ePower Electric Motorcycle Race at Laguna Seca

MotoCzysz’s 100-yard Dash to Victory Over Lightning

The most exciting story of the ePower electric motorcycle race, in my opinion, is not the state-of-the-art ultra-mega high-tech MotoCzysz E1PC win. To me, it’s actually Lighting Motor’s second place bike that I find more interesting. I deeply admire Czysz’s commitment and his ability to bring this industry to the next level, as demonstrated with their record-breaking win at the 2010 IOM TT Zero. But what’s so interesting about the Lightning is the progress the team has made since the TTXGP season opener back in May. In just two months, they have taken a bike with a CAR motor that could not make it through a corner without bottoming out, and made it into a lean, mean, Corkscrew racing machine. This bike has undergone the sort of suspension and weight distribution development only possible in race conditions. The bike handled so much better in this race, even claiming pole position with a 1:45, over Czysz’s 1:47.

Granted, Lighting’s Michael Barnes is an AMA racing veteran, and Czysz chose not to use a professional racer for this event. Instead, he rode his bike himself, which is exactly what I would do at Laguna Seca. It’s such a fun racetrack, even at 3:00 flat! Czysz does actually have quite a few laps under his belt, as an instructor for Skip Barber’s motorcycle school at Laguna Seca. That clear glass piece next to the champagne is his trophy. The Refuel trophies were glass too, it seems to be en vogue with electric races.

The race which everyone thought would be Czysz’s for the taking, with whispers of his record-shattering bike possibly lapping the entire field, turned out to be a Barnestorm. Barnes led from the gate, while Czysz fell back a few from 2nd on the grid to 3rd, due to electrical gremlins, as Czysz reported to Hell For Leather. By Turn 5 in the 1st lap he’d made that up, easily passing the slower bikes, but still faced a 6 second gap behind Barnes. With each of the 9 laps, Czysz got a little faster while Barnes’ speed decreased as his batteries wore down.

The Rest of the Field

All 7 of the bikes that started were able to complete the 9 lap race, showing that the range and heat tolerance of these bikes is improving. One of the racers explained to me that the motors many of them use come with automatic shut off switches to prevent overheating, which is why the Infineon race saw so many bikes have overheating issues. This requires a stop and reset, so teams have been working hard to resolve this issue. This is why on bikes with proprietary motors, like the Brammo Empulse, you’re more likely to see an oil cooler. Like other electric races, the field was small (7 starters) and extremely varied in terms of capability. Although racers must qualify within 120% of the leader’s fastest lap time in order to race, two racers who did not qualify made it into the race on the merit of their free practice times. There was some lap traffic for the leaders, but with such a small field, it wasn’t much of an issue. Thijs De Ridder took a comfortable 3rd place, while Thomas Betti came in 4th after a battle with 5th place finisher Matthias Himmelman. Thomas’ father Luciano Betti finished 6th, and Christian Amendt finished out the field. Team Betti (below) have been manufacturing electric motorcycles for years, and are also planning to compete in the TTXGP Italian series.

Why No Empulse?

We were all eager to see Brammo’s new Empulse compete in this race, but they pulled out on Friday. CEO Craig Bramscher told me in an interview on Saturday that just 8 weeks ago they thought it would be a year before they’d be ready to race. However, the developments came together much faster than they’d originally anticipated, so they decided to race. Then, during last week’s hill climb, they discovered some issues that would prevent them from winning. Being an “also-ran” is simply not an option for a major manufacturer. Look what it’s done to Kawasaki! Brammo, being one of the “Big Two” in electric motorcycle manufacturing, could not afford a poor showing in this race. So both pro racer Aaron Gobert and myself were disappointed. I had offered my services as the B rider (as if they actually had two Empulses!), and had to be satisfied with a sit on my next bike, the Brammo Empulse.

 

Unlike the TTXGP series, the ePower series is not just quiet on the track. While the TTXGP is televised on ESPN Europe and Speed2 in the US, along with extensive media coverage online and in print, little news has come out about the ePower series, and their website reveals little. Roadracing World magazine has the full results here, and the FIM’s official press release here. What was even more disappointing is that there was absolutely NO video coverage. For a race organized by the governing body of all things Fast In Motorcycling, this is hugely disappointing. They are close enough to Dorna (which owns and manages the MotoGP series) that it seems to me Dorna should have been covering filming rights for the series, or at least the event. Apparently not, because the massive jumbotron in front of our grandstand seats was blank throughout the race. The announcers knew little about the bikes, and did their best. It would’ve been nice if someone with a deeper knowledge of the field was in the announcer’s booth as well. But at least the electric bike manufacturer had the best umbrella girls in the paddock:

All Photos by Susanna Schick

 

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.