The Berkshire UK-based vehicle transmission design and manufacturing specialist, Xtrac, will again be the leading supplier of gearboxes for the legendary Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, which takes place this weekend (16-17 June). The company will supply 30 of the 56 cars entered for the race with state-of-the-art transmissions as well as supplying other cars with high performance differentials and high precision steering racks. The event is widely recognised as a highlight of the global motorsport calendar.
“Le Mans exemplifies what the £6bn UK Motorsport Valley and the British passion for motor racing is all about and the tremendous asset and capability that we have in the UK for race car technology and advanced automotive engineering,” said Xtrac’s managing director Peter Digby. Commenting on this major annual event for the company and its 270 employees, which is also a major pilgrimage for many British motorsport fans, he added: “As with motorsport generally, not only is it great entertainment for race fans the world over, but technical lessons learnt from this race cross over and can be applied to the automotive mainstream, through our “Race to Road” initiative, helping to improve the efficiency of the next generation of road cars including electric and hybrid vehicles.”
“Many race engineers consider the transmission to be one of the most critical components simply because of the prodigious amounts of power and torque produced by race engines and hybrid drives, which the gearbox has to handle over a wide speed range,” says technical director Adrian Moore. “It’s also one of the most complex parts of the vehicle and for a 24-hour endurance race requires high standards of design and manufacturing if it’s to survive the tremendous loads imposed on the driveline whenever the driver changes gear – and there are over 22,000 gearshifts throughout a typical Le Mans race.”
“To set a fast pace each transmission has to be ultra-reliable,” he added. “In the top LMP1 class the cars average 130mph including pit stops and cover 3,400 miles and the transmission systems have to cope with over 700bhp being transferred to the driving wheels.”
Each customer gearbox and differential supplied for the race was designed, manufactured and painstakingly tested at the company’s hi-tech factory at Thatcham in Berkshire. Gears and internal components were manufactured using steels developed exclusively for Xtrac to its own specification. Teams use either ‘off the shelf’ designs or totally integrated bespoke solutions. Transmission casings, which in some of the cars are load bearing structures for the suspension, were validated using the latest computer-aided engineering (CAE) systems and subjected to analysis using gear, wing and suspension loads to ensure a reliable and optimised design from the moment each car first runs.
During the whole event, Peter Digby and senior design engineer Keith Pattison will head up a major trackside support operation by Xtrac assisted by chief designer Jon Marsh, business managers Adam Bach and Mark O’Brien and build technicians Andy Milburn and Ryan Bambrick.
A longstanding supplier to Le Mans since 1992, this year Xtrac is again supplying transmissions to the major competitors in the LMP1 class. The LMP2 class, which is dominated by Lola and Oreca cars, will be racing with its P1059 and P626B transmissions. In the GTE class Xtrac is supplying all four Corvettes with P529P gearboxes and both Aston Martins with its P600 gearbox. In addition to the 30 cars supplied with transmissions, Xtrac is also supplying some customers with differentials as well as steering racks and pinions.