Jim McCraw
November 4, 2011
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

With a racing career that started when he was only 7 years old, Ford's Jost Capito has more real racing experience than any previous SVT executive, and he loves competition--everyday.

Jost Capito (pronounced Yost CAPito) is Ford's director of global performance vehicles and motorsport business development. He is responsible for Ford's global performance vehicle business, which currently means the Ford Focus and Fiesta, since the Mustang is not exported beyond North America. The North American SVT and European Team RS performance vehicle organizations both report to Capito, and focus on the development of global and North American performance vehicles, and the implementation of consistent vehicle attributes and DNA in all future Ford performance models.

The German-born Capito is responsible for the global motorsports strategy, aligning all of Ford's global motorsports plans and programs. He leads development of motorsport opportunities for Ford's future global car products around the world, working with the company's regional motorsports directors. Capito's previous job was the director of Ford's Team RS in Europe, and he led the organization within Ford's Product Development group that combines the Special Vehicle Engineering and Ford Racing units.

Capito spent four years as development engineer for BMW's high-performance engines, followed by a move to Porsche to oversee its various racing championship campaigns. He then became head of Porsche Motorsport, and in 1996, he went to Sauber Petronas Engineering, first to build up the powertrain division and later to administer the Red Bull Sauber Formula One operation.

Capito's motorsport career began in endurance motorcycle racing and motocross in his late teens. He won several titles in these sports and took part in the Paris-Dakar Rally across the Sahara Desert, winning the Truck category in 1985.

He graduated from the Munich Technical University with a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He lives in Birmingham, Michigan, with his wife, Caroline, two daughters, and a son. He traces his family back to the time of Martin Luther, when his ancestor, a colleague of Luther's that was also a blacksmith, changed his name from the German Kopfer to the Latinized Capito during the time of the Reformation. The Capito family has been blacksmiths ever since, he says, until his father, who was an engineer.

We sent our man in Dearborn, Jim McCraw, to sit down with Jost Capito in his office at Ford SVT headquarters, a brightly lit corner office loaded with models, photos, and racing memorabilia, including mementos of Ford's two most recent world rally championships.

MMFF: You started in racing at a very, very young age. Can you tell us how that came about? Did your father start you out?

Capito: My father had a small company building oil burners for heating, and he was always a motorsports fan. He founded the local motorbike motorsports club in Neun-kirchen, about 80 kilometers from Cologne. He was interested in anything that drives and all types of motorcycle racing. He supported a young enduro rider named Werner Schuetz (who went on to become an off-road racing champion on a BMW--Ed.). He would use the stock engine to ride his 50cc Zundapp to the races, install my father's race engine in the bike for the races, and then take it out, put it in his backpack, and install the stock engine again for the ride home. So I became involved in racing when I was only 3 years old--and next year will be my 50th anniversary. My mother was pregnant with me when they went to the Isle of Man races in 1958, and I think I heard the noise of the racing engines, even though I couldn't see anything!

MMFF: So you were surrounded by racing and racers starting at age 3. When did you first compete?

Capito: My father was friendly with Walter Schneider, who was motorcycle sidecar world champion (on a factory BMW R50 two years in a row, 1958 and 1959--Ed.). We had a BMW sidecar at home, so I learned to ride it when I was 6, and then we went to the Elefantentreffen on January 1, where they raced BMW sidecars in the snow and cold. There was a gymkhana for the kids, and I won it the first time when I was 7 years old, and then I won it seven years in a row. When I was 10, my brother and I and my father would take trials bikes into the woods every Sunday. In Germany, you can't race until you're 16. So, when I was 16, I picked up my driver's license at the local police station at three o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, and was at the race, 250 kilometers away, at eight o'clock in the morning. But I had to work at the company and I had to keep my grades up in the top third, or my father wouldn't support my racing.

The next year, I was the German junior enduro champion in the 50cc class, and the 175cc junior champion the year after that. In 1979, when the International Six Days enduro was in Germany, I finished second. We had a motor home and a trailer, and I was doing up to 35 races a year in enduro and motocross.

