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Rory Byrne

Rory Byrne was born in Pretoria on 10 January 1944. Early in his life he was attracted to competitions involving self-designed and constructed model gliders, which engendered in him a fascination with aerodynamics and light weight structures, together with a competitive spirit. He obtained a BSc in Chemistry and Applied Mathematics in 1964 from the University of the Witwatersrand. During his time at Wits he became acquainted with people in the world of motor racing and took an interest in local saloon car racing.

His working life began with a four-year period as chief chemist at a polymer manufacturing plant in Germiston. He then started up a speed equipment business and, during that time, designed and developed a Formula Ford one car, which raced in the SA Formula Ford Championship and finished second in 1972. Despite an absence of formal training or experience in automotive engineering, he showed real flair and ability from the outset, with the mathematics and experimental methodologies that he learned at university standing him in good stead.

In 1973 Rory Byrne sold his share in the business and set off for England, where he assisted a friend who was racing in the British Formula Ford series. At the end of 1973 he was offered the job of chief designer at the Royale Company, where he was responsible for their championship-winning Super Vee Cars in 1974, Formula Fords in 1975 and 1976, and Formula Ford 2000 in 1977. As a result of his success at Royale Rory Byrne was asked to join the Toleman Group Motorsport in 1978. This resulted in the very successful design and development of the TG280, which went on to finish first and second in the European Formula 2 Championship.

This success led Toleman to enter the Formula 1 arena-a significant step both for the company and for Rory Byrne. This was his first move into the field of aerodynamics. The first car Byrne designed in 1982, the TG81, with its new engine, new chassis and new tyres, did not meet with immediate success. However, Byrne persisted, improving the design sufficiently to enable Toleman to score points in 1983.the innovative car, with its two rear wings, was later copied by many in the field. In 1984 he implemented additional refinements, with the result that Toleman was established team, with Ayrton Senna as their driver in his debut season in F1, and narrowly missed winning the Monaco Grand Prix. In 1985 Byrne introduced further innovations and gained a reputation in the F1 world as a designer of chassis that provide excellent driveability and outstanding performance.

In the same year Toleman was bought by the Benetton Group and was renamed Benetton Formula, with Rory Byrne the cornerstone of its design and R&D efforts. His continued contribution to improved chassis design and aero-dynamics became more evident when, in 1986, Gerhard Berger gave the team its first win in Mexico City. Rory left Benetton in1989 to join the Reynard Formula 1 effort, but after this was abandoned towards the end of 1991, he rejoined Benetton in 1992. At this stage Rory Byrne’s career took on a new dimension when the newly arrived Michael Schumacher used the new car he had designed to win the Driver’s Championship.

A Schumacher’s success was repeated in 1995, when Benetton also won the Constructors Championship. Success at this level demonstrates Rory Byrne’s in-depth understanding and knowledge of engineering principles as well as the rare engineering judgment and discernment that enables him to translate principles into practicality and target those areas that can yield the biggest improvement. This gives him the ability, with his design team, to refine the smallest and most intricate details of engine, chassis and aerodynamics, resulting in considerable ongoing improvements in the overall performance of the cars he designs.

When Schumacher left Benetton to join Ferrari at the end of 1995, Rory Byrne decided to retire to Thailand, where he wanted to direct his energies towards scuba diving. However he was persuaded by Schumacher to join him at Scuderia Ferrari in Maranello, which he did at the end of 1996, in time for the 1997 season. His first car was the 1998 Ferrari which took Michael Schumacher close to the driver’s title.

Byrne’s dedication, passion and understanding of design ultimately paid off when he took Scuderia Ferrari to their first Constructors Championship in 1999. This was followed by the Drivers Championship for Schumacher from 2000 to 2003. Since he joined Ferrari he has succeeded in refining and improving the design incrementally, an essential skill in an arena where a fraction of a second between competitors makes a considerable difference. He is still very active at Ferrari, where he has been substantially responsible for their current highly successful Formula 1 car.

Rory Byrne has demonstrated his ability to recognize, guide and manage engineers with talent in the fields of aerodynamics, suspension and engine design, resulting in a highly motivated and successful team that has produced a car with sufficient down-force, top speed, acceleration and cornering abilities for every track on the Formula 1 calendar.

His adaptable design had allowed Ferrari to achieve pole positions and lap records in many races.

Rory Byrne’s passion for mechanical engineering design has inspired many people, young and old, to take an interest in Formula 1 competition and has shown that dedication and perseverance are essential ingredients for success. He has put South Africa on the world map of excellence in mechanical engineering. It is with great pride and pleasure that the University confers upon Rory Byrne the degree of Doctor of Engineering.