Friday, May 11, 2012

Lightning wins both TTXGP races, but Zero Motorcycles takes clean sweep based on points

In a surprise twist in last weekends TTXGP 2012 North America season opener at the Infineon Raceway, Zero Motorcycles ended up taking a clean sweep of the podium.  The upset result in the electric motorcycle race occurred after Team Icon Brammo pulled out (due to two accidents - Atlas and Rapp) and while both of Lightning Motorcycles riders each won a race (by a long mile), they failed to earn enough points to take podium spots.  It left riders on Zero S bikes holding more points than the Lightning or Brammo riders.  Because of the huge performance disparity between Brammo, Lightning and Zero Motorcyles' respective bikes, the results are nothing short of astonishing.  Any observer who knows the performance of these bikes would have said the podium positions would be held by Lightning Motorcycles and Brammo, and to suggest that Zero would take all three spots would cause jaws to hit the floor.

The teams riding electric motorcycles provided by Zero Motorcycles took a clean sweep of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd spots on the podium.  Because it's such a surprise, we need to carefully go over that weekends events to understand.  But let's say up front, the Zero Motorcycles bikes in the race ran flawlessly.  These are production electric motorcycles that offer performance similar to the Mavizen and other dual-Agni-motor bikes from two years ago, but at a much higher production volume.  That the Zero S bikes exist as regular production bikes, and can so easily be converted to meet TTXGP rules, is a concrete indication of how far and how quickly electric motorcycles have moved forward.  However the Zero S and Lightning/Brammo bikes are in completely different realms of performance.  The Lightning and Brammo bikes passed the Zero S bikes like they were standing still.  If this were gas bike racing, the race wouldn't be held with such a huge performance disparity.  For example there is a safety issue because the fast bikes will be so frequently passing the slow bikes.  Also, by contrast the Zero S bikes looked pokey, whereas if the race ONLY had Zero S bikes it would have looked great.

At the end of the day the Lightning Motorcycles team was shocked at the results, and feeling cheated.  It took me a fair bit of talking with that team, Rupal Patel, and Azhar Hussain to understand what had happened and why. 

The race day was split into two individual races. Those races together determined overall winners for the day.

Results from race 1 ( and Barnes and Szwarc win in first of todays TTXGP races at Infineon Raceway)

PosNos.NameTeamLapsDiffTotal TimeBest lap
180Michael BarnesLightning815:46.9481:51.548
25Martin SzwarcMartin Szwarc82:10.72617:57.6752:11.428
396Kenyon KlugeK Squared71 lap16:16.6362:13.022
47Kyle SchumacherRitz Racing71 lap16:30.1082:19.537
5619Ernest MontagueRitz Racing71 lap17:05.1432:23.605
689Tim HuntLightning26 lapsretired

Results from race 2 (

PosNos.NameTeamLapsDiffTotal TimeBest lap
189Tim HuntLightning917:40.9371:55.942
25Martin SzwarcMartin Szwarc81 lap18;05.5512:10.748
396Kenyon KlugeK Squared81 lap18:13.8732:14.629
47Kyle SchumacherRitz Racing71 lap18:44.1232:19.070
5619Ernest MontagueRitz Racing71 lap19:13.1682:23.208
680Michael BarnesLightning2DNFRetired1:50.96

Total race results & points won for the day

PosNosNameTeamRace oneRace twoWeekend totalChampionship points 
15Martin SzwarcMartin Szwarc20204025
296Kenyon KlugeK Squared16163220
37Kyle SchumacherRitz Racing13132616
480Michael BarnesLightning25DNF2513
489Tim HuntLightningDNF252513
6619Ernest MontagueRitz Racing11112210

The first thing to notice is the huge difference between the two Lightning bikes, and the Zero bikes.  I've already gone over it above, but the best lap time is a great objective measure to verify what I said above.

The key point is to notice the DNF (a.k.a. Retired) results in both races.  It is an unfortunate thing that the Lightning #80 bike DNF'd race 2, while the Lightning #89 bike had DNF'd race 1.  While each of the riders won the race they finished, it meant that neither of these riders had enough points for the day to reach the podium.

