Graham Rahal took part in a celebration with one of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ longest-tenured partners, Xtrac Inc. The Rahal family has a direct and winning connection to the exclusive transmission supplier to the series.
“One of the first projects (Xtrac) ever worked on was the starter gears in the mid ‘80s,” said Rahal, whose father and team co-owner, Bobby Rahal, won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. “One of the first cars was Dad’s winner in 1986. The family has got some history with them and I’m excited to go out there this May and hopefully have a good run.”
Xtrac began supplying transmissions for several Indy car teams in 1990 before becoming the exclusive supplier to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2000. The company enjoyed a banner afternoon Thursday celebrating its recently refurbished and extended northwest Indianapolis shop, which nearly doubles in size to 12,000 square feet and bolsters a full-time staff to 16.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett joined Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Soldier Strong/TurnsForTroops.com Honda for this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix as a proclamation from the State of Indiana was presented to Xtrac by a member of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s staff.
“I think Xtrac has always provided an extremely reliable and quality product to our series and to the teams, which is key,” said Rahal, 28. “I can’t say that all the time with everyone we’ve worked with, but they’ve always been top-notch for us and we appreciate that.
“I think the main thing is to celebrate the expansion here in Indy. To see the growth of these sort of industries continue on in Indianapolis, it’s great. For the teams, it makes our lives a lot easier when you can literally drive down the street and get the parts and the products you need in order to go on.”
Jeff Kitchen, general manager at Xtrac, said the company builds or rebuilds between 100-125 gearboxes per year across several racing platforms, including sports cars. He credited INDYCAR with a process befitting the economics of racing when Xtrac was involved in development of the current Verizon IndyCar Series chassis. Much if the early testing for the Dallara IR-12 was handled by the late Dan Wheldon.
“From our standpoint, the introduction of the 2012 car was done extremely smart,” said Kitchen. “We were on the car very early on testing with Dan right off the bat. There was a lot of planning that went into us designing a gearbox, which to give you an idea, we had one that less than $100,000 on the old car.
“So the plan was a lower cost, but making it a better gearbox, which was challenging. How could we make it faster shifting, more durable, but then reduce the price? Ultimately, we were able to make it happen with the new gearbox costing around $35,000 less than the old one. We achieved that. The initial build was tough, but INDYCAR did a great job in how they staged it and timed it, so we worked in conjunction with Dallara.
“Now for INDYCAR, we’re more of just a parts supplier to the teams. We do have occasions with Indy-only teams where they will come to us and we service a gearbox for them.”
With the variety of circuits in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Xtrac’s dedication and hard work have shown through at every venue. But which is the most demanding track?
“Long Beach is probably the most challenging circuit from a gear ratio standpoint – long straights in addition to the hairpin,” Kitchen explained. “Those are about the two extremes you can get on a single race course.
“That being said, we always hold our breath during the Indy 500 because they are staying in gear longer. The benefit of the road courses and going through different gears is that you may only be in it 20 percent of the time in a gear, or you’re on it, off it and then back on it. In the 500, you’re in that gear for a long time. Indy’s evolved. It’s a six-speed gearbox, but they basically run three top gears. That puts a lot of stress on a gearbox.
“It’s a big box, but it has got to be able to withstand all of the different circuits – speedways, short ovals, road and street courses. If you picked any one of those and cut it up, the box would probably look completely different.
“It’s just like the series: It’s so diverse in where they race. We had to have a box that was diverse to meet all of those challenges.”