inc.'s CART program, Bruce Wood, has had a hand in designing the last three engines that Cosworth has built for CART. After assisting with the design of the XB engine, Wood served as chief designer for both the XD...

The program director for Cosworth Inc.'s CART program, Bruce Wood, has had a hand in designing the last three engines that Cosworth has built for CART. After assisting with the design of the XB engine, Wood served as chief designer for both the XD and the brand-new XF engine, which is currently in its first season in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Following Ford-Cosworth's sixth victory of the season in Australia - the third time since 1992 that the manufacturer has won six or more races in a season - Ford-Cosworth now holds a 16-point edge over Honda in the manufacturer's championship. Heading to the season finale at the California Speedway Wood reflects on the XF's performance in its first season of competition, discusses the season thus far to this point and looks forward to the race in Fontana (CA).

BRUCE WOOD - Ford-Cosworth CART Program Director - COULD YOU GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF WHERE THE PROGRAM IS WITH ONE RACE REMAINING THE 2000 SEASON?

"Well, coming off a weekend like Australia, you can't help but be pleased. The reality is that with a 16-point lead in the manufacturer's championship, I probably shouldn't say too much, but we'll have to be quite unlucky to not clinch that, and I think that would be a fantastic thing for us. We haven't done that for five years, and it would be just the boost that everybody needs. And I think we kind of deserve it. I know that the other engine manufacturers are working hard, but I can't believe that anybody has worked harder than us for this, so this would be a really nice thing to take home. If we can take home the driver's (championship) too, then that would be absolutely fantastic."

AFTER AN EIGHT-RACE STINT WITHOUT A WIN, WOULD YOU SAY THAT ALL THE FOLKS AT COSWORTH HAVE BEEN REJUVENATED, ESPECIALLY AFTER WHAT TRANSPIRED IN AUSTRALIA? "Yeah. I guess we've felt all along that we had the engine that could do it. Obviously at the beginning of the season we had a performance advantage and I think everybody could see that, so there was a great deal of excitement and a great deal of hype around it. I guess even before the season people had painted a season that was going to be a successful one for Cosworth, and I think we never quite believed our own publicity because we knew it was going to be much harder than that. It turned out to be a really hard-fought season - more so than any other, and we've had to fight very hard for where we've gotten. We haven't been as reliable as we wanted to be, there's no doubt about that. But we've had reasonable reliability, and certainly for a first-year engine I think we're as good as anybody has ever been with a brand new engine. I guess the reality is that we have gotten the results. (Australia) was our sixth win, the first time in five years we've won more than five races. In 1995 we won 10 races and since then we've never won more than five, so it's kind of nice to break that streak too."

WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEW XF ENGINE IN ITS FIRST SEASON? "We've been very happy with its performance. At the beginning (of the season) we had an advantage, and I think halfway through the season we'd have to say that most of that advantage was conceded to the opposition, I think to Honda certainly. They've stepped up in performance quite a bit and I doubt there's much difference now between the three engine manufacturers. That kind of comes down to the fact that at the first race of the season we made an active decision to concentrate on reliability because we failed three engines in the first race and realized that we couldn't afford to do that again or we'd blow the whole thing. So we decided there and then that we couldn't really effectively concentrate on both performance and reliability. We felt like our performance advantage at that stage would just about carry us through to the end of the season, and I guess that's about how it's worked out. So we decided there and then we wouldn't attempt to improve the performance. We wanted to do a lot of driveability stuff, but we weren't going to try and increase peak power and get to the end of the season on a sort of even footing with the other manufacturers, and I think that's how its turned out. We put all our focus on reliability and although we didn't turn out to be as reliable as we hoped, if we hadn't done that, I'm pretty sure we would've thrown the championship away by half season. I guess I feel that in the first race, performance was good, reliability wasn't, and we recognized what we had to do, where our priorities had to lay, and we haven't wavered from that course. So that meant there was going to be a point in the season, and we hoped it would be near the end of the season, where the other manufacturers would be on-par with us in terms of performance, and I think that has happened. Suddenly Honda got there a little earlier than we had hoped, but I think now between the three of us there really isn't much difference in terms performance-wise. We set out to do it this way and it's kind of worked out pretty much as we planned, I guess. We hope next year to make a big push over the winter to try and start again with a similar performance advantage."

