Friday, April 27, 2012

The amazing history of Moto-Electra Racing in the TTXGP

As we gear up for the 2012 TTXGP North America season opening race at Infineon Raceway, we learn that Moto-Electra Racing will not be at the race.  In a note on the teams Facebook page, Moto-Electric Racing team owner Brian Richardson posted a note (see text below) about their plans for the 2012 TTXGP racing season explaining their absence and that the team still intends to qualify for the 2012 TTXGP Championship race in Daytona.

This story is worth retelling some history, most of which is told in the video below, and which I was present to witness.

I first met the team (then called Team Electra, IIRC) in July 2009 at the Mid-Ohio race track.  I've never spent any time at race tracks, but because of the TTXGP race held in June 2009 that year I'd gotten the bug to see electric motorcycle racing.  The TTXGP team came to the Vintage Motorcycle Days event that's held every year at Mid-Ohio, and therefore I went to the event, to see what I could see, and write up some news articles.  Brian Richardson, Thad Wolff, Rob Prins, and others of that team were among the couple dozen people from various teams who showed up.

They were one of two teams whose bikes had a significant fairing of this sort.  At the time I'd been reading carefully Craig Vetter website and his discussion of fairings and aerodynamics, and was excited to see two bikes using fairings of this sort.  Unfortunately this sort of fairing is no longer legal in motorcycle racing and is no longer fashionable for motorcycles at all.

I next met Brian, Thad and the rest of the team the next May, at the 2010 TTXGP North America season opening race at Infineon Raceway.  By then they had redone the bike, using a new fairing.

Notice that the front wheel is uncovered.  That's what it takes nowadays to be a legal fairing, but it has worse aerodynamics than the previous fairing.  Fairings and aerodynamics aren't the point of this however.

Underneath the fairing was a vintage Norton Featherbed motorcycle frame, which is part of the story about this team.  That they've married old technology (Norton Featherbed motorcycle) with the newest of electric drive train and battery technology.  And done it on a shoestring budget, out of a former sheep barn turned motorcycle shop in a very rural part of Virginia.

There was an important thing which occurred that weekend that shows Brian Richardson's character.  During the actual race Thad Wolff was riding the bike very well and was on a time to make a strong 3rd place or maybe 2nd place, but in lap 3 (?) the bike failed and pulled to the side of the track.  It turned out what happened is a set screw failed, and because this set screw held in place a gizmo that helped the controller drive the motor, the bike stopped completely.  Set screws are the tiniest of parts, but sometimes it is the small things that topple a machine.  This meant that Brian Richardson had driven all the way from Virginia to California, to not even finish the race.

He was understandably sad, frustrated, maybe even depressed, and when I talked with him he looked unlikely to come to another race.  But, by the next race at the Race America track in Wisconsin, he was back in the game.  Throughout the TTXGP history I've seen Brian Richardson take setback after setback, and come back to race again and again.  His commitment to racing with his electric motorcycle is demonstrated by the lengths he had to drive to get to the races.  To participate, to keep his skin in the game, meant several cross country drives because while Brian is based in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia most of the TTXGP races were held far far away.

The team raced in the 2010 and 2011 TTXGP seasons, as well as the joint TTXGP and FIM e-Power race in 2011 at the Laguna Seca Raceway.

In the fall of 2010 the team made a bit of history by being the first electric race bike to enter a gas bike race.  Not only did they enter, but they won convincingly, starting from the very end of the grid and by the end of the race were so far in front that the gas bikes were nowhere to be seen.

By the 2011 season the bike had changed again.

Notice the lack of a fairing.  That was because of a little accident the weekend of that first race, that messed up the new fairing Brian had built.  The 2011 season rather than use a vintage Norton Featherbed frame, he went with a newly manufactured frame on the same dimensions as the vintage frame.  He also had built a very nice new fairing to go with it, but unfortunately destroyed the fairing, and had to race with a naked bike but they still took 2nd place.

Here they are at the TTXGP/e-Power race, Laguna Seca, in the corkscrew, July 2011.

And at the TTXGP race at Miller Motorsports Park, Sept 2011.

While the team did well, taking 2nd or 3rd place in almost every race, though they were never the headliner winning the race.  The reason why has to do with the technological capability of other bikes fielded by other teams.

While the Moto-Electra bike can easily hit 120 miles/hr or more, other teams (Lightning Motors) were able to build bikes with much more power.  By the last race they weren't even in the top three, because the presence of MotoCzysz, Lightning Motors and Brammo simply outclassed their bike.

