From humble start this firm has cornered the F1 market
XTrac started making gearboxes in the early 1980s for the then-new Group A rally cars from a lock-up behind a Chinese restaurant in Wokingham. Now it has a customer list that stretches right across the spectrum of important motor sport series.
During the 1980s and 1990s there were limited possibilities when it came to sourcing a motor racing gearbox. Hewland only supplied its units in “small, medium and large” says Peter Digby, the managing director of XTrac.
“When I was working with the Williams team we would spend hours welding parts onto the ’boxes, modifying them in order to ensure they’d fit. In fact we ended up doing our own cases, so if you wanted a gearbox, you had to go everywhere to get it done. When XTrac started we said ‘let’s go for the top end of the market, all bespoke and nothing off the shelf’.”
XTrac soon realised that the steel available to work with was far from ideal. “Twenty years ago the most popular steel used in gear cutting was EN36, which stood for Emergency Number 36. They wanted a stronger steel during the war and they temporarily called it ‘Emergency Number’… It was that old.
“We decided to make our own steel by working out exactly what we needed from it. We came up with the perfect recipe, which we then took to [a firm in] Sheffield. The only problem was that you had to buy 100 tonnes at a time and it took six months to get hold of. Today we make four of those melts a year and every three years we bring out a new steel.”
As a result of the new steel the gears lasted twice as long as anything else on the market – so it’s little wonder that XTrac’s business mushroomed in every championship it got involved with.
Nearly 30 years later, XTrac is still the place to go for many racing teams, and for this season three new outfits on the F1 grid have opted to run an XTrac gearbox.