Mo­toGP has grand plans to launch an elec­tric world cham­pi­onship in 2019. Af­ter sev­eral false starts will this be the mo­ment that elec­tric bike rac­ing fi­nally sparks into life?



run an elec­tric-bike world cham­pi­onship from 2019, along­side its ex­ist­ing Mo­toGP, Moto2 and Moto3 cat­e­gories. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is al­ready in talks with man­u­fac­tur­ers with the idea of run­ning a se­ries at five Mo­toGP rounds.

“It is the right time to have an elec­tric sup­port class in Mo­toGP,” says Ezpeleta. “Now we are talk­ing with dif­fer­ent elec­tric bike mak­ers and then we will see. We have had a lot of in­ter­est from a lot of peo­ple. Our aim is to start the se­ries the year af­ter next, with, maybe, one race at the end of 2018.”

Dorna will make its first foray into elec­tric rac­ing with a one-make se­ries be­cause the Mo­toGP rights-hold­ers be­lieve there’s cur­rently too much of a per­for­mance dif­fer­ence be­tween dif­fer­ent ma­chines to en­sure close rac­ing. “It will be some­thing like Moto2, ex­cept with all the bikes com­pletely the same,” adds Ezpeleta.

Dorna also want all bikes to be recharged by re­new­able en­ergy. “This is one idea we have: to recharge the bikes with clean en­ergy,” Ezpeleta ex­plains. “We don’t want the bikes to be recharged by mains power or by gen­er­a­tors. We want to cre­ate the power at the cir­cuits, with so­lar pan­els, or reach an agree­ment with a com­pany that can trans­port so­lar pan­els to each cir­cuit.”

Ezpeleta wants 18 bikes on the grid, pos­si­bly a com­bi­na­tion of cur­rent Mo­toGP and Moto2 rid­ers, although it’s dif­fi­cult to see the teams risk­ing their prized rid­ers in a sup­port race.

This isn’t mo­tor­cy­cling’s first at­tempt at es­tab­lish­ing a ‘green’ road rac­ing cham­pi­onship. In 2013 the FIM and TTXGP or­gan­ised a nine-round e-Road Rac­ing World Cup at venues in Europe, the USA and Asia, but the se­ries only lasted six rounds and plans to con­tinue in 2014 were dropped.

Dorna won’t re­veal which com­pa­nies it is talk­ing to, but the list al­most cer­tainly in­cludes Ja­panese firm Mu­gen, win­ners of the last three Isle of Man TT Zero races, the world’s only sur­viv­ing high-pro­file elec­tric race. Bruce Anstey won last year’s TT Zero at 118.4 mph (191 km/h), a huge in­crease over the 87.4 mph (141 km/h) achieved dur­ing the in­au­gu­ral elec­tric TT in 2009. The 2017 Mu­gen Shin­den uses the com­pany’s lat­est oil-cooled, three­p­hase, brush­less mo­tor that pro­duces 120 kW or 163 horse­power.

Colin Whit­ta­more of Mu­gen Europe be­lieves that elec­tric mo­tor and bat­tery per­for­mance are im­prov­ing at such a rate that a 125-mph (201 km/h) TT lap will pos­si­ble in the next two years. That’s an as­ton­ish­ing 44 per cent in­crease in per­for­mance since 2009. If petrolpow­ered su­per­bikes were im­prov­ing at

the same rate, the TT lap record would soon stand at 189 mph (304 km/h)!

“All be­ing well, we and, maybe, some oth­ers will break the 120-mph (193 km/h) bar­rier this year,” says Whit­ta­more. “And if we as­sume our cur­rent pack­age is al­ready ca­pa­ble of close to a hy­po­thet­i­cal 123-mph (197 km/h) lap, then a 125-mph (170 km/h) av­er­age lap isn’t far away.”

Iron­i­cally, con­sid­er­ing Dorna’s wish to run a one-make elec­tric Mo­toGP se­ries, Mu­gen be­lieves that EV (elec­tric ve­hi­cle) rac­ing needs more com­pe­ti­tion to keep de­vel­op­ment mov­ing for­ward at a rapid rate.