It was clear that for the team to remain relevant in the TTXGP racing, that they need to up their game. The leading teams are gunning to develop bikes which can compete directly against the 600cc superbikes.   While Moto-Electra has built an awesome and beautiful bike, one that I'm sure is a joy to drive around town, it was beginning to be outclassed in 2011, and I'm certain that the 2012 bikes are going to leave them in the dust.  Unless, as Brian says in the note below, they get a new more powerful motor.

Moto-Electra has an amazing story behind them.  The choice to use a vintage Norton Featherbed frame was, as Brian Richardson explained in the video, a bit of serendipity.  For his 50th birthday he developed the idea to build himself a Cafe Racer, and as he says Cafe Racers start with the Norton Featherbed frame.  Halfway through the build he decided to make it an electric bike.  Then some time after that he heard of the TTXGP race, decided to go, and somehow connected up with Thad Wolff, who is a famous motorcycle racer with plenty of years of experience behind him.

We wish Brian and his team the best and have confidence that their intention to race in the 2012 TTXGP world championship race this year will be fulfilled.

Thanks for visiting Moto-Electra Racing  As you may now by now, Moto-Electra is looking for a new primary sponsor so that we can upgrade the motor and increase the voltage. We are working with a design change that would provide us with 50% more hp and 30% more torque, using an oil cooled motor.  
Although we are sitting out the first part of the 2012 TTXGP series, it has always been our desire to compete in the World Championships. This year they are in the USA (Daytona).

Hopefully we will find a new primary sponsor to take us to the next level, and get our old bike ready for the last race of the season so that we can qualify for the grid at Daytona. We need your help to keep our old Norton in the hunt.

With the changes, we feel like the Moto-Electra could be ready for an Isle of Man appearance in 2013. Could a frame designed in 1949 (Norton Featherbed) beat the best in the world? The underdog -- Yes; but the Moto-Electra Team has always expected to win -- that's never changed.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ford Focus Electric to make historic appearance as NASCAR pace car

This weekend an electric car, a Ford Focus Electric, will be the pace car in the NASCAR Capital City 400, at the Richmond International Raceway.  Unfortunately it won't be participating in the race, just acting as the pace car.  Still, this could be a significant move in that getting electric vehicles in front of hard core racing fans could make a difference.

Two Focus Electric vehicles will perform all pace car duties for the Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. “It will be a special moment for NASCAR fans across the country, Virginians and the Ford family on Saturday night when the Focus Electric completes its first lap as the official pace car for the Capital City 400,” said
Eric Kuehn, chief nameplate engineer, Ford Global Electrified Programs. “As Ford and NASCAR make history with the first all-electric pace car, we will also be demonstrating to thousands of race fans and millions more on TV that you can combine performance and fuel-efficiency.”

This is a historic step because there has never before been an electric vehicle acting as a NASCAR pace car. 

Ford Unveils Historic All-New Focus Electric Pace Car for NASCAR Capital City 400 Race This Weekend

  • Ford unveiled its 2012 Focus Electric that will become the first all-electric pace car to pace a NASCAR race this weekend in the Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers.
  • Lt. Governor Bill Bolling of the Commonwealth of Virginia was on hand to help unveil the pace car along with NASCAR’s managing director of Green Innovation Mike Lynch, and Eric Kuehn, chief nameplate engineer, Ford Global Electrified Programs.
  • The 2012 Focus Electric pace cars were unveiled at the Virginia State Capitol before being delivered to Richmond International Raceway for duty this weekend.
Richmond, Va., April 25, 2012 – After being unveiled in a public ceremony today at the Virginia State Capitol, the 2012 Focus Electric pace cars are ready for their historic race weekend when they become the first all-electric vehicles to pace a NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
The two Focus Electric vehicles will perform all pace car duties for the Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
The two cars were unveiled by Eric Kuehn, chief nameplate engineer, Ford Global Electrified Programs; Mike Lynch, NASCAR’s managing director of Green Innovation; and Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
With Bolling and Kuehn in one pace car, and Lynch in the other, the two vehicles proceeded to drive through the streets of Richmond after the ceremony to Richmond International Raceway, where they were turned over for weekend duty to Dennis Bickmeier, president of RIR.
“It will be a special moment for NASCAR fans across the country, Virginians and the Ford family on Saturday night when the Focus Electric completes its first lap as the official pace car for the Capital City 400,” said Kuehn. “As Ford and NASCAR make history with the first all-electric pace car, we will also be demonstrating to thousands of race fans and millions more on TV that you can combine performance and fuel-efficiency.”
Bolling pointed out the pride the state of Virginia takes in having the all-electric pace car debut in Richmond.
“I was delighted to unveil the 2012 Ford Focus Electric pace car at the Virginia State Capitol. Virginia is the energy capital of the East Coast so it’s only fitting that the first ever all-electric pace car will debut at the Richmond NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race,” said Bolling. “NASCAR is not just great fun, but it is also big business, having a huge economic impact on the metro Richmond area each year. We love to have folks visit Richmond for our annual NASCAR races and take advantage of all that the Commonwealth has to offer.”