HAS THE XF ENGINE MET THE EXPECTATIONS YOU SET FOR IT GOING INTO THE SEASON? "Overall yes it has. I'd say it's been a huge success for us to do a new engine, come straight out, have a huge performance advantage and win six races. That's pretty good going, I think. So overall it's met our expectations. Ultimately our goal is still to win the driver's and manufacturer's championship, so ask me after Fontana and I'll tell you if it's fulfilled all of our expectations (laughter). Reliability has been the one area where we feel we've struggled a little bit more than we wanted to. And I guess driveability - we hoped that after our midseason success in Cleveland and Toronto that we were in better shape there. But when we went to Vancouver, which is probably the worst circuit we go to because it was a very hard tire that Firestone provided and it's a very slippery circuit. So I think it wasn't until we went there that we realized we still had some work to do in that area. We've been a little disappointed in the driveability and somewhat disappointed in the reliability, but in terms of the overall performance of the XF, we're very happy with where we are."

WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL OF THIS ENGINE TO IMPROVE FOR NEXT SEASON? "I think there's a huge potential for improvement. We were very pleased with the very big performance hike we achieved over the XD straight out of the box. Having said that, we've really spent a year where we've done next to no performance development on the engine. That began to turn around in the last six or eight weeks where we started doing performance work, and already we've found seven or eight horsepower. I don't think we'll enter next season with quite the steps we made when we introduced the engine over the XD, but I guess we're hoping for three-quarters of that anyway. So I think there is lots of potential. When we designed it we made sure we didn't design ourselves into a corner, so although it's small and light it isn't so small and light that you can't do anything to change it. We've currently got quite a lot of prototype parts in manufacture, and we're hoping for a big push through November and December. So we're pretty comfortable that there is a lot of development potential, particularly in the driveability area. Obviously we used Ford's transient dyno in Dearborn, MI, this year, but next season we're going to have two engines full-time at the dyno so we can really capitalize on that facility a lot more. We don't have a transient dyno here in the UK, and it's an invaluable tool. We used it a bit this year and a bit last year, and we're hoping next year we'll have engines stationed there permanently so it's much easier to use that facility."

REGARDING THE NEW ENGINE RULES THAT REDUCE TURBO BOOST FOR NEXT SEASON, WHAT EFFECT WILL THAT HAVE IN YOUR OFFSEASON PREPARATION? "It's actually relatively minimal. I guess the moment has passed for whether people agree or disagree (laughter), but I think it's sensible. We would actually have been happy to see the formula go straight to 34 inches, which obviously will have a bigger affect in terms of car speeds, but I appreciate that you have to have a level of agreement between the manufacturers and 37 was the number we could all agree on. And it's undoubtedly a step in the right direction. The cars will be a little bit slower, nobody can argue about that. It will mean that the package for wing options is bit more flexible again, so it's a step in the right direction. Thirty-seven inches - the effect on the engine is pretty minimal. We've run the car and engine at 37 inches now and we'd actually be happy to start racing with it just as it is. In the fullness of time we'll look at induction systems and exhaust systems, which are the main things that'll have an influence (on performance). We've had a cursory look at them and really the engine isn't too far away from where it is right now. So the changes will have a minimal impact on us, and I think it's some step in the right direction, at least for the series."

WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE AERODYNAMIC CHANGES WILL BE FOR NEXT SEASON, SHOULD WE EXPECT TO SEE A DRASTIC CHANGE IN PERFORANCE OR WILL OFFSEASON RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CANCEL OUT THE BOOST REDUCTION? "It's difficult to comment on the aero rules, but certainly from an engine point of view, if we pick up one-third of what we lose, we'll be happy. The engines will end up around 50 horsepower down next year, and 50 horsepower is still three or four miles an hour, so it's still a step in the right direction."

AFTER ENDURING A STREAK OF EIGHT RACES WITHOUT A WIN, YOU'VE GOT TO BE VERY PLEASED WITH THE RESULTS FROM AUSTRALIA. "Yeah, we were beginning to think that we were jinxed with five wins in a season. It's been a long stint and obviously there were races we should've won. We should've won St. Louis, and through our own failure the engine broke and we threw that one away. So there were races we should've won during that time and by our own or some other aspect of the team's failure we haven't, so it's particularly nice to win again. And it's such a significant race because it suddenly throws the whole thing wide open again, or at least cements our manufacturer's aspirations and throws open the driver's championship. So yes, it was a particularly nice win to get."

IS IT EVEN MORE REWARDING THAT IT CAM ON A TEMPORARY STREET COURSE WHERE YOU'VE STRUGGLED IN RECENT RACES? "Yeah, but I'll be the first to say we were lucky there. We were lucky and the engine had good (fuel) economy, and that was the other thing that played into our hands. Obviously Friday and Saturday were a little disappointing, and I guess some of that shows that we still have some work to do in terms of driveability. We did try quite a lot of different things prior to Houston. We did a test with Kenny Brack where we tried a lot of different strategies there, and we carried those over to Surfer's. Most of the drivers felt that was a step forward, but plainly we weren't in the same class as Honda on Friday and Saturday. How much of that is the engine and how much of that is in the car? It's pretty difficult to say, but we'd be the first to say that we still have some work to do there."

