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Bringing the Valkyrie to life: the people behind the power


Impossible. Driven. The tagline for the Aston Martin Valkyrie hypercar perfectly encapsulates the formidable effort that has been poured into every aspect of the vehicle’s record-breaking design.

Bringing the Valkyrie to life: the people behind the power

The striking appearance of the track-inspired roadgoing car has quickly become synonymous with cutting edge high performance. 

At its core lies the essence of Cosworth: a boundary redefining V12 powertrain and world-class electronics package that has underpinned Aston Martin’s vision to make the impossible, possible: a superhuman project led by super humans.

Applying true Formula 1 technology and performance to a road car, with no compromise to reliability or emissions compliance – and producing it in large quantities is unquestionably a huge feat of engineering. As with all projects undertaken by Cosworth, it all started with a blank sheet of paper and a team of passionate problem-solvers.

“It was originally known as Project Nebula,” reveals Chief Design Engineer Toby Nation. “We were tasked with a feasibility study to determine what this engine would look like and perform. That was our role — to create a bespoke & clean sheet design.”

With a background in mechanical design, Toby had long harboured a desire to work at Cosworth and has been part of the team for over a decade. Leading mechanical design projects, the team are responsible for transforming the automotive landscape through our powertrain projects.

“We give the spark to our customers ideas and bring them to life,” he explains “We're responsible for bringing the physical embodiment of that into reality.  Working-out what they think they want from what they need if often the key to a successful project”.

Valkyrie’s life began as a Red Bull initiative in 2015, as the company embarked on a performance road car programme. Cosworth’s brief at that time was to explore a 900bhp engine. 

Toby details: “Starting with a power target and Red Line we found the vehicle package to be ‘extremely challenging’ [tight!] so we explored various engine configurations”.

“You start the process with an idea,” says Toby. “You can imagine the genesis; it's a 12 cylinder, probably a 60 or 65-degree V and start visualising what it might look like, it's an intricate 3D puzzle, figuring out how all this fits together in your mind.  There’s also the time domain to wrap around, knowing vital information won’t be available to make key decisions when one would normally need to”.

Toby details: “The initial clean sheet is a really fascinating period as you create something which has all the ideas stirred-in to one cohesive entity, it’s an honest representation informed by both the mechanical and thermodynamic requirements.  This is the feasibility stage and is what we presented to Adrian and the vehicle team to demonstrate how and why we’re laying-out the engine, and showed how we would meet the target torque curve along with our approach to emissions compliance.  All the other targets were challenging for a road car, but we knew emissions compliance would require a lot of focus. Following this, the project went into stasis.”

The project picked up momentum again in 2017, by which stage it had evolved. Demand was for more power. 900 was good but there was a clear intent to break the magic 1,000 horsepower barrier. This was Valkyrie’s origin story.

We thrive on solving engineering problems, and because our approach is different, we often have new ideas to solve. We are problem solvers, solution-driven creators. If initial briefs are open ended this allows plenty of scope for innovation.  “Once we were underway again it was clear to us what AML would require; to provide the beating heart of the mighty Valkyrie, a V12, 6.5l 11,100rpm engine”.

When you have a bank of experience as vast as Cosworth has at its disposal, sometimes the process is intuitive. “For the Valkyrie, the planets aligned for us to pick a piston size Ø98mmm, the same as the last inline of our F1 race engines, the CA which famously had an operation ceiling of 20,000rpm.  Other than the legacy diameter, nothing else was usable, the Valkyrie engine is truly a clean-sheet bespoke design.”

The true complexity in the Valkyrie project came from its scale. Designing and making race engines is typically in lower quantities, but for the Valkyrie, units were 100-125, which required a different approach.

“When you're in volume production,” explains Toby “you have to work with different processes. That was difficult, more so than we initially anticipated. Getting things into production and maintaining the same level of consistency and quality is difficult but we've learned a great deal and now regard ourselves as an advanced production company. Each engine is the same as the next”.

“Regarding the challenge to make an oversquare engine emissions compliant was a concern right from the very start. We began with combustion simulation, but the key enabler to success was the decision to run a three-cylinder mule engine, an I3 which replicated a quarter of the engine”.

“Thermodynamically, it allowed us to characterise the combustion system, giving us confidence early-on that our strategy was correct and we were heading in the right direction”.  This ran in parallel with the main programme and was operational a year before the V12 first fired. As soon as you’re running hardware on the dyno you’re learning and able to decouple some of the things you’d worry about from the main programme.  In the end, the move from the I3 mule to the V12 engines was quite seamless”.

Concurrently, Aston Martin was also engaging Cosworth on an equally world-class electronics package that would add to the Valkyrie’s prestige. It was a true team effort that continued as the road car variant inspired development of a race car version.

“The Valkyrie engine is only exceptional because of the people that are part of the team that created it, in engineering, development, production, and quality,” says Toby. “Everybody that has touched this engine has played a key part in making it the world beater that it is.”

Jake Hardy, Head of Customer Programmes picks up the story.