My father got bored with just traveling around, so he started racing himself when he was 46, and then my younger brother Volker started racing, so all three of us were racing every weekend. My father became junior champion on a BMW when he was 48!

There were seven or eight men working at my father's company who also raced motorcycles, racing against me, and he bought up all the Metzeler racing tires at the end of the season so we would all have tires to race on. But they all got the new tires, and I had to race on the old tires, not to mention going to school on Monday mornings when they didn't have to go to work. If I didn't win, he wouldn't talk to me for a week.

MMFF: So you kept racing bikes right through your teens?

Capito: I had to serve in the military between 18 and 20, but since I was already a racing champion, I was assigned to the sports department of the army so I could continue to race while I was in the military. Then I started at the university, and I had to make the choice between becoming an engineer and racing, so I chose engineering at the University of Munich. I wanted to work at BMW with Paul Rosche, the racing engine guru who designed the BMW Formula 1 and Formula 2 engines and all of the M engines. I also wanted to race for Zundapp, which was also in Munich, and I wanted to get away from home. So I went to Munich.

MMFF: How did you make the leap from racing motorcycles at home in Germany to racing in the Paris-Dakar rally?

Capito: My mother and father traveled to Africa in a Mercedes-Benz Unimog motor home, and they saw the original Paris-Dakar rally. They just bumped into it. They met the original organizer, Thierry Sabine, and they became friends. My father decided that he would race in the Paris-Dakar on a motorcycle, so in 1981, we built a pair of BMW race bikes with (Herbert) Schek and took them to Africa with a Mercedes-Benz G-wagen as the support vehicle. The axles failed, so he had to stop after four days. He decided to take a year off, do it right, and go back in 1983, but he had a heart attack and couldn't go. My brother got the Belgian rider, Gaston Rahier, who was a three-time motocross world champion, to ride for us. His engine failed, and I carried on by myself, and I came in second in my class.

MMFF: So, how many broken bones have you accumulated in enduro, motocross, and Paris-Dakar racing?

Capito: I had a broken coccyx when I fell off the bike and landed on a rock. I had to sit on a cushion at school for three months. Then I had another accident during the Inter-national Six Days enduro in Sweden when I broke my thumb. But I don't take risks that I'm not happy to take.

MMFF: Do you have any motorcycles at home now?

Capito: Yes. I have a Harley here and a BMW sidecar in Germany.

MMFF: Later, you became part of a movie production about the Paris-Dakar. What was that like?

Capito: In 1984, I was in charge of preparing all of the cars, trucks, and bikes for the movie, so we did the movie and I rode about 80 percent of the race. My father, my brother, and his friend raced in the Paris-Dakar in a Unimog, and the steering broke in Mali.

MMFF: Shortly thereafter, though, you started working at BMW on engines. Did you start out slowly, like an apprentice?

Capito: I was finishing up my studies at the university and I was working on a 2.0-liter, four-valve, four-cylinder engine for the M division of BMW, doing the airflow work on the cylinder head. I graduated and was put in charge of the performance of the first BMW M3 engine calibrations, which included power, torque, emissions, and drive-by noise.

MMFF: You did some other engine work at BMW, but never on motorcycle engines, right?

Capito: I never wanted to work on motorcycle engines. I worked on car engines, including doing the homologation for the 2.5-liter engine for the Group A touring car series. I also worked with Schnitzer on the road cars and did the quality work on the M engines. So I eventually did everything from design to production to warranty complaints from customers, very much like we do here at SVT.

MMFF: You were apparently courted by several German car companies that asked you to do different things for them. How did that happen?

Capito: Times were bad at BMW; I had to move on and decide whether I wanted to be in engine engineering, racing, or management. I had an offer from AMG (the tuner arm of Mercedes-Benz), based on the success of the 2.0L BMW engine, to do all of the engines for them, including the racing engines, the marine engines, and the production engines. Through Mercedes-Benz, I also talked to Sauber about becoming the race engineer for one of its Group C cars when Michael Schumacher and Jochen Mass were driving for them. It was an opportunity to learn about the whole car, the suspension, chassis, and racing, not just the engines.

