The name Prodrive isn’t one you’ll stumble across every day, and sounds a bit like a company that might offer teen driving courses. However, it’s one of the world’s most successful race car shops, and bests many individual manufacturer efforts.
How does six World Rally Championships, four Le Mans wins, five World Endurance Championships, and four British Touring Car Championships victories sound for a start?
But while “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” is the parable that motivates many marques in motorsport, Prodrive sells no road cars.
How does a small, generally unheard of firm compete against the likes of Porsche, Honda, and Ford? Simple — those companies hire Prodrive to run their race programs.
Porsche 911 SC/RS
You probably don’t associate the Porsche 911 with the World Rally Championship, and especially so in the 1980s. After all, that’s when the Audi Quattro redefined rallying and made all-wheel drive requisite, right? Well, not so fast; Porsche was also working on an all-wheel-drive system that would ultimately launch in the Gruppe B project you know as the 959.
Porsche was also approached by ex-WRC co-driver David Richards about taking the 911 rallying. Richards was behind the iconic Rothmans livery connected with Porsche, and Porsche agreed to allow Richards to field a series of lightweight 911s. Known as the SC/RS, Richards’ new firm Prodrive would run the cars in the European Rally Championship (ERC). It was quite successful for an upstart; Henri Toivonen came second in the ERC in 1984, and the car won the Qatar International Rally in the same year. The 911 SC/RS was replaced in 1985 with the all-wheel drive 959 that went on to win Dakar, also run by Richards’ firm.
As with Porsche, BMW’s sporting heritage in the 1970s and early 1980s was primarily reserved for race circuits. But to fully exploit the new E30 M3, Prodrive was tasked with building a Group A rally car for the works BMW team. It proved somewhat successful and made really great noises, but the M3’s home was on the track.
In 1987, Prodrive began campaigning M3s in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). It took them only one year to capture the title. No doubt buoyed by the impressive nature of the M3, it was a real achievement nonetheless. At the same time, its rally M3s captured the Belgian Rally Championship and came second in the Italian, French and European Championships.
If there is one Prodrive effort you’re most likely to be aware of, it’s the Subaru Rally Team. Prodrive’s success in running both the Porsche and BMW efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and Subaru employed Prodrive to win in 1990. The initial effort predated the Impreza, so the first car run was the Legacy RS.
Still, the Impreza would become legendary at the hands of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg; each would win the WRC overall and contribute to three constructors championships for the company. This success bore the WRX in all its glory, and there was much rejoicing in the IT world.
Ford Performance Vehicles
Ford, too, looked to Prodrive to run its performance division in Australia. This partnership followed a successful year with the company running Ford Mondeos in the BTCC. With the creation of Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) in 2000, higher-end performance Fords were built in conjunction with Prodrive. Its shares were sold back to Ford in 2012.
FPV was also very active, but only moderately successful, in the V8 Supercars Championship with a second overall placing in the championship in 2006 and a notable major win in 2013 at the Bathurst 1000. After many years run under the FPV nameplate, Prodrive took charge of the team as Ford withdrew from competition.
Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello
In the midst of its rally successes and with a fair amount of tarmac experience from its BMW, Subaru and Ford Touring Car efforts, Prodrive moved up to run the Ferrari 550 Le Mans effort in 2001. With WRC Champion Colin “when in doubt, flat-out” McRae at the wheel, the effort promised to be entertaining if nothing else.
But successful it was, with 2003 marking the year Prodrive conquered the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time, winning the GTS class and scoring second overall in the championship. But in terms of endurance racing, this isn’t the V12 with which the company is most famously associated.
Aston Martin WEC
The triumphant return to racing for Aston Martin with the DBR9 was certainly evocative, with the moss-colored big coupes howling their V12 song around the world’s race circuits. But it wouldn’t have been possible and success wouldn’t have been as probable without Prodrive.
As with the Ferrari effort, it took a few years and some luck to achieve victory. Still, the DB9R won the GT1 class at Le Mans in 2007 and again in 2008, along with many class victories and podiums. Prodrive continues to field Aston Martin Vantages in the World Endurance Championship, and the Aston’s sales success has become linked to these on-track efforts as it’s moved to take on Porsche and Ferrari in the marketplace.
The new British American Racing (BAR) effort to resurrect the defunct Tyrrell team, despite backing from Honda, was unsuccessful. In 2001, Prodrive was tapped to takeover the team, in part due to its links to British American Tobacco’s sponsorship of the Subaru Rally Team and Honda BTCC efforts. It took a few years, but success came at the hands of Jenson Button, who regularly scored points in the 2003 season and helped BAR to second in the constructor’s championship in 2004. This was especially impressive at the height of the Schumacher/Ferrari era, and perhaps even more so when compared to Toyota’s lackluster, big-budget contention.
Honda took over shortly after and results waned, causing Honda to quit Formula 1. The defunct team became Brawn GP, subsequently winning the championship in 2009, before being sold to the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz.
MINI JCW WRC and Volkswagen Golf SCRC
Although the World Endurance Championship and V8 Supercar efforts continue to be successfully contended by Prodrive, it’s also returned to its roots building works rally cars. When BMW chose to re-enter the WRC with its Mini brand, it was Prodrive that built and prepared the JCW WRC models and continue to do so today.
Volkswagen, too, sought Prodrive’s help to build a rally version of the Golf for the Chinese Rally Championship. Success was immediate, with the FAW/VW Rally Team winning the 2015 Championship. Along with the Mini JCW WRC, the Golf SCRC is one of two turn-key rally cars offered by the company to privateers.
[Images and Source Information: Prodrive]