NASCAR’s Lynch pointed out this marks another historic moment in the sport’s history.
“The arrival of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric pace car is a strong example of how the innovation cycle around green transportation is accelerating,” said Lynch. “The Ford Focus Electric was held to the same highly demanding standard of any pace car, and more than met the performance requirements.   Seeing it on the track at Richmond International Raceway will be another historic moment for our sport.”
This marks the latest in a line of groundbreaking moments for Ford in NASCAR. In addition to being the first manufacturer to compete with a four-door sedan as its flagship model in 1998, Ford was also first to use a hybrid to start a NASCAR event when the Fusion Hybrid served as pace car for the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2008.
In January, Ford became the first manufacturer to show off its 2013 NASCAR race car when it unveiled the new 2013 Fusion racer to media in Charlotte, N.C.
Fuel-economy leadership
The all-new Fusion range, which includes EcoBoost, a hybrid and the Energi plug-in hybrid version, is the best example of how Ford is giving customers true power of choice for fuel-efficient vehicles.
This year, Ford will offer nine vehicles reaching an anticipated 40 mpg or more. Plus, the company is building six new electrified vehicles by the end of this year.
“The Focus and Fusion are great examples of how we transformed our fleet of cars, utilities and trucks with leading fuel efficiency – by electrifying entire vehicle platforms, instead of one-off specialty models,” said Kuehn.
Ford will offer fuel-efficient EcoBoost engines in 11 vehicles in 2012, up from seven in 2011, tripling the production capacity of EcoBoost-equipped Ford vehicles. This expansion of fuel-efficient offerings will be led by the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine in the high-volume Escape compact utility vehicle and Fusion sedan.
Delivering up to 20 percent better fuel economy than conventional engines, EcoBoost uses smaller overall size combined with turbocharging and gasoline direct injection to bring customers the power they want and the fuel economy they need.

Focus Electric is America’s most fuel-efficient five-seat car that offers the equivalent of 110 miles per gallon (MPGe) city, 99 MPGe highway and operates entirely on battery-generated power. Focus Electric has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to offer 105 MPGe combined.
By comparison, the Nissan Leaf is certified at 106 MPGe city, 92 MPGe highway and 99 MPGe combined. Focus Electric features more passenger room, more motor power and a faster charging system that can nearly halve the charging time of the Leaf.
Production of the Focus Electric began in December at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich. More information about MAP can be found here.
Ford is ramping up Focus Electric retail production in the first half of this year for dealership availability in California, New York and New Jersey. By the end of the year, Focus Electric will be available in 19 markets across the U.S.
More information about Ford’s electrified vehicle lineup – including press releases, technical specifications and other related material – can be found online here. Photos of the Focus Electric can be found here.

eFXC/TTXGP season opens with closely matched race in Australia

The opening round of the eFXC/TTXGP 2012 Australian series was held south of Sydney at Wakefield Park raceway last weekend, with a single race being held on both Saturday and Sunday.  The race had two teams participating, Ripperton and Solar Power Australia (Catavolt).  Both teams made many improvements to their bikes since last season.  For example the Solar Power Australia (Catavolt) shed 30 kilograms of "unnecessary" batteries.

Qualifying round results were very well matched, with lap times within three seconds.

Pos No Gr Name Class Machine Fastest On Lap Gap Behind
1 100 Jason MORRIS (NSW) / Solar Power Australia /Catavolt 1:17.210 3 of 3
2 46 Daniel SAILER (NSW) / Ripperton Racing /Yamaha R1 1:19.502 3 of 3 2.292 2.292

The race started with Morris's Catavolt machine pulling away with the extra power available to it, but it wasn't long before Sailor was on his heels, pressing here and there, showing a wheel, pulling back , then making a successful passing move to take the lead. But Morris had the power to take back the lead, it took a couple of laps for Morris to figure out the new handling features of the new rubber, but his experience with Supermoto allowed for some quick learning.

