When Volkswagen's electric I.D. R stormed up the 156 turns of Pikes Peak last summer in just 7 minutes 57 seconds to shatter the famous hillclimb's outright record, it was a declared a triumph for the manufacturer. "The team, incredible. The atmosphere, incredible. The challenge, incredible." Driver Romain Dumas proclaimed afterwards, and rightly so.
Volkswagen's achievement was nothing short of astonishing. In beating the previous record by sixteen seconds, it not only healed the wound of a victory it once so narrowly missed out on, but also began repairing a little of the damage done to its beleaguered name in recent years too. Despite the scale of its accomplishment though, the I.D. R's performance was possibly an even bigger moment for a small British company than for the colossal German one.
Integral Powertrain Limited was founded 20 years ago but, despite two decades of operation, you'll likely never have heard of it. The firm's website talks only of work done only for "a prestigious client base of OEMs" and on "a prestigious hybrid supercar", the vast majority of its effort being expended in the shadow of non-disclosure agreements, fulfilling the needs of its partners without enjoying any of the limelight itself.
Indeed, how many times has it been written that a hybrid or fully-electric performance car's motor powers this or torque-fills that, without any mention of where said motor comes from? The same certainly can't be said for engine technology; Williams shares headlines with Singer for its work on the DLS and Cosworth's involvement in Aston Martin's Valkyrie project has been front and centre from the beginning.
The irony of the latter won't be lost on Roger Duckworth. The son of Cosworth founder Keith, and a former senior engineer at the Northamptonshire-based firm, it was Roger who left with three other managers to form Integral in 1998. On Wednesday he stood behind the podium of the RAC Club's lavish Pall Mall headquarters, receiving its prestigious Dewar Trophy, just as his father did in 1969 for the design of Ford's DFV F1 engine.
The award was donated to the RAC in 1904 by Sir Thomas Dewar, a Member of Parliament, whisky magnate, thoroughbred horse breeder and motoring enthusiast. It has been presented by the club since 1906, but only in years when the awarding committee believes there are contenders of sufficient merit to claim it. With previous winners including Cadillac in 1908 for producing cars with truly interchangeable parts, Triplex in 1977 for its pioneering safety glass and, more recently, Gordon Murray Design for its innovative iStream manufacturing process, the Dewar places its winners within one of the most elite echelons of the automotive world.
While Duckworth Snr found himself receiving the award for individual merit, 49 years later his son was keen to highlight that Integral's triumph was to be shared by all of its employees, some of whom were present for the occasion. The honor marks the conclusion of a period in Integral's history during which anonymity has reigned supreme. Of course, it will continue to work in an inconspicuous manner where necessary but, as you will certainly have realised by now, it was Integral that provided the motors for Volkswagen's record-breaking run. Having also been publically awarded the contract to provide propulsion for Aston Martin's forthcoming Rapide E, it seems that the company's moment to step out of the shadows has finally come.
Not a moment too soon. While electric motors tend to average around 90 per cent efficiency, Integral's inverter is "well above" 99 per cent and its motor is more than 98 per cent efficient. To put that into context, Mercedes claims its championship winning F1 engine to be about 50 per cent efficient. Though, given the energy density of petrol vs electricity, an ICE doesn't require such high levels of efficiency to produce greater power, the implications of such energy-dense electric motors are clear.
From increased performance to greater range, being able to harness electric power as efficiently as possible will make the transition to more environmentally friendly forms of transportation faster, easier and better. In the case of the I.D. R, its two motors - the rear weighing 23.7kg and, slightly smaller, front unit just 18.7kg - put out a combined 510kW, or 680hp to you and me. That was enough to propel the sub-1,100kg machine from 0 to 60 in just 2.25 seconds, and into the record books as a result. As has always been the case in motorsport, though, the hope is that the progress made during the Race to the Clouds will someday help improve the commute to the office.
So, while the global presence of Jaguar Land Rover - itself a winner last year for the i-Pace - the Second Century plans of Aston Martin, the Track25 plans of McLaren and the re-emergence of Lotus are all reasons for celebration, it is important to remember that behind the scenes smaller companies such as Integral are flying the flag for outstanding British engineering in a more discreet manner. As the automotive world continues to evolve, perhaps faster than at any time since Tommy Dewar gifted his trophy to the RAC Club over a century ago, it is the names you won't have heard of that will ensure Britannia, if not ruling the waves, at the very least remains relevant on the roads.