“The MIA was helpful in driving us beyond motorsport,” says Peter Digby, Xtrac’s managing director. “We have established a dedicated section – automotive and engineering – that has its own workforce and looks after non-motorsport programmes. It’s our fastest growing business. We want it to be 25% of our turnover within three or four years.”
Digby thinks it is the agility of motorsport firms that proves so attractive in other sectors. “In motorsport, I can get a call on a Monday, go to see the customer on Tuesday, quote on Wednesday and get the order on Thursday. In other industries, each stage could be a year. We can respond quickly and cut out a lot of the red tape.”
Xtrac has been involved in the development of Caudwell Marine’s Axis Drive marine propulsion system, which is claimed to offer the best features of stern drives and outboards in a single design. “It’s a cross between an outboard and an inboard that allows far better packaging and better economy from the engine,” says Digby. “We have been involved in all the development and the production of all the prototypes. It’s been an exciting programme.”
In mainstream automotive, Xtrac has been central in the pan-industry REEVolution project, a collaborative R&D programme funded by the Technology Strategy Board to create high-performance, range-extended electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The project includes Jaguar Land Rover, Lotus and, through its Infiniti brand, Nissan, with Xtrac providing transmission expertise.
The consortium has built three demonstrator vehicles to showcase the new technologies – some yet to be revealed – developed since the project was announced in 2010. The driving force behind this project is the development of a UK supply chain for ultra low-carbon vehicle technologies, to position suppliers so that they can exploit an expanding global market.
One of those demonstrator vehicles is the Infiniti Emerg-E electric sports car, which made its global debut as a prototype at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier this year before embarking upon a 12-month testing schedule. The prototype delivers its power and torque via an Xtrac 1092 transmission.
“We have a fantastic engineering resource that can package things in a tight space, made to a light weight, using the latest materials and produced in short lead times,” says Digby. “We are used to that in motorsport, but the modern road car needs all of those things, too. So we have been involved with 20 different hybrid electric programmes in automotive applications, taking new technology from motorsport and applying it quickly.”
The wider commercial application of motorsport technology shows no sign of abating, says Chris Aylett at the MIA. Just as the introduction of Kers provoked organisations such as Williams and others to forge ahead with flywheel development, so the engine downsizing trend in road cars is likely to be accelerated by the FIA’s plan to drop the V8s used in F1 and replace them with 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged engines, he says.
“The first race in F1 in 2014 will have a new turbo 1.6-litre engine – that’s less than two years away,” he says. “When I turn on my TV then, engines that haven’t even been thought of yet will be running at 200 miles per hour. You just wouldn’t get that pace of development in mainstream automotive.”
The other area where Aylett predicts increasing crossover from racetrack to road is simulation. “It’s expensive to test a car on the track, and that has driven motorsport to invest in advanced simulation techniques. That will increasingly be used in other sectors for cheaper product development.
“Some of our simulation is so realistic that you don’t have to produce a prototype. Plenty of motorsport cars have never seen the light of day anywhere other than on a computer screen before they appear on the track in a race,” he says.
Other areas where motorsport firms will be involved are turbine blades for windfarms and unmanned aerial vehicles for defence applications.
“It’s a trend that won’t stop,” says Aylett. “Diversification is giving companies a much more rounded, secure financial package to attract investors. And ultimately, that means they are less likely to go out of business if they stop winning on the track.”