WITH A 16-POINT LEAD OVER HONDA IN THE MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP GOING INTO THE FINAL RACE OF THE SEASON, WHAT WOULD WINNING A MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU AND COSWORTH? "For me personally, it undoubtedly would be a dream come true, I guess. In all of my 13 years at Cosworth I've been involved with CART. I was lucky enough to be the chief designer on the old engine, the XD, and we never managed to win a championship with that, and then I was fortunate enough to become program director and be in charge of the whole thing a couple of years ago. For me to have one of the pretty rare opportunities to be in charge of designing an engine and then be in charge of a complete department, it would be a dream come true to win it - that would mean a great deal to me. I think that for Cosworth as a company and to Ford it means a lot too. Ford took a risk in investing a lot of money to do a new engine for this year. Everybody has worked very hard on the engine both here and at Ford, and it would be fantastic for everybody if we managed to win the championship."

IT WOULD ALSO BE NICE IF EITHER ADRIAN (FERNANDEZ) OR KENNY (BRACK) COULD COME THROUGH AND WIN THE DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP AS WELL. "That would be the icing on the cake if they could do that."

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE SEASON FINALE AT FONTANA, THE FORD-COSWORTH ENGINE RAN STRONG AT MICHIGAN WITH FOUR DRIVERS FINISHING IN THE TOP 10. ARE YOU EXPECTING THE SAME TYPE OF PERFORMANCE IN TWO WEEKS AT THE CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY? "I hope so. I think the spec that we're going to race will be very, very similar to the spec that we ran at Michigan. We only had one problem at Michigan of all the cars that finished, and that was with Max (Papis), who ran out of oil. We think we understand why that happened, so we're not going to deviate too much from that spec. But my gut feeling is that winning the race is not going to come down to performance - it's going to come down to reliability. Of the two championship protagonists, I think whoever can truck around and stay out of trouble is going to come home with the championship. I guess Michael (Andretti) said at the beginning of the year that he thought the 500-mile races would be key to championship success, and I think that has come true. But obviously if we had to pick a race that we wanted to run in this situation, it wouldn't be a street course (laughter). Maybe it wouldn't be a 500-miler, but it would certainly be an oval. Rightly or wrongly, we've come to consider ourselves, and I think everybody else considers Cosworth as the oval specialists to an extent. Now we're going into the biggest oval event you can have, but we're reasonably comfortable. Like I said, I think in the end it's going to come down who can stay out of trouble, really."

ALTHOUGH YOU SAID YOU PLAN ON RUNNING A FAIRLY CONSERVATIVE SPEC, ARE YOU PLANNING ON DOING ANYTHING SPECIAL FOR THE TWO DRIVERS IN STILL IN CONTENTION FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "There are a couple of small things we're going to do. It's probably best not to tell anybody what they are though (laughter). But there are a couple of small tweaks and obviously everybody who's involved building the engines is more conscious than ever before of just how important they can be to us." MAKE SURE EVERYBODY DOTS THEIR 'I'S' AND CROSS THEIR 'T'S.' "Absolutely. There's a lot of 'laying of hands' on the cam cover right now and chanting over the engines." (laughter)

ARE YOU FEELING ANY EXTRA PRESSURE CONSIDERING WHAT'S AT STAKE? "It's going to be a long two weeks, that's for sure. Even today I'm conscious of the fact that it's going to be a very long two weeks, largely because the engines are built for Fontana and what's done is done for the race. We don't have any information to cause us to do anything differently, but it's quite a long wait from now until Fontana. Hopefully nobody will lose any sleep over it, but yeah, now we find ourselves with everything to play for and there's definitely a little buzz around the place."

BUT YOU'VE GOT TO FEEL REASONABLY COMFORTABLE KNOWING THAT THE XF ENGINE IS STRONG ON THE OVALS, AND THAT THE LEADING FORD DRIVERS IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ARE ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, WHO WON THIS RACE A YEAR AGO, AND KENNY BRACK, WHO OBVIOUSLY BRINGS A GREAT DEAL OF OVAL TRACK EXPERIENCE. KNOWING THAT, HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR CHANCES? "I think we're going to do it. I think we have a really good chance. I think anybody would say that we have shown very well on ovals through the years - we seem to be pretty solid at the 500-mile events and we've done lots and lots of 500-mile endurance testing on the dyno. And as you said, you probably couldn't pick any better drivers for an oval than Adrian, Kenny and Michael (Andretti) as well. You've got some of the best oval track drivers in the world there, perhaps the best, and we couldn't really ask much more I think. But the only thing with a 500-mile race is that there is an element of lottery involved - you can get completely caught up in somebody else's accident. So there is an element of lottery and it's very easy to get caught up in something that wasn't your fault at all."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Kenny Brack