Xtrac gears up for another successful global motorsport season

Posted on 22 Jan 2015 by The Manufacturer

It might seem hard for Xtrac to match its 30th anniversary achievements, yet the UK’s Manufacturer of the Year, managed by the UK’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Peter Digby, has had an impressive start to the 2015 motorsport season with the launch of its most cost effective rally transmission to date.

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The new P1202 gearbox, manufactured at the company’s Berkshire headquarters in the UK’s famous Motorsport Valley, was designed for all-wheel-drive cars competing in the World Rally Championship support category WRC-2 under the newly introduced FIA R5 price capped regulations.

Development director, Cliff Hawkins commented: “We started to design and manufacture transmissions for the World Rally Championship in 1987, since then we’ve helped our customers to win 19 driver world titles and 15 constructor world titles.

“Six of the seven teams and 10 of the 13 drivers competing in the RC1 category this year – one of whom will be crowned world champion at the end of the season – will be in cars equipped with Xtrac transmissions.  And we soon expect to see other cars built to the R5 regulations entering the WRC-2 category with our new P1202 transmission, which will join the Super 2000 cars and WRC Regional Rally Cars that already use our P532 and P633 transmissions.”

The WRC series gets underway this week with the famous Monte Carlo Rally on January 22 – 25. Each rally takes place over several days and features typically 15 to 25 timed stages run on closed roads against the clock, with the winner being the crew that completes all of the stages in the shortest aggregate time.  Many of the rally events are in Europe, but also includes Rally Argentina, Rally Guanajuato México, and Coates Hire Rally in Australia later in the season.

Commenting on the 5-speed gearbox designed specifically for R5 turbocharged cars up to 1,600cc, Xtrac’s  technical director, Adrian Moore said: “We’ve optimised the P1202 transmission to meet the FIA’s weight, durability and cost targets. It incorporates Xtrac’s well proven plate differentials, and the gear-change mechanism is the latest overlapping type on all five gears giving a fast, accurate and very precise manual gearshift.  For almost 30 years we have supplied transmissions for the main world rally championships and have used that experience to develop this class leading transmission.”

Xtrac stipulates high strength L169 aluminium alloy for the casings, which are sand cast to the regulation minimum wall thickness of 5.5mm.  Normally specified for critical aerospace applications L169 provides the required toughness and durability. The similarly high specification rear disconnect unit is Xtrac’s patented passive hydraulic system, which has been proven in WRC and Super 2000 rally cars since its introduction in 2007.

Moore added: The P1202 is the most optimised transmission available for the R5 category. It has been homologated with the FIA, and will be a popular choice for car manufacturers for 2015 and beyond.”

Xtrac continues its development of advanced transmission technology

Xtrac presented the new P1202 transmission with other vanguard technologies at the recent Autosport Engineering Show; an annual two day event of intense trading by the world’s multi-billion dollar motorsport race car industry, which precedes the Autosport International Show opening its doors to the public. For the first time the engineering trade show included the Low Carbon Racing and Automotive Show to shine a light on the increased cooperation between the UK’s £9bn (US$14bn) motorsport and £60bn (US$90bn) mainstream automotive industries.

Other new gearboxes showcased by the motorsport transmission company, which follows an abundance of new products announced at the same show just a year ago, include Xtrac’s P1529 six-speed transverse transaxle unit. Introduced in July 2014, it has been designed to suit the latest GT race car applications where vehicle packaging requires the gear cluster to be located behind the differential with a reduced distance of the output axis both above and behind the engine crank centreline.

Moore explained: “The P1529 gearbox is ideally suited to mid-engine sports cars. That said, it can also be configured for front engine installations. With an input torque capacity of 800Nm (590lbf. ft.) this customer specification transaxle is perfect for GT3 cars, which require extended mileage between maintenance intervals.”

The P1529 gearbox has been designed from the outset to use Xtrac’s new P1154/1254 Integrated Valve Actuator (IVA) gear-change system.  Conceived by Xtrac and developed in conjunction with MEGA-Line, which specialises in pneumatic and electronic gear-change control units (GCUs), the IVA system combines the main gear-change components into a single unit, which directly drives the gear-change barrel.

“This approach to the design reduces the overall mass of the gear-change system. It also uses significantly less air than conventional pneumatic systems, which improves the life of the compressor and reduces the cost of maintenance.  And because it uses less air the electrical power consumption is also reduced, with the reduction in system latency resulting in faster gearshifts.”

The internal components of the P1529 are based on Xtrac’s Le Mans winning P626 and P529 gearboxes, inspired by the P164 gearbox used by Le Mans winners BMW in 1999 and Bentley in 2003. As if to underline their reliability, these transmissions are still used around the world in LMP2, GTE and GT3 applications.

The third new design displayed at the Autosport Engineering Show was the P1159 gearbox. Designed initially as a 7-speed transverse transmission to suit LMP1 regulations for 2014, it’s now available as a lower cost 6-speed version to suit LMP2 race cars for 2015.

“Through the use of a wide range of available input bevel and final drive ratios all engine permutations can be accommodated,” says Moore.  “The P1159 gearbox has a sequential gear-change system that can be operated by a conventional pneumatic shift cylinder, MEGA-Line’s new direct drive e-motor, or the new Xtrac MEGA-Line integrated IVA system.”

