Interview with FIM's Charles Hennekam on Electric Motorcycle Racing
This is the transcript of an interview with Charles Hennekam, Technical Coordinator of FIM (Federation International de Motocyclisme), the global governing body of all motorcycle racing. Charles’s job involves taking care of the technical rules for all the disciplines– 50 different championships covering everything from road racing to cross-country rally racing.
He is also the Operations Manager for ePower, the FIM’s electric motorcycle racing series. I sat down with him at the Laguna Seca round of the ePower series to find out more about FIM’s interest in electric racing. I saved it until now, because it’s nice to have some racing news in the off-season. Also I was out tonight with the woman who could very well win the 2013 TTXGP production class championship, and insisted she wanted to see this. So here it is. For the full scoop of that picture from the Bonneville Salt Flats, read the story here.
SS: Does FIM also cover events like the World Endurance Races?
CH: Yes, normally I’d be working the Suzuka 8-hour race this weekend, but I cannot do both. The endurance races are very well-established, and therefore need less attention. Because ePower is new, it needs a lot more attention. I have other projects within my duties, such as noise reduction in motocross, harmonization of rules for fuel, for example.
What inspired FIM to get involved in electric racing?
Let me start from the beginning- as the governing body for all motorcycle racing, we have been involved in this for many years. Many years ago, we partnered with Fiat to create electrical & solar-powered events with both cars and motorcycles. In 1989 we created a set of rules for EV racing. It evolved slowly, with more interest in the solar-powered races. In 1990 a French rider attempted the land speed record for the >300kg class. At the time we had 3 classes, by weight- 150kg max, 150-300kg, and over 300kg. In 1994 Max Biaggi attempted a world land speed record on an electric-powered motorcycle, like the Bonneville race.
At that time, as you know, battery technology was very crude compared to today. In 1998 we updated the rules and carried on doing small events in conjunction with the FIA. Then the alternative energy commission was set up the year before the fuel crisis of 2007. They were investigating alternatives to fossil fuels. Then Azhar contacted us in 2008 with a set of rules to see if FIM wanted to cooperate on the project. He brought some TTXGP bikes to their conference in 2009 to show to the FIM. In 2009 he held an enduro race in Denmark simultaneously with an environmental conference being held in Copenhagen. Many well-known enduro racers were invited to compete, and raced for 30 minutes to show the political world that this was possible, especially that they could leave smaller footprints.
Then in 2009 the first TTXGP was held in the Isle of Man, so our people were in contact with Azhar Hussain (Founder of TTXGP) with the aim to hold a championship with electric motorcycles. There were differing philosophies as to how a championship should be made, so the FIM decided to create the ePower championship, still in discussion with Mr. Hussain. Now we are working together, partnering on some races, because we both want to have larger grids. We have 11 riders for this race. The development in this world is very hard, the quicker machines are all prototypes, the others are production-based.
For another point of view of the events of 2009, see Hell for Leather and Wired. The two serie have been working together since 2011, and we can only hope for the sake of the sport that they achieve even greater unity.
The results, however, are very good. In the first year at Laguna Seca, 2010, we were doing top speeds of 116mph, now this year we’re doing 135, close to 140mph. Before, Michael Barnes had trouble finishing the race on the Lightning. Now, he had no trouble completing the race at top speed. So you can see, there’s a lot of development, but it hasn’t caught on yet. Mainly because we need to reach out and let people know that electric motorcycle racing is possible. Second, we’re still looking for manufacturers to come and play. As in the other classes, in ICE, all manufacturers are playing in a variety of competitions. The track is the best dyno, it confirms the results from one to the other- shows what the technology is capable of. From the pinnacle of MotoGP all the way down to club racing, the sport proves the technology.
What about the manufacturers who aren’t here this year?
CRP were very clear last year about their plans for 2012. This year their priority is to develop their production superbike. Mugen, of course, is linked with Honda. Honda has a strong link with the Isle of Man. That circuit is a strong challenge for any manufacturer or rider. They have told us they’re interested in possibly competing, but this was their “putting their toes in the water”. They came very close to the top of the podium, partly thanks to their excellent rider, John McGuinness.
Mission too has come and gone, but in the history of motorcycling there have always been manufacturers that have come, then their priorities are diverted to other things. Like Suzuki and Kawasaki in MotoGP, like MV Agusta, etc. We will see the OEM’s come in. But it will take some time, because nobody wants to come first. They want to put a good product on the market. The testing period for something completely new is always longer than for a simple update.
On the other side of the spectrum, electric mobility is basically unknown. Infrastructure needs to keep improving. Here in California there are plenty of charging stations, which is helpful. With the petrol crisis, prices hiked to unprecedented levels. At a certain point, fuel will become expensive enough for people to become interested in finding cheaper alternatives. I can’t predict when this will be, but we want to be prepared. This is the main reason we come to Laguna Seca, we know California is at the forefront of EV adoption.