MMFF: So you went to work for Peter Sauber in Switzerland?

Capito: At about the same time, I met (Porsche engineering boss) Ulrich Bez on a motorcycle tour we both happened to be on. He had just moved to Porsche, and he said, "Come and see me. I need someone to run the Carrera Cup and the one-make cups." I asked him for four weeks to think about it, and then I decided to go with Porsche, because it was performance vehicles, racing cars, and management. It's difficult to say no to Porsche when you're just a young kid.

MMFF: But eventually, you changed your mind and went to Sauber-Petronas Engineering?

Capito: My boss at Porsche went to Sauber, and asked me to go with him because Petronas was going to invest in Sauber, and the company would be a commercial engineering company that would help Petronas help Malaysia to become an international power by 2020. Petronas represents 30 percent of the entire Malaysian economy. We would start with cars first, and then go from there. I was asked to come up with a master plan for the Malaysian automotive industry. We were going to do an engine that could be used in all kinds of cars in Asia. We were also going to educate Malaysian engineers in engine design. We had English guys, Malaysian guys, Japanese guys, German guys and Swiss guys all working together on the program.

MMFF: While you were there, Sauber changed its character and mission completely, correct?

Capito: In order to become more competitive in Formula One, Sauber had to become an engineering-led company instead of a racing team, and they asked me to take that on in addition to running the commercial engineering side. So I became the chief operating officer in order to change the team to work in a different way. That was in 1998, and by 2001, we had moved up in the team championship points from eighth to fourth. Without manufacturer support. With the same budget. We got the process right and we got the communication right. We were using Ferrari engines, and later we switched to BMW engines.

MMFF: But you didn't stay at Sauber-Petronas very long after that. Wasn't that when you joined Ford?

Capito: Formula One gets boring after a couple of years. I was gone all the time. I had little kids at home. The work was done. Then Ford asked me to come on board and get its performance vehicles back in Ford of Europe. So I moved to Cologne and worked with Martin Leach. Compared to BMW, Porsche, and Sauber, Ford is one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, and I had the challenge to bring back the performance cars that Ford of Europe was known for in the past. I was a little worried about the bureaucracy and the politics at first, and the size of the company. After a year and a half, they asked me to take on motorsports as well. That was the Jordan Formula One program and the WRC rally program, and I moved to England for seven years. We created Team RS to pull it all together into one organization. After 27 years, we won the world rally championship in 2006 and 2007.

MMFF: That was about the time that the Ford culture changed, when Alan Mulally came on board and the idea of One Ford came in?

Capito: I had developed a good relationship with Derrick Kuzak (Ford global product development chief), who succeeded Martin Leach at Ford of Europe. He was a really great boss, and I told him "Wherever you want me to go, I'll go!" So I came to America in February of 2009!

MMFF: So, now that the One Ford program has generated two world cars, the Fiesta and the new Focus, does that mean we in America will be seeing a greater concentration on small, lightweight, high-performance cars like those that Ford has had in Europe for many years?

Capito: It's not either/or. Team RS is sill active in Europe. We're working together for two years already to develop the performance-vehicle DNA for the entire world. It's surprising how many similarities there are. The Focus ST is based in Europe because the vehicle line is in Europe, but we have people here working on it, because the Focus ST will be exactly the same in the U.S. It's a big challenge, because this is the very first global performance vehicle ever. It will be sold in the U.S., Europe, China, Asia, Australia, South Africa, and South America. For such a small team, it's a big challenge. We have a great basis for this program with the Focus, because all of the production homologation is already done, so what we have to implement, we can implement everywhere.

MMFF: Tell us about the state of the art and the general health of the Ford World Rally Championship program.