“Aston Martin was considering our electronics for its race programme based on the Valkyrie, later to be known as the AMR Pro,” he said. “The AMR Pro was announced with a Cosworth engine and suite of electronics from us too. There was also a plan that they would be developing an LMH car in the early days of the new hypercar regulations. Aston Martin selected us to become one of the partners for the electronics systems, and we collaborated with them from early on.

“We had to work out what their needs and requirements were, as well as what technical regulations we had to adhere to. The result of those discussions led us to using our latest generation ECU, Antares 8, at the time. We also agreed on using Centaurus, which was our newly released power distribution product. In conjunction with all of that, we had a large software element that was needed to support the engine programme.”

Although inspired by the road car, the engine concept for racing required a completely new torque structure interface for the AMR Pro. Products and software were developed and completed by our Pectel team. Meanwhile, Andrew Liddell, Motorsport Product Manager from our Data and Control Systems department, supported Multimatic on these elements. 

In the end, the final package for the AMR Pro consisted of the Antares 8, Centaurus 5, CCW Mk2, and the CSG 10. The fact that we had also delivered the engine enabled Multimatic to come to us for the electronics; keeping the entire package in-house provides customers with a highly efficient and streamlined process. The coordination between roles was made smoother thanks to Cosworth’s established team ethic and divided up by skillset.

“Jake was heavily involved in the engine calibration and all of the functional requirements around that, such as clutch control, gear control and traction control,” explains Andrew. “My role was more on power electronics on the chassis side, things like the gearbox compressor, powering engine actuators, the DC-to-DC system – which provides power to the electric drive – head lamps, driver fan, driver radio. Any electrical system considered to be low voltage on the car was something to which I contributed. As soon as the very first development chassis was ready, we started to regularly visit the factory where the main programme was being developed. Sitting with the engineers, we would go through all the proposals and ‘best practice’ the approach to match the capabilities of our hardware.”

The integration between powertrain and electronics was just as seamless, as Jake details: “When creating the engine, our colleagues in Northampton produced a set of mechanical requirements for the engine’s airflow; it was categorised based on some detailed thermodynamic principles. That information was then handed to us in a very thoroughly detailed presentation, and we took that data to produce an interface could be calibrated for them. We would give them a platform to continue the refinement of those characteristics. It wasn’t just hours and hours at the dyno – it was data sharing, data collection, software development then further data collection and manipulation. It was shared via Northampton to us, and we would then integrate it into our software capability.”

Even before the race car hit the track, around 70% of the software development had been conducted. Building the system from the ground up, the team refined the remaining 30% trackside alongside development of the chassis. The primary purpose of track testing is to replicate those elements of development that cannot be created in a dyno environment: advanced gear shift control, traction control, and more. Driver feedback is vital to harmonise the car’s characteristics.

“This was where my role was focused,” says Jake. “Andrew’s role was supporting the chassis engineers to make sure our complete solution would work seamlessly. He made sure all driver interfaces on the vehicle were calibrated and correctly set-up, based on their feedback. Chassis never held up development of the electronics package, so engineers could fully focus on vehicle performance via the engine.”

The Aston Martin Valkyrie has allowed our team of experts and specialists to be part of something truly unique, unifying talent to create a wondrous feat of engineering for the road and track. 

Toby reflects on his experiences: “From the start, we worked very closely with Red Bull,” he says. “Adrian Newey was heavily involved to start & move everything in the right direction.  Later Aston Martin engineers were integrated with the vehicle team adding another layer of road car expertise.  Clear communication is key to success and that's what we tried to do, keep people informed with our progress; you’ll find that once you’re trusted the process is simplified and you’re delivering the best you possibly can.  Knowing every decision or novel idea isn’t scrutinised allows you to get on with a free-flowing design, that I think is reflected in the final product.  It’s a beautiful engine and something we’re really proud of”.

“Picking a single memorable moment is easy,” adds Toby “The first fire-up is always special moment but nerve racking, whatever time of the night it is, the vast amount of time effort, choices, decisions, and calculations are exonerated by pressing the start button.  Knowing this moment heralded the start of the development of a road-legal, emissions compliant race engine, made hearing it fire-up and breath for the first time a real goose-bump, trembling moment…. Fabulous.”

“I can give you three,” says Jake. “The first engine fire-up, the first time we supported trackside with the mule vehicle and finally, I vividly remember when there was a customer event with a large number of Valkyries. Just knowing all those cars had been delivered and were deemed a success with the end customers was the best part.”

“For me,” adds Andrew, “it was mostly the factory visits where we were providing real solutions to problems that were not envisaged to be an issue during the conceptual phase of the development. I think my second most memorable experience was spending time with Jake and John at the track, seeing the power on the car slowly wind up and getting radio feedback from the driver - with all the systems running and performing as they should be without stopping the car. The third one was when the car was out in the Middle East setting lap times on par with Formula One. That feeling of achievement with the team, after all the challenges that we faced during that difficult COVID period, was amazing. Overcoming those showed how far we had come as a team on this project; it was a huge team effort and the whole Cosworth group brought this incredible programme to life.”

“Looking back now” adds Toby, “When we talk about the company’s capability, once you’ve stripped back the processes, at the heart is the desire, commitment, and ability of every single one of us. It is true that something is greater than the sum of its parts, that embodies Cosworth, that’s the thing I’m proud of, being part of that”.