In order to get any ranking out of being in a race, you have to finish the race.

In race 1 Tim Hunt had a problem with his bike, and parked it at the side of the track for a couple laps.  He got back on the bike towards the end of the race and found it would start up again, and began riding it around the track in time for the last lap of the race.  However, instead of take a complete lap he went into the pit area to confer with Richard Hatfield, and then re-entered the track.  But by that time some of the bikes had taken the checkered flag which, by the rules, means that Hunt's last lap did not count as a proper race lap even though the flag waver person did wave the checkered flag over him.  Additionally, because Hunt completed so few laps his result would not have counted anyway even if he had properly taken the checkered flag, because the rules require a rider to complete more than half of the laps.

The only complication to that neatly shaved bit of rules interpretation is that following race#1 there was a Podium Ceremony, and Tim Hunt was on the Podium as having taken second place with Barnes having taken first place.  The Podium Ceremony following race 1 was conducted as if there were two separate classes with separate winners.  That is, at the Podium, four bikes were present, two from Lightning, two from Zero, and the announcer treated the Ceremony as if the two sets of two bikes were in separate classes.  But the TTXGP staff had said, the eSuperStock was not a "class" but an "award" which I discuss below.

In race 2 (I wasn't there so had this second hand) Michael Barnes' bike (#80) had a problem develop forcing the bike out of the race.

Why were the Zero and Lightning bikes in competition with each other?  As I pointed out above, these bikes have a huge performance disparity, and in gas bike racing they would be in separate classes, and probably not even be racing at the same time.  Electric motorcycle racing is at such an immature early stage that in order to have a big enough grid the TTXGP has to take whomever shows up to race.  If this sounds like it reflects badly on Zero, reread the paragraph at the top, and know I mean all the best to whomever does show up to race.  The question is really whether we should have such different performance levels racing against each other in the same race grid.

While the Lightning and Brammo bikes were showing great performance, they are only three bikes.  Can we have an interesting race with just three bikes?  When will we get to a point of having a full grid of bikes with the caliber Lightning and Brammo have developed?  

For example, both Mission Motors and MotoCzysz have developed bikes of this caliber, but both are not racing in the TTXGP this year.  Brammo isn't in the business of building and selling Empulse RR's, that bike is a prototype test platform, and it is the just-launched Empulse R that is Brammo's production electric motorcycle.  On the other hand Lightning says they can produce and sell duplicates of the two bikes the team is racing, and any interested motorcycle racing team with the bucks could perhaps swing a deal with Richard Hatfield and get into the TTXGP as well.  It seems that Lightning is the only choice to build a grid of high end electric motorcycles.

At the lower end of the spectrum there is a greater chance to build a significant race grid.  Zero Motorcycles is manufacturing the Zero S in volume and it is a small bit of reworking to make a Zero S compatible with the TTXGP rules.  Plausibly Zero could find more riders to set up a larger grid of just the Zero S's.   Additionally, Brammo just unveiled the Empulse and Empulse R and intends to develop the Empulse TTX for TTXGP racing in 2013.  It means the eSuperStock concept could develop into a proper TTXGP race class for 2013, and because both Zero and Brammo are in or going to volume production, there could be a significantly large eSuperStock grid in 2013.

The 2012 rules does not carve out a class that matches the performance level of the Zero S bikes.  The Zero S bikes were production electric motorcycles, identical to what can be bought at any Zero Motorcycle dealer, with minimal modifications required to meet TTXGP requirements.  The Zero S bikes were racing as a group named eSuperStock.   That was not a "class" but an "award" meaning that the Zero S bikes were in competition with Lightning and Brammo, and in addition were eligible for the eSuperStock award.  Therefore, when Brammo and Lightning had their respective issues, it opened the door for Zero's riders to earn more points and win the day.

This is one of those astonishing results that takes a bit of explaining to grok. 

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