Capito: My other job is global motorsports business development. We have to take into account which motorsport is where. That's why we brought the Fiesta in here for the X Games and the rallycross program with Ken Block. He is also getting huge interest in Europe. We also had (Swedish two-time World Rally Champion) Marcus Gronholm at Pike's Peak (who will also compete in the Global Rallycross Championship with a Ford Fiesta, along with X Games gold medalist Tanner Foust). With the Fiesta, we can link the X Games, Pike's Peak, rallying, and rallycross together for a wider audience and a wider acceptance.

MMFF: Was bringing rallycross over here your idea?

Capito: We were not funded to do that, but knowing the teams, we discussed it with them and we brought them over here. I got them together with the sponsors, and it's now going. Two years ago, we looked to the launch of the new Fiesta and getting the publicity in the U.S., and told the sponsors they would be getting the publicity for the launch if they were successful. So the companies put the money in to do that sport, developed the car, and then Ken Block brought Monster with him and Tanner Foust brought RockStar with him. If you have a competitive car, you find privateers, racers, and sponsors who are interested if the value is good. That's what we are doing with the global race car. We support the teams around the world with one common Focus race car, and we develop it with the teams so they can adapt it for the various different local regulations, but it's one common car for the whole world.

MMFF: Isn't that very similar to the Porsche Cup car program, where one car is raced all over the world?

Capito: No, no, no! It's a different philosophy. Normally, when the manufacturer sees that opportunity, they take it away from the teams, do the car, and sell it to the teams. First of all, I don't have the money to do that. Second, I was a small team. I know what the small teams want and what they need. I highly respect the privateers. Motorsport without the privateers cannot exist. We know what the private teams do not have, so we give them what they need.

We give them wind-tunnel time, we give them CAD data, we give them rapid-prototype parts, bodies-in-white that we can easily produce and put the rollcage in. We add to their capability, so that they learn and move on from there. It's not that they move back and give everything back that they've done in the past, getting rid of their engineers because they now have to buy everything from the manufacturer. We encourage them to do more and give them the support on the infrastructure they can't afford, because the small teams can't afford it. But they can have this technology and can benefit from it, so they get more competitive. That way we don't have to do it five times all around the world on different vehicles. We do it once and bring them together.

As we get the volumes up, the cars get so much cheaper that the private teams can run the car and don't need that much money to be competitive. If they don't need that much money, they can be run profitably by sponsorship. As the regulations become global, they have a chance to grow--grow from a national championship to a regional championship to a world championship with the same cars, and take their sponsors with them. We support the teams in getting better--in getting more infrastructure, getting their engineering done, instead of taking it away. And that is the big difference that nobody has done before.

MMFF: When you first came over here, did you have an opportunity to see, and try and understand drag racing? It's not part of your experience.

Capito: I went to a small local event at Milan. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and how the people do it. When I talked to Bob Tasca about how it's done on a professional basis, it's highly interesting. The crowds! I also like to watch NASCAR. I never would have imagined it. It's a different environment.

MMFF: How about Pro Stock drag racing? Ford is back in it, right?

Capito: Well, drag racing is not global, and the Mustang is not a global product, so I don't get involved in that. I think more in terms of the new Focus ST with a 250hp engine.

MMFF: Aren't you going against the tide with a new generation of young people who don't care about cars? Those who would rather stay indoors and look at a computer screen than ride in a cool car?

Capito: We've seen a study that says less than 50 percent of 17-year-olds now have driver's licenses. I'm not worried about it. We see that as a challenge for the new Fiesta and the new Focus. I think we can get young people interested in mobility again. They aren't gas-guzzlers, they're not expensive, and they can stay connected with Sync and MyFordTouch. The Fiesta movement was great in that respect. People will always want to go and see new places. Cars add so much more value to life!

MMFF: Can we assume you will also be working on high-performance versions of larger cars, like the European Mondeo and the American Fusion?

Capito: I can't talk to you about future products. We're always looking for good opportunities, but you can't flood the market either. We have to find the right balance. We're always exploring. We'll get the Focus ST out there first, and if it's a success, we may have more opportunities.

MMFF: Thank you for your time and an informative afternoon.