Xtrac’s Race to Road advanced technology transfer initiative

As well as discussing customer requirements with trade visitors throughout the Autosport Engineering Show, assisted by the company’s longest serving employees, development director Cliff Hawkins and managing director Peter Digby, Xtrac’s technical director Adrian Moore also participated in a high level ‘Motorsport to Automotive Workshop’ organised by the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA).   For this workshop, Moore explained how a motorsport company can get actively involved in the development of technologies for future road cars.

The workshop followed the previous day’s participation by James Setter, head of Xtrac’s automotive and engineering business unit, and business manager George Laughton, in the similarly themed 7th International Low Carbon Racing Conference also organised by the MIA.

Both conference and workshop encouraged members of the UK’s motorsport industry to benefit from a greater involvement in the automotive mainstream, which is fast approaching the production of 100 million vehicles per annum and requires advanced technology to mitigate their environmental impact.  Moore commented on Xtrac’s own experience of diversifying its technology into the automotive mainstream.

“We’re a motorsport company and the majority of our business will remain in motorsport” Moore informed workshop delegates.  “But we’ve spent some time exploring the automotive mainstream with successful projects and more to follow, so it’s useful to other motorsport suppliers seeking to get involved in the automotive sector to reveal the sort of things we’ve done and how we’ve done it.”

Example projects mentioned by Moore include a track day car programme with Pagani, which led to the development of an advanced road car transmission for the Huayra car ideally suited to the low volumes Xtrac prefers to manufacture, and the design and supply of an efficient transmission system for range extender taxicabs currently on trial in London, aligned with UK government aspirations to be successful in low carbon vehicle developments.

These automotive programmes have been preceded by Xtrac’s involvement in the UK government’s automotive industry collaborations to develop technology through the Technology Strategy Board, (Innovate UK).  Examples projects include the Lotus Evora 414E, the Infiniti EMERG-E, and the Jaguar XJ_e plug-in hybrid – all three vehicles developed as part of TSB’s REEVolution project. The projects brought together different organisations to work together – in this case suppliers Axeon Technologies, EVO Electric and Xtrac, with carmakers Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus and Nissan, to work on next-generation components for range extender and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“We’re equipped to produce low volumes for motorsport, so automotive R&D programmes co-funded by InnovateUK or the Advanced Propulsion Centre appeal to us because they fit our business perfectly,” said Moore.  “We’ve applied efficient motorsport techniques to automotive programmes, but we’ve also learnt some different things from automotive that have benefited our motorsport business.”

The MIA workshop discussion was chaired by Jerry Hardcastle, chairman of the UK’s Automotive Council Technology Group, which invited the MIA to join the organisation in 2013 when he described the invite as “one of the most substantial business opportunities for UK motorsport in its history”.

Two other speakers at the workshop were Nick Carpenter technical director at Delta Motorsport, and Garry Wilson director of business development for the UK’s billion pound initiative known as the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC).

Wilson explained that the APC was formed in 2013 following a commitment between the UK government and automotive industry through the Automotive Council to position the UK as a centre of excellence for low carbon powertrain development and production.

“It is a central pillar of the industrial strategy created by the Automotive Council,” Wilson told delegates. “The role of the APC is to position the UK as a centre of excellence for low carbon propulsion development and production.”

About Xtrac

Predominantly a motorsport company, Xtrac has become a success in the design and manufacture of engine gears, gearboxes, differentials and other driveline components, which are used throughout international motorsport and in particular within F1, IndyCar, Touring Car, Rallying, Rally Raid and many forms of Sportscar and GT racing, including its major involvement in the Le Mans 24 hours, Nürburgring 24 hour, Daytona 24 hour and Sebring 12 hour races.

Xtrac invests 25% of its turnover into R&D, with exports of its advanced technology products approaching 70% of total sales revenue. Based in Berkshire in the UK, and in Indiana and North Carolina in the USA, Xtrac is an ambassador for the UK’s ‘Motorsport Valley’, which contributes £9bn to the UK’s rapidly increasing science, technology and manufacturing base – with engineering now accounting for 25% of GDP in the world’s sixth largest economy.

On an operational level, Xtrac has incorporated a wide range of programmes that are environmentally friendly, energy efficient and increase recycling.  Its modern factory has the latest energy efficient machine tools and lighting systems. It recycles as much aluminium, paper, plastics and steel as possible, as well as cleaning and cooling solvents.

Through its employee benefit trust, Xtrac’s staff own the entire business, which has implemented many initiatives to encourage employee engagement throughout the company including an apprentice and undergraduate training programmes.  Xtrac has advised Business Secretary Vince Cable at the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and other government departments on how its experience can help the training needs of the UK’s engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Albeit mainly a motorsport company, Xtrac reaches out increasingly to the automotive mainstream and other transport sectors alongside its traditional heartland of the motorsport industry.  It sees strong potential to be aligned with the government’s agenda on advanced propulsion systems and electric vehicles.  This means engaging with new organisations to push the company’s traditional boundaries.