Racing was very close with a number of lead changes but you could see a hunger in Morris's riding style, he was pushing harder than he had previously. He took the win with a slim 1.2 second margin.

Jason Morris Round Winner "We have come so far in the 12 months we've been running as its been mentioned before we've drop now officially 15 seconds from where we started out and anyone within motorsport knows that's a longways to come in 12 months"

Daniel Sailor "Technically Jason's motor is twice as big as mine but I think mine handles better, on track its crush kill destroy but off the track were good friends, we help each other out with tools and battery chargers."

Catavolt is still using the Enertrac hub motor in the rear, with lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Ripperton is using a highly customized liquid cooled Motenergy AC motor, with lithium polymer cells.

The Catavolt setup is significantly heavier than the Ripperton R1 yet it performs almost on a par with the R1. With a lighter battery setup Catavolt might prove difficult to catch.  

Reliability was much higher this year, as was speeds.  Lap times were in the 1:15 range, still 15 seconds shy of the gas bikes.

Race 1 results (saturday afternoon)

Pos No Gr Name Machine Laps Time Behind Fastest On Lap
1 46 Daniel SAILER (NSW) / Ripperton Racing Yamaha R1 4 5:11.417 1:15.607 2
2 100 Jason MORRIS (NSW) / Solar Power Australia Catavolt 4 5:11.913 .496 1:16.169 3

Fastest Lap was 1:15.607 by Daniel SAILER (NSW)

Race 2 results (sunday afternoon)

Pos No Name Machine Laps Time Behind Fastest On Lap
1 100 Jason MORRIS (NSW) / Solar Power Australia Catavolt 4 5:12.388 1:15.852 3
2 46 Daniel SAILER (NSW) / Ripperton Racing Yamaha R1 4 5:13.592 1.204 1:15.633 3

Fastest Lap was 1:15.633 by Daniel SAILER (NSW)

Current race record for eFXC class - 1:20.608 by Daniel SAILER (NSW) on a Yamaha R1 set on 08/10/11

Meunch's Himmelmann wins FIM e-Power race at Mangy Cours

A couple weeks ago the 2012 FIM e-Power race series launched on the weekend of April 15 at Mangy-Cours.  The race had a small showing of teams and unsurprisingly Meunch won the race.

Meunch had not only Matthias Himmelmann riding but new team-mate Katja Poensgen.  "We are very happy with the results and the felicitous season opening. The time we spent developing and testing definitely paid off," said Matthias Himmelmann. Matthias tested a new, more balanced battery and Katja competed with the most recent engine. One could see that she was really enjoying the ride.  "The feeling on the bike is so much different compared to the 250's. Since you not only have to watch your competition but most of all your battery, you really have to ride tactically. The racing series may still be young but I'm already very glad to be a part of it."

Meunch fielded two instances of the improved TTE 2.0, a machine weighing 220 kg powered by a battery pack of 350 V/40 Ah.

Himmelmann won over his team-mate by over 30 seconds.  Also appearing was Christian Armendt of EPO Racing Team.  Armendt had raced in e-Power during 2010 but bowed out for 2011, and has returned for 2012 promising a wholly new bike for the June race.  He specializes in ultra-light electric motorcycles hoping to get more bang for the buck speed wise.  However, it is clear from the FIM writeup that he was left in the dust, but it's unclear whether he rode his 2010 bike in this race.  If so it is unsurprising to see him beaten so badly, because Meunch's bike is way ahead technically from the ones they fielded during the 2010 season.

A major missing figure from this race is CRP.  Over the last two years CRP and Meunch have been dueling it out for the primary position in European electric motorcycle racing.  Both teams had fought hard with each other in both FIM e-Power and TTXGP races in years past, so it's curious that they are skipping e-Power this year.

Katja Poensgen is a former 250cc rider who bowed out of racing in 2003.  She is making a comeback via electric motorcycle racing saying “I stopped riding competitively 9 years ago, then I had my daughter and I wasn’t thinking about racing again, Katja explains, but last year I was invited to test an electric bike on a TV show and I was won over. When Munch Racing invited me to ride at Magny-Cours, I said yes. The bike is fun to ride. Of course there is no noise or smell, but it is beautifully smooth and you have to use your brain much more to get a good performance than when you ride a classic bike."  

Holes:7Classified pilots:3Best lap time1m59s468
Round distance:0Accidents:0Track condition:Not Communicated
265POENSGEN KATJAdeMUENCH TTE16m14s42231s46920
336AMENDT CHRISTIANdeNC17m33s6571m50s70416