Transmission technology specialist Xtrac provides a prime example of the UK’s advanced engineering and motorsport valley capability. The award winning company, which exports more than half its manufactured products, is heading for yet another record financial year, recruiting more engineers and technicians than ever before, whilst investing in new hi-tech machinery at its factory in Berkshire.
Its latest race car gearbox has been mandated for the famous US IndyCar race series and will be fitted to all cars on the grid over the next five race seasons. And its latest road car transmission developed for high performance supercars is being shipped to Italy for the Pagani Huayra – with further derivatives and hybrid variants of the gearbox under development.
An exciting year for the company commences with a showcase of high precision high performance gearboxes and innovative driveline components presented this week at Autosport International– Europe’s largest motorsport exhibition which kicks off the 2012 motor racing season.
Recently celebrating 25 years with the company, a delighted managing director, Peter Digby, commented on Xtrac’s continuing success: “We finished 2011 with record sales and this year we’re heading towards our highest level of employment. The company began life as a fledgling business in 1984. Over the past 28 years we’ve demonstrated almost continual growth and today employ more than 260 people. I am extremely proud of everything that Xtrac and its employees have achieved. Every employee is a shareholder through our Employee Shareholder Trust so everyone shares in the success of the business.”
Xtrac’s recruitment campaign will result in nearly 50 new employees over the next 12 months. Its capital expenditure programme will not only see the introduction of additional machine tools such as Gleeson Pfauter hobbing and shaping machines, but also an increase in the size of the build shop allowing confidential areas for dedicated customer projects and more efficient final assembly of gearboxes. In particular this is required to meet the demands of the company’s rapidly expanding mainstream automotive and hybrid transmission business, which in just five years has grown from zero to 10 per cent of sales revenue
A pioneer for more than a decade in energy efficient motorsport initiatives, Xtrac’s advanced engineering capabilities have helped a number of vehicle manufacturers develop new and innovative powertrains. Xtrac’s application of its motor racing know-how to the development of hybrid and electric vehicles, particularly in terms of meeting the similarly tight packaging requirements, and the development of driveline technology for other transport sectors including defence and marine has been recognised in a number of prestigious manufacturing and technology innovation awards.
Xtrac 1011 transmission developed for the IndyCar race series
Xtrac has a longstanding relationship with the IndyCar series first established for the 2000 race season and has been the sole supplier ever since. The latest type ‘1011’ transmission, however, is a completely new gearbox for the new Dallara DW12 chassis that offers a smaller, lighter and more efficient design fully integrated into the car’s improved rear crash structure, which will make a major contribution to increased driver safety.
Xtrac and Dallara worked closely to ensure the design of the gearbox complemented the new car and is fully compatible with all three turbocharged engines supplied by Honda, GM and Lotus. Xtrac similarly consulted with IndyCar and all the race teams to understand what they wanted from a new transmission and has incorporated many of the features requested. A feature that everybody wanted to carry over from the previous transmission was the ultra-reliable and successful MegaLine assisted gearchange mechanism, which is further integrated into the new gearbox and now powers an auto clutch anti-stall system.
The ability to changeover very rapidly from one set of gears to another to provide different ratios for different circuits has also been carried over into the new design, and it is now possible to swap between ovals and street circuits without needing to touch the crown wheel and pinion. Moreover, increased differential adjustment allows teams to further fine tune the chassis from one course to another.
An initial batch of 75 gearboxes has been manufactured to ensure sufficient cars and spares for the start of the 2012 season. Extensive use of sophisticated computational analysis and rig based testing was essential to ensure the gearbox is fit for purpose, even prior to any major endurance track tests. The gearbox is assembled at Xtrac’s expanded US facility, which is only 10 minutes from the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the company has been heavily involved in the winter test programme for the new race car to validate the new gearbox design and confirm its reliability.
Xtrac 1007 gearbox for Pagani Huayra
Xtrac developed its high specification transverse gearbox specifically to meet the needs of car makers producing high performance mid-engine supercars. The Pagani Huayra is the first road car application.
Transverse gearboxes are often found in race cars, and of course are extremely common in front wheel drive road cars, which account for a majority of vehicles on the road, where the engine is also a transverse installation – so the engine and gearbox are in alignment. The challenge for a mid-engine sports car is matching a longitudinal engine with a transverse gearbox. In this configuration, the gearshafts are turned sideways and are 90 degrees to the crankshaft in the engine with power transferred by means of the bevel gears.
The advantage is that the gearbox is now shorter in relation to the length of the vehicle, which can be extremely useful for positioning the mass of the powertrain exactly where it’s needed to enhance handling and in adjusting the overall balance of the car for the optimum road holding.
Xtrac has recognised the importance of providing this exclusive sector of the market with a quality product and has applied the same standards of design and manufacture as applied to its motorsport transmissions for which it has a wealth of experience. However, to provide the high levels of refinement required for a road car, the transmission is of fundamentally different design, employing for example helically cut gears and synchromesh on all seven forward ratios.
It was important therefore to the success of the project that Xtrac engineers had worked previously on a number of bespoke high performance road car projects. The design philosophy applied to the gearbox has ensured the optimum packaging, weight and efficiency without resorting to exotic materials and expensive and time consuming manufacturing processes.
The 1007 project is a culmination of many years of experience. Xtrac has applied its expertise in motorsport transmissions to a high performance road car, and created a purpose designed transverse gearbox which is unique for this class of vehicle.
Xtrac at Autosport International
In addition to the IndyCar gearbox and Huayra transmission, other components on display at Autosport International include a 633 rally gearbox and differential; a Moto GP cluster; a 529/626 customer specification transverse gearbox designed for LMP1 and P2 sports car applications based on the ‘229’ gearbox which is one of Xtrac’s successful Le Mans winning gearbox designs; a 622 precision steering rack assembly for sports cars; a 600 longitudinal transaxle utilising many components from previous Le Mans winning Xtrac gearboxes and manufactured for GT1, GT2 and GT3 customer sports car applications; a current technology Formula One cluster assembly; and a 1046 front wheel drive touring car gearbox that has been designed specifically for the British and the World Touring Car Championship. Xtrac can be found on stand number E141 in Hall 9 throughout the two engineering show days on 12-13 January 2012.
Established in 1984 Xtrac has become a world leader in the design and manufacture of gearboxes, differentials and driveline components, which are used throughout international motorsport and in particular within F1, IndyCar, Touring Car, Rallying, Rally Raid, GRANDGRAND-AM and many forms of sportscar racing including a major involvement in the Le Mans 24 hours, Daytona 24 hour and Sebring 12 hour races. Further information on Xtrac is available at www.xtrac.com.