“I’ve always looked at ambulances as heavy, old technology. How do you bring them into the modern era? That’s what we’re working on next.”
David Richards, the boss of the Prodrive race team and engineering company he set up in 1984, is nothing if not diverse in his business. While closely associated with high-profile World Rally Championship (WRC), World Endurance Championship (WEC) and Formula 1 campaigns, the Prodrive of 2018 is very different to the company from the days of Colin McRae and Richard Burns piloting Subaru Imprezas to rally titles.
So diverse is Prodrive today that Richards says its core business has now moved beyond motorsport, while still being informed by it: “It’s now the racing culture, the DNA that comes from it. Everything we do is approached with that racing DNA.”
The company still races – in fact, it runs Aston Martin’s works entry with the new Vantage in the WEC, and has just designed and developed a new Renault Sport Mégane for an assault on the World Rallycross Championship. But these days Prodrive is busy making hybrid Ford Transit vans and ambulances, being involved in the development of America’s Cup racing boats and folding bikes, and working on elements of high-performance cars such as the McLaren P1 and Aston Martin Vulcan.
The ambulance project is born out of a job recently completed by Prodrive: the hybridisation of the Transit van. The Banbury-based firm designed a range-extender hybrid system to integrate into Ford’s 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine. It proved to be a surprisingly tight fit, even in the engine bay of a Transit.
“You’d assume there was plenty of room, but it was very tight under the bonnet,” says Richards of the project, which brought together several partners including Ford, the Advanced Propulsion Centre and Transport for London. The 27 vans have now been built and are being tested around London, a process designed to evaluate the viability for production and to assess the opportunity to reduce pollution in the UK’s vans fleet.
The Transit project is a poster child for Prodrive’s abilities. “We’re good at conceptual work and bringing multiple parties together,” says Richards. “It’s not just cutting-edge design, but how [an idea] works in practice, and integrating it into a product that works.”