Views & Notes: February 2015 Edition | Performance Racing Industry
Views & Notes: February 2015 Edition
By Dan Schechner on January 30, 2015

* Transmitting Excellence: During a week-long jaunt to the UK for last month’s annual Autosport International Show, PRI’s Francisque Savinien and I paid a visit to one of the world’s foremost motorsports transmission and drivetrain technology developers, Xtrac. Established in 1984 and headquartered in Thatcham, England, the company just recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Through the years, Xtrac has produced more than 1000 different gearbox designs for scores of championship-winning vehicles. And today, some 40 percent of its racing business is in sports cars for names like Audi, Toyota, McLaren and others. But Xtrac also counts customers in Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar, and various rally, off-road and touring car series. “We’re really focused on dominating the markets we’re currently involved in,” explained Cliff Hawkins, the company’s development director. In 2014 alone, its transmissions helped capture top podium finishes in Dakar Rally, Sebring 12 Hours, Le Mans 24 Hours (Overall, LMP1H, LMP1L and GTE A), World Rally Championship, and MSA British Touring Car Championship, among many others. Alongside a wildly successful track record, what also stood out was the fact that Xtrac is 100 percent owned by its employees and managers. Meantime, award-winning apprentice and undergraduate programs, which provide a steady flow of skilled machinists, engineers and associates, further bolster the company’s ranks. An inspiring operation, top to bottom, that by all appearances is growing stronger with age.

* Kingdom Of Motorsports: While covering the abovementioned Autosport Show I had the opportunity to chat with Shaikh Salman Bin Isa Al Khalifa, CEO of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) and—for my money—one of the truly bright young minds in motorsports today. After completing his collegiate studies in the US (National American University in Denver, Colorado), Shaikh Salman returned to Bahrain and took a position with the government’s Civil Service Bureau, followed by a run as marketing manager for the General Organization for Youth and Sports (GOYS). It was here that Shaikh Salman cultivated his passion for racing through a series of ascending posts related to the Kingdom’s burgeoning interest in motorsports. Finally, in 2010 he was named to lead the BIC, which hosts the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in addition to drag races, GT races, the Australian V8 Supercar series and other events. For one, I was interested to learn that drag racing represents the country’s most promising segment of grassroots competition—largely influenced by America, Shaikh Salman said. He went on to explain that a number of US-based technicians, including professional crew chiefs, travel regularly to Bahrain to conduct R&D and share knowledge with their overseas counterparts. “You need those with the expertise to come in and teach you,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of having the right equipment, it’s knowing how to use it, too.” As the discussion turned to marketing, Shaikh Salman cited several high-profile and fan-friendly events at the BIC, including those on the quarter-mile. “Whether you’re talking about match races, showdowns or other one-off types of things, if you simplify it—if you can literally say, ‘that’s cool,’ then I think it will probably work in drag racing. But every track and every country is different, so you really have to know the audience and what they will respond to.” Speaking to his nation’s position within the global motorsports landscape, Shaikh Salman was enthusiastic about both the present and future. He mentioned Bahrain’s free trade agreement with the US, noting that Bell Helmets had recently agreed to relocate its global manufacturing and R&D operations from China to the BIC’s grounds. At the same time, the Kingdom is working to develop industry professionals from within, as Shaikh Salman pointed to prospects from the adjacent University of Bahrain. “The natural link is to involve them in that, whether it’s for R&D or engineering or whatever,” he said. “In 15 years, I believe Bahrain will have the human capital that differentiates it from the rest of the region.”

About the Author
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Dan Schechner is the Editor of Performance Racing Industry Magazine.
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