“There needs to be a stronger depth of field to push it on,” adds Whit­ta­more. “Mu­gen is a rel­a­tively small com­pany with less than 250 em­ploy­ees world­wide, and the Shin­den pro­gramme is in­ter­nally funded, so while we can do a good job with what’s avail­able to us, what is re­ally needed to fuel de­vel­op­ment is at least a cou­ple of ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers who can com­mit the level of fi­nance and re­sources nec­es­sary to take EV bikes to the next level.

“The best ex­am­ple would be to look at For­mula 1 cars. When F1 first in­tro­duced hy­brids into the pow­er­train a few years ago, it was a sim­ple push-topass but­ton that lasted only a mat­ter of sec­onds, which could have been classed as non-es­sen­tial. But these days the EV el­e­ment in F1 is cru­cial to per­for­mance — you would not win a race with­out it. That’s all down to com­pet­i­tive de­vel­op­ment driv­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

“We have made re­mark­able progress. Year on year we have moved into un­charted ter­ri­tory, and when you are do­ing some­thing that no­body else has done, then you deal with each tech­ni­cal is­sue as you en­counter it. Over the years we have dealt with the cool­ing of the bat­tery, the mo­tor and the in­verter, which are all sep­a­rate cool­ing sys­tems and bat­tery man­age­ment. When we started our TT Zero pro­ject in 2012 it took a full eight hours to charge the bat­ter­ies. Now we can recharge the

‘Now we are talk­ing with dif­fer­ent elec­tric bike mak­ers and then we will see. We have had a lot of in­ter­est from a lot of peo­ple. Our aim is to start the se­ries the year af­ter next’ Carmelo Ezpeleta, Dorna CEO

bat­ter­ies, and con­di­tion and bal­ance the cells in about 90 min­utes.

“The bat­tery is the com­mon lim­it­ing fac­tor. How­ever, the is­sue isn’t al­ways ul­ti­mate bat­tery ca­pac­ity, but more the rate of dis­charge and heat man­age­ment. The faster you pull/push en­ergy out of/ into a bat­tery the more heat is gen­er­ated, which is why your mo­bile phone gets hot when it’s work­ing hard. Man­ag­ing the heat is as much a con­sid­er­a­tion as bat­tery ca­pac­ity. We carry enough ca­pac­ity to go faster, but cur­rently we are re­stricted by bat­tery tem­per­a­ture.”

Ob­vi­ously, elec­tric mo­tor and bat­tery re­search isn’t only hap­pen­ing in the world of mo­tor­cy­cling. Huge re­sources are be­ing in­vested in this re­search in many ar­eas, which will most prob­a­bly pro­duce ma­jor per­for­mance gains in the near fu­ture.

“I ex­pect there will be a ‘eu­reka’ mo­ment when one of the clever boffins cur­rently locked away in a re­search cen­tre will come up with the next gen­er­a­tion of bat­tery, for want of a bet­ter word,” says Whit­ta­more. “Think back to the early mo­bile phones and their ‘satchel’ bat­ter­ies, or even the ef­fect that go­ing from NiCad to lithium bat­ter­ies has had on power tools. These all took a huge leap when the tech­nol­ogy al­lowed them to blos­som.

“If all things were equal, if the tech­nolo­gies were avail­able to make it so, an elec­tric bike would al­most cer­tainly lap quicker than a petrol bike! Elec­tric mo­tors pro­vide in­stant and con­stant torque, the power de­liv­ery is to­tally lin­ear and there’s no need for gear changes that un­set­tle the bike, so the rider can con­cen­trate more fully on rid­ing the op­ti­mum line and main­tain­ing cor­ner speed. John tells us that his cor­ner speed is up to 20 mph (32 km/h) higher than his su­per­bike in some places around the TT.

“Also, EV makes a lot of sense when there are is­sues with noise and emis­sions, which nowa­days af­fect most cir­cuits, mo­tocross tracks, kart­ing venues and so on.”

Mu­gen’s rid­ers in this year’s TT Zero, which takes place on 7 June, are John McGuin­ness and Guy Martin.

John McGuin­ness rode this elec­tric mar­vel at last year’s TT Zero

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