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?
MotoGP PLANS TO
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