The motorsport transmission specialist Xtrac is experiencing increased demand for its advanced engineering skills, which are required to help develop new hybrid and electric vehicles; the technology provider and supplier of transmission components to F1 teams and other race formulas says the demand for prototype gearboxes shows no signs of abatement.
“I have recently checked through our records and remarkably over the last couple of years we have made over 70 gearboxes for hybrid and electric vehicles with all manner of innovative automotive powertrain configurations,” says technical director Adrian Moore. “By the end of the year we will be getting close to producing 100 prototype transmissions; mostly destined for technology evaluation road cars.”
A pioneer for almost a decade in energy efficient motorsport initiatives, Xtrac has been increasingly selected as a technical partner for the development of more energy efficient road vehicles. In 2006 it produced the gearbox for the world’s first commercially viable diesel-electric powertrain, prepared by Zytek – another motorsport engineering company – for assessment by carmakers in a vehicle fully meeting the requirements of the UK government’s Ultra Low Carbon Car Challenge (ULCCC).
More recently, Xtrac has underscored its involvement in the development of motorsport’s high-profile KERS or kinetic energy recovery system to produce a road-going version of the technology through a consortium consisting of Flybrid, Ford, Prodrive, Ricardo and Torotrak. Headed by Jaguar Land-Rover and supported by the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board, the consortium aims to prove the effectiveness and viability of a flywheel hybrid system for high volume series production.
The increased level of road car business experienced by Xtrac exemplifies the trend for the automotive industry to tap into the engineering knowledge and manufacturing know-how of companies that have honed their skills serving the highly competitive world of motorsport. The high-level technology provider is also increasingly involved in advanced engineering projects for other industries such as the aerospace, defence and marine sectors.
“Our speed of response and can do attitude are essential requirements in the race to produce a new generation of green cars and help overcome the significant technological challenges presented by hybrid and electric vehicles,” says Moore, who has been invited to join a panel of motorsport experts to discuss future technology trends at a Cleaner Racing Conference being held in the U.S. on 16 April 2009 organised by the Motorsport Industry Association.
“Panellists drawn from the world of motorsport will discuss the potential of our industry to develop technical solutions that can help reduce the environmental impact of vehicles,” says Moore. “They will be joined by senior executives from the automotive and aerospace communities and new energy companies to discuss how motorsport’s advanced engineering capabilities can help solve the energy efficiency problem.”
The British company can address a US audience with some authority; it supports important race series such as the Indy Racing League, Grand AM Sportscar Series, American Le Mans Series, SCCA, NASCAR and the NHRA from its engineering facilities located just a few minutes drive from the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The US operation is linked electronically to the company’s headquarters at Thatcham in Berkshire, which forms part of the UK’s famous motorsport valley. A rolling exchange of engineers between the two sites ensures that the latest engineering and quality standards are maintained throughout the company.
“There are many additional partners and industry bedfellows with an important role to play in the development of energy-efficient vehicles,” says Moore. “For example, the recent announcement by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to expand the FreedomCAR project with the inclusion of electric utility companies – driven by the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and the need for coordination between electric-based vehicle technology and the electric utility infrastructure – shows that no resource can be ignored in the development of a new generation of clean cars.”
“Others heavily involved in this type of work include organisations such as the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” says Moore, “which is similarly partnering with the automotive industry to meet US national goals for the use of renewable fuels and can provide wide ranging research and development facilities for tackling transportation issues.”
The ‘Race goes Green’ conference is being held in Long Beach, California on 16 April 2009 preceding a race of the popular American Le Mans Series.