CHAMPCAR/CART: Cosworth Racing: A quarter century of excellence

DEARBORN, Mich.- Long considered one of the premier engine builders and a proven winner in racing series worldwide, Ford Motor Company-owned Cosworth Racing is on the verge of scoring its 200th victory following a quarter century of Champ...

DEARBORN, Mich.- Long considered one of the premier engine builders and a proven winner in racing series worldwide, Ford Motor Company-owned Cosworth Racing is on the verge of scoring its 200th victory following a quarter century of Champ Car racing. Cosworth's record of achievement in over 25 years in Champ Cars is unparalleled: 197 race victories, 11 drivers' championships, 12 Indianapolis 500 victories and two manufacturers' championships. In conjunction with its long-time partner and now owner, Ford and Cosworth have combined for 331 Champ Car victories in more than 40 years.

Founded in 1958 by Mike Costin and Kevin Duckworth in Northampton, England, Cosworth has worked tirelessly through the years to remain competitive in North America's premier open-wheel racing series. But according to Ian Bisco, vice-president of Cosworth's North American operations who has been involved with the company's Champ Car program for more than 20 years, while much has changed, many things still remain the same.

"It's funny to see that many of the same issues that we faced 20 years ago are still haunting us today," Bisco remembers. "Critics back then, as many of them do now, said 'racing's too expensive, too powerful and too fast to be safe.' Back in those days a Champ Car engine cost $27,000, the power generated was around 700 horsepower and alcohol fuel injection was accomplished using a crude and complicated system of jets, springs and shims. One small step the wrong way meant that you would be watching your engine go by with a long trail of blue smoke behind it because a piston burnt through.

"Today's modern electronics and sensors have eliminated many of things that could go wrong through human error, and reliability has increased tremendously. For example, live telemetry has given us the ability to know when an engine is going bad, usually giving us time to warn the driver and reduce the amount of damage that could be done. Telemetry has also made the drivers honest. We know if he or she entered a corner at full throttle or whether or not they over-revved the engine before it blew up, regardless of what they might say."

Today's Champ Car engines are technological marvels, specifically designed to endure the stress of revving at approximately 16,000 rpm while generating close to 900 horsepower. Ironically, Cosworth Racing, already having designed the highly successful DFV Formula One engine during the mid-1960's, made its initial foray into Champ Cars 10 years later using a modified version of that Formula One engine - the DFV.

Introduced in 1976, the 2.65-liter DFX was a modified, turbocharged version of the Cosworth's DFV Formula One engine. Producing more than 700 horsepower, the DFX would eventually become the standard-setting Champ Car engine for the next decade. Al Unser gave the DFX its first victory on June 27, 1976, at Pocono before winning twice more at Milwaukee and Phoenix. Altogether, the DFX would win 149 races - including 12 Indy 500's - and 10 drivers' championships between 1976 and 1991, making it one of the winningest engines ever developed by Cosworth.

"The DFX established our participation in North America's premier open-wheel racing series," according to Bisco. "We used to develop the base engine specification in England before selling engine kits and their replacement parts to engine rebuild houses or teams that had their own engine shops. We supplied engines to about 95 percent of the cars on the grid in those days - a totally different scenario from what we have today."

The 1992 season saw Ford Motor Company return to open-wheel racing in the United States for the first time in 21 years, partnering with Cosworth Racing to design and produce the Ford-Cosworth XB. Revolutionary for its time, the XB was a totally new V-8 engine with a re-designed cylinder block, head and other major castings and forgings. Unlike the DFX, the XB was a "clean sheet of paper design" specifically for Champ Car racing and was significantly smaller and lighter than its competitors, while still producing close to 14,000 rpm and between 750 and 800 horsepower.

Although its win total doesn't match that of the DFX, the success the XB enjoyed in just four years of competition is impressive nonetheless. From 1992 to 1995, the XB won 25 races, including the 1995 Indianapolis 500, drivers' championships in 1993 and 1995, and a manufacturers' title in 1995 despite competing against other successful engine manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz and Honda.

"The XB was truly a great engine because it was so radical and it established the baseline for today's engines regardless of manufacturer," comments Bisco. "Its size and shape established a datum by which CART would establish its future chassis rules that we continue to work with today.

"I also think that the engine set a trend whereby it was the first engine to be designed as part of a chassis with installation, aerodynamics and serviceability access all influencing the initial size, weight and shape of the engine. In my mind it is still the most compact and cleanest-looking engine we've ever designed because it didn't benefit as much from the rapidly increasing electronic 'gadgets' that today's engines utilize."

Although the XB was a highly successful engine, the ultra-competitive world of Champ Car racing dictated that Ford and Cosworth introduce the XD in 1996. Compared with the XB, the XD was smaller, lighter and had a lower center of gravity while still producing close to 15,000 rpm and between 800 and 850 horsepower. Despite the fact that it was often the most powerful engine on the track, the XD was plagued by early reliability problems. The XD still managed to win 16 races over three years, including five during both the 1996 and 1999 seasons, but failed to achieve the success enjoyed by either the DFX or XB.

"The XD was introduced in a much more competitive environment than our previous engines had been," Bisco says. "We had a much stronger level of competition from the other engine manufacturers competing in the series at the time and this diluted the number of teams that were running the XD. Although its achievements were diminished in regard to wins, the level of success we achieved with the XD was still very good and the top end power of this engine was always the envy of our rivals."

The 2000 season saw Ford and Cosworth introduce the XF, another completely new engine designed specifically for Champ Cars. The third generation in Cosworth's "X" series, the XF is the smallest, lightest and highest-revving Champ Car engine ever designed and manufactured by Cosworth Racing. Two inches shorter and 18-percent lighter than the XD, the XF produces nearly 16,000 rpm and more than 800 horsepower. The XF enjoyed a highly successful inaugural campaign in 2000, winning seven races - including its debut race - and Ford-Cosworth's first manufacturers' championship since 1995.

Following such an impressive debut season for a new engine, hopes are high heading into the 2001 season. Eager to defend its manufacturers' championship while also capturing a drivers' championship, Cosworth Racing also needs just three wins to capture its 200th victory in 25 years of Champ Car racing.

"The 2001 season should be very exiting in the CART series with new venues, driver changes and several teams switching engine manufacturers," Bisco says. "We spent a great deal of our time last year manufacturing new engines and sorting out problems assorted with introducing a new engine, and not a lot of time was spent developing the performance of the engine. However, we made a specific effort during the offseason to improve the XF's performance and it should take on a new dimension in 2001.

"I think when we tested the XF during Spring Training at Homestead last season we held a large advantage over the competition in terms of performance. But as the season went on, I think the opposition slowly caught up to us so that by the end most of the manufacturers were pretty evenly matched.

"This year we're hoping that our extensive winter development program will help us to regain the performance advantage we enjoyed at the beginning of the 2000 season, although we won't know for sure until the first race of the season in Mexico. However, unlike last year, we plan on continuing our performance development of the XF indefinitely throughout the year because not only do we want to retain the coveted CART manufacturers' trophy, we'd also like to win a drivers' championship and capture Cosworth Racing's 200th Champ Car victory."


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser