Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lightning takes the Pole in e-Power/TTX at Laguna Seca

Unsurprisingly the top three positions on the grid for this weekends e-Power/TTX race are Lightning and Brammo, closely followed by Meunch Racing. However there are some surprises and disappointments further down the grid. I'll do my best to add pictures to this later.

The day offered excellent racing conditions, with clear skies, and temperatures in the low 70's. For those of you baking in other parts of the country, Laguna Seca is close enough to the Pacific coast that ocean breezes keep the place cool. Shortly after the race the sky clouded over, and the temperature took a nose dive and we were all shivering. The weather may affect the race tomorrow, because it is scheduled for 10:20 AM and this morning at that time the weather was grey and foggy.

One of the surprises was with Jeremiah Johnson, BE-EV.COM. He didn't arrive at the track until today, and had spent most of the day trying to assemble his bike. Unfortunately he didn't finish it in time, but fortunately Zero Motorcycles had a spare bike on hand and somehow he ended up riding a Zero bike during qualifying. said "You want to ride one of ours?" He accepted, and was able to get on the track, only to face another disappointment I'll go over in a second.

As has been true all season the top bikes and the slow bikes were in a huge contrast with each other. I was positioned at turn 11, this sharp turn just before the front straight, which meant I had an excellent view of their acceleration out of the corner. The Lightning/Brammo/Meunch guys accelerated past the Zero/Schless guys like they were standing still. As I've written before, this is all about the current state of the competition, there aren't enough of either the fast or slow bikes to make a full race grid, so in the TTXGP the fast and slow bikes are mixed together in one grid.

The two Lightning bikes performed great. Michael Barnes took first place in the grid with lap times spread around the mid 1:30 range, the fastest lap time was 1:33.860. Compared to the AMA 600cc SuperBike qualifying that ran earlier today, this lap speed would have placed 24th in that field, beating three riders. It's about 7 seconds slower than the slowest lap time in the MotoGP field, 1:26.887, whose qualifying race also ran earlier today. By the way, that slowest lap time, by rider Steve Rapp, disqualified him from the MotoGP this weekend.

Michael wasn't entirely happy with his result. It was close to if not faster than Steve Rapp's winning time last year, but did not beat the 1:31 lap record Rapp set during qualifying last year. Michael still believes he can wring a bit more speed out of the bike, so we'll have to see what he does tomorrow.

Next was Eric Bostrom, the new rider with Brammo. His lap times were in the 1:37-1:39 range, with the best lap time being 1:37.171. I overheard him talking with Brian Wisman after the race, and it's clear he is still learning the bike and is requesting steeper regenerative braking.

Next was Tom Montano, the new rider with Lightning Motorcycles. His fastest lap time was 1:38.664.

Next was Matthias HImmelman, Meunch Racing. His range was between 1:38 and 1:43, with a best lap time of 1:38.951. He was happy with the result, and pleased to be here.

Next was Steve Atlas whose qualifying race was cut short by a bike failure. Wisman was guessing (having not seen the bike) that it was a blown fuse in the 12 volt system. In any case Atlas' best lap time was 1:41.044 putting him in 5th place, but we know that he can get more speed out of this bike. He is a wild card to watch for tomorrow.

Next was Katja Poensgen, with Meunch Racing. Her range was 1:48-1:54, with a best lap time of 1:48.587.

Now is the time to discuss the major disappointment with the qualifying round. There were another five bikes in the starting grid of the qualifying round, but only six bikes/riders were deemed to qualify for the race.

Remember that I said above that Steve Rapp did not qualify for the MotoGP in todays MotoGP qualifying round. The FIM (and other race organizations) have a rule that the bikes in the starting grid must have a best lap time within a given percentage of the fastest bike. The faster the fastest bike goes, the faster that threshold goes.  Because this is a FIM e-Power race, and not a TTXGP race, the rule applies.  The FIM e-Power, the organization in charge of this weekends race, is enforcing this rule. Because of Michael Barnes 1:33.860 best lap, the threshold fell at 1:52.632.

The first of the disappointments was the Virginia Tech team. They had a technical problem with the bike, and was not able to complete a full lap because the bike got on the track at the very end of the qualifying period. Their bike is listed in a "Not Classified" section, and it's not clear whether that means they did not qualify or what. I'm assuming they did not qualify?

The other four bikes, Ely Schless's Protomoto, and the three Zero S's, all had best lap times slower than the 1:52 threshold. The fastest of them was Ely Schless with Protomotp, with a 1:57.990 best lap time. Next was Ted Rich, a best lap time of 2:00.057, followed by Kenyon Kluge, best lap time of 2:01.101, and finally Jeremiah Johnson, best lap time of 2:07.185.

What this means is that out of 11 bikes, FIM's rules disqualified all but 6 of the bikes. The rule did neatly split the field between the fast bikes and the slow bikes, for whatever that's worth.

There are two reasons the FIM officials give for the rule. The first is rider safety. As I've said, the fast bikes are passing the slow bikes as if the slow bikes are standing still. What this means is that there's a closing speed difference between fast and slow bikes on the order of 60 miles/hr. This simply is not safe, and it's a surprise that the TTXGP has not had any wrecks due to this issue. Of course the riders all know about the issue and are probably taking precautions among each other.

Second issue is to guard the competitiveness of the sport, or some such. What it boils down to is that the best racing is between evenly matched bikes. When there's this huge of a disparity, the race looks a little odd. It isn't as much fun to watch riders on slow bikes being totally smoked by riders on fast bikes. It is more fun to watch riders on evenly matched bikes dicing it up with each other.

Race time tomorrow is 10:20 AM.

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