Racing an Electric Motorcycle at the Laguna Seca Refuel Track Day
Electric car participants line up on the grid. It’s almost sad to see the time trial winner starting a practice session behind a converted Scion. But passing practice is always fun.
When I heard about the Refuel event, a free track day and time trial at Laguna Seca, it was literally a dream come true. I have long been a devoted aficionado of the legendary corkscrew. Really, ever since I first circled the track on the back of a friend’s Yamaha R1, I have loved this track, and for years before that I admired it as a spectator. When I first started hearing about electric motorcycles, I thought, “Wow, all those golfers that decided it would be cool to live and play golf near a racetrack and then whine about the noise should pay EV owners to do track days there.” And voilá! Speed Ventures is paying (unless an appropriate sponsor steps in), but still, the entire day was FREE for all electric vehicles. And even a natural gas turbine car. And the Stanford solar trike… Basically, as long as it’s clean and silent, it’s free. Although the electric Barca-lounger remained a pit vehicle…
Why Electric Vehicles are the Perfect Vehicle for Laguna Seca
Laguna Seca has a strict 92 dB sound limit except for major races, like MotoGP. This is due to the fact that some developer was able to trick a lot of golfers and other such genteel folk into buying property and playing a game that requires absolute silence next to a racetrack. So most race cars and motorcycles have to do obscene things to their vehicles in order to pass the sound check, or else go home and forfeit a $300+ track day. God forbid the distant whine of a motor be heard over the clinking of ice in one’s highball glass on the golf course. Thus, EV’s are a golfer’s best friend. Plus they’re great for the planet, as we all know.
Speed Ventures is one of the largest motorsports event organizers in California with over 30 events per year that see a total of around 7,000 active participants. I spoke with organizers Aaron Bitterman and Dave Lach about this forward-thinking event. They told me they knew as soon as they secured the Laguna Seca date that it would be an ideal opportunity for EV’s to experience Laguna Seca. Not only do they feel it’s best for the environment, they also see tremendous potential in purpose-built electric race cars like Kleenspeed’s. Dave told me they hope to grow the organization to the point where they can host wheel-to-wheel racing events among EV competitors. There were about enough Teslas there to do that, 10 ecstatic Tesla owners showed up and I would’ve loved to see them race against the Lotuses present.
A 3-minute Lap Around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Echoing the immortal words of every second-place finisher (or 4th, in my case), especially Max Biaggi during his 500GP career: “It’s not me, it’s the bike, I swear!” With only 19hp and geared for killer wheelies, this bike was not going to break any lap records, even though I had it pinned 99% of the time. But it showed me how much FUN I can have on a smaller bike. I briefly owned a Husqvarna SMR450 motard and hated it for anything above 40mph because the engine vibrated in a seriously uncomfortable way. However, the Native X (links to previous motard model) prototype was fun at any speed, the highest of which was around 60mph.
Let’s begin not from pit out, but from the long straightaway that seems to launch you into the stratosphere with the blind hill of Turn 1. T1 then surprises with a gentle dip into the first real turn, T2- always a challenging one for me, a double-apex wide hairpin, followed by the high speed antics through turns 3, 4, and 5, to begin the ascent up past the infernal sound booth with that damnable dB meter. Today, I laughed at the sound booth as I slowly chugged up the hill, paying close attention to the bike’s responsiveness as this prototype did not have the BMS reader installed.
Then on up the hill, swinging around T6 — a fun, sharp dip to the left and up further still again with a blind launch into the void, only the streaks of rubber to indicate that it’s clearly time to brake. Only with repetition and guidance did I learn the proper entry to the famed corkscrew, which is always deeper and later than I really want it to be. The apex of T8 is covered with some disturbing black sealant, which I never really trusted before I was able to experiment on a slower bike.
As soon as you can see it, aim for the cone at the cornerworker’s station, and dip down 59 feet into the right hander, 8A. I do so wishing I was half as talented as Rossi and could pass in the dirt there if need be. Turn 9 is a gentle sweeping left hander leading back down to earth and into T10, a nice high-speed right hander. T11 tricks a lot of people their first time out, because it’s blind and tighter than 90 degrees, almost a hairpin. I always think of Casey Stoner and how he finally caved to Rossi’s pressure by blowing that corner. Then a solid blast up the front straight to victory! Which on a 19hp bike means waving at the car guys in their garages and feeling a little guilty for my 3 minute lap time (even with the throttle wide open 99% of the time) delaying the start of their session as the checkered flag is thrown.
On the Native X I rode at the Refuel event, I played with all sorts of lines through the corkscrew. This sort of experimentation could lead to very costly mistakes on a 170hp bike, but on a 19hp bike with nobody nipping at my heels, it was all in good fun, and I learned not to fear the black stuff, as it really is the best line. Tomorrow I’ll have a full review of the Native X itself, which is one of the funnest bikes I’ve ever ridden.
There Were Some Really Nice Cars There Too…
Events like this are an ideal way to develop new vehicles, as there was plenty of juice to power up between sessions. The only motorcycle manufacturer taking full advantage of this was Zero. Their chief EE and resident TTXGP racer Kenyon Kluge was on hand to test recent developments on their race bike.
Later this week, I will give a full rundown of the participants, as they ran the gamut from talented young “armchair engineers” like Henry Herndon to companies bent on developing the most viable high-performance alt fuel vehicle, electric or otherwise, like Wrightspeed, DP Cars, and two-time Time Trial winner Kleenspeed.
You may recall the Wrightspeed from our previous article on the world’s 10 fastest electric cars. Below, the Wrightspeed X1 smokes ICE cars that cost twice as much: