While most of San Francisco was running across town in silly outfits, history was being made a few miles north, at Infineon Raceway. The tech industry isn’t just buying naming rights to racetracks, some might say it’s poised to take over racing as we know it. While gas-powered engine technology is mature and only making incremental changes (many of which involve increased use of “electronics”- EFI, traction control, remote engine management), Azhar Hussain, TTXGP’s founder, has created a whole new game strictly for electronic motors.
In TTXGP, long gone are the days of finding the ideal blend of gas and oil or panicking if the air density ratio changes without enough time to re-jet the carbs. Electronic fuel injection has solved the carburetor problem and the EPA is making two-strokes go the way of the dinosaur, even in Grand Prix racing. MotoGP, the pinnacle of racing, struggles to find the maximum power a racer can safely use, reducing engine size, and for 2012, increasing it again. The 4-stroke internal combustion engine is mature technology, losing its edge.
An Electric Dog Fight Between AMA Pros Higbee and Barnes
In the ‘eGrandPrix’, the big challenges are battery longevity and overheating, although there were also occasional software glitches. Electric motors have enough oomph to out-power even the strongest chassis and tires, but the truly talented racer is the one who can manage that power to last an entire race, much like racers currently manage their tire life and fuel efficiency. Having been to many motorcycle races both as a spectator and competitor, the start was rather anti-climactic for me. You really had to look to know when it was time, and then they were off with a whisper, whereas normally even the blind and deaf can tell when a race is about to start.
At the start, Jennifer Bromme on the Werkstaat Mavizen had to stop and reset after a software glitch held her up. But her experience on this track combined with being on one of the faster bikes enabled her to pick her way through the field into fourth position. Leaders Shawn Higbee on the Zero Agni machine and Michael Barnes on the Lightning Motors bike swapped leads throughout most of the race, Higbee out-maneuvered Barnes in the corners, while Barnes blew by Higbee on the straights as if he were standing still. They’re also the competitors with the best pro racing credentials of the field, with plenty of recent AMA points between them. Shortly after the halfway point, Barnes had to pull off and let the bike to cool down before completing the race, managing to maintain his second position.
Who Resurrected the Electric Car?
Barnes’ “Big Banana” as the announcers were fond of calling it, holds an actual EV1 engine from the electric car GM killed. Yes, one of those. And no, they wouldn’t tell me how they got it. I asked Barnes about riding it, and he explained that the hardest thing to do has been to get the suspension right. It’s heavier than many of the other e-bikes, with very little ground clearance. So these factors combined to make it slow in the corners while the EV1 motor smoked the Zero Agni in the straights. Although it appeared to have a very long wheelbase, I was told it’s actually no longer than that of a Ducati 1098. However, like the Mission One, it’s a real stretch to the handlebars, something that bodes well for tall racers, but not so well for most others.
The Mavizen and others were designed much like BMW motorcycles, with twin motors on either side to capture as much air-cooling as possible. Liquid-cooling is still not quite viable, as the batteries already leave these bikes far outweighing their high performance gas brethren.
The Future of Electric Motorcycle Racing
The above table shows the rounds, and each of them should be more exciting than the last, as competitors shake out the problem bits. What makes this especially exciting in that “Wild West” way is that there are no power limitations. Most races are among relatively equal bikes. This one had everything from an old CAR motor stuffed into a bike to a moped.
Although the FIM was originally behind Azhar’s TTXGP, as reported here last summer, they have since decided to start their own e-bike series. Azhar’s statement here explains why this is really not a good idea. However, judging by the results from their first event, it seems more racers are on board with the TTXGP.
Loyalty aside, this makes a lot of financial sense when considering that the TTXGP is the only organizing body that also gives each racer (not team owner, but racer) shares in TTXGP. When I think about how wealthy Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is, I think I’d like a piece of that. So now I am thinking seriously about coming out of retirement to race the 2011 season with TTXGP. Hopefully by then all the fast guys won’t have discovered it.
All Photos by Susanna Schick