Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brammo testing Empulse R/RR/TTX at Thunderhill with Bostrom and Moreda

Virginia Tech isn't the only TTXGP team getting ready for the 2013 season.  Today, Brammo was at Thunderhill for a private track-day with Shelina Moreda and Eric Bostrom.  Let's try to not read too much into Steve Atlas not being there, okay?  They had at the track Empulse R's, Empulse RR's and Empulse TTX's.  Further, it's clear that Moreda is getting prepped to race with Team Icon Brammo in the 2013 season.  There had been rumors she would race with the team in 2012 but that ended up not happening.

On Facebook, Moreda posted this picture

Her comment was: "Wow. Thank You Brammo & Thank You Eric Bostrom!! This is one of the coolest days I've had at the track! Private trackday, testing the newest technologies in racing, got to ride my TTX for the first time, Learning from E-Boz!! It doesn't get much better than this. #Pumped"

The important takeaway is "My TTX" .. indicating that Moreda will be riding an Empulse TTX during the 2013 season, rather than an Empulse RR.

Brammo has posted a few pictures as well

"Track test at Thunderhill: Empulse, Empulse R, Empulse RR, Empulse TTX - with Shelina & EBoz Stay tuned for more photos..."

"Brian preps TTX for the track"  Okay, if we could see past Brian's body we could see something about what the Empulse TTX is made of.  The only thing I gather from this is that the frame on the TTX is different than on the RR.

"Eric heads out for some RR testing."

"Brian takes the RR for a spin."

"Sun going down on a cool winter day at Thunderhill."  This is either an Empulse R or TTX

Thursday, December 13, 2012

VA Tech BOLT team making progress on GP Class bike for the 2013 TTXGP season

The 2012 North America TTXGP season saw the entry of the Virginia Tech BOLT team, a student team supported in part by Kollmorgen who supplied the motor and controller.  The team showed an impressive performance for their first season, with a bike that performed well in its class, and a great physical presence in the paddock.  While they were completely outclassed by the likes of Brammo and Lightning, they weren't attempting to compete directly with those teams anyway.  In July, the team announced their intention to develop a "GP Class bike" for the 2013 season.  Recent activity on the teams Facebook page indicates those plans are well underway.

First, in late October they posted this picture

"Look what Pat found. Thanks to Go Race for all of their help. Now the real work begins."

Unless I'm missing something this looks like there isn't a seat.  They're engineering students, presumably they already figured this out (grin).

Then in late November, this picture showing a team-member scanning the stripped frame to generate a 3D CAD model of the bike.

"Scanning in the bike."

Then on December 6, this picture shows the CAD model:-

"Thanks to Matrix CAD Design we've got a very accurate model to work with this year:

Then this week they posted: "Batteries coming in Friday. Now we get to start building."

Follow the team at: http://www.facebook.com/VTBOLT

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

TTXGP hires "Chief Commercial Officer", looking for a new Marketing Manager

Steve Kingswell, Chief Commercial Officer, TTXGP
The TTXGP announced today that Steve Kingswell has joined the organization with the title "Chief Commercial Officer" and at the same time they are on the hunt for a "Marketing Manager."  Kingswell comes to the TTXGP with a background in media & management & business management, and his previous role was Chief Financial Officer at Babel Media, an interactive entertainment outsourcing firm.

The press release (see link below) doesn't say much more than this.  The ad for the Marketing Manager job (on LinkedIn) has some interesting things to say, however.  Such as "The company is on the verge of an exciting period in its development, and is looking for a professional marketer to support that development."  The Marketing Manager will be reporting to Kingswell, and have a "360 degree scope, for PR, publicity, planning, marketing communications, brand management, social media activities, & product."

Also, the Marketing Manager's "objective is to raise significant awareness, & via strong engagement activities, create desire to be associated with our brand & events, online & offline, with a view to driving significant growth in our sponsorship & commercial partner incomes."
I've sent a query over to the TTXGP office to get some clarification on a couple points, but this fits with  what I know of TTXGP's plans for the future.  The goal is to upgrade the presence of the TTXGP in the world and to focus more on race promotion work.  There are other changes likely to come in the future where the TTXGP's functions and relationship to the FIM will be changing, allowing the TTXGP to focus solely on race promotion.

What I don't understand is how Kingswell's background fits with motorsports.  One thing I've learned in 4 years now of covering electric racing is that motorsports people have a mind-set those outside the motorsports industry lack.  He clearly has a strong background in media and entertainment, but will this mean that because he is a motorsports outsider he'll be like an oval peg fitting into a round hole?

See: http://www.egrandprix.com/news.php?id=324

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Formula E moving towards 2014 launch with Rome picked as a host city

The Formula E electric race car series is beginning to take shape for their first season, currently scheduled for 2014.  Yesterday the series announced an agreement that Rome will be the first European city to host a Formula E race.  In November the series announced a deal with McLaren and newly formed Spark Racing Technologies (SRT) to supply 42 electric race cars, ensuring that there will be enough cars to fill a racing grid. (see links below for both)

Rome is the second city to welcome the Formula E electric championship series following Rio di Janeiro’s announcement in August.

The first full season of Formula E racing, the 2014 Championship, will feature 10 urban races. Rather than being held at a race track, the Formula E series will be held in city centers. Because the Formula E cars are powered on electricity, the race won't add to the toxic fume pollution in the city, nor add to noise pollution in the city.

Formula E Holdings say that a large number of cities are interested in hosting the Formula E series races. The list of venues will soon be proposed to the FIA for the first season (2014) and there will be further announcements of other cities in the coming weeks.

Formula E's plans took a concrete step on Thursday with an order for 42 electric Formula cars to be built by McLaren and a newly formed company, Spark Racing Technology (SRT).

The Formula E is an FIA sanctioned Championship series featuring Formula cars powered on electricity.  Demonstrations of Formula E electric race cars are due in 2013, with the race series itself launching in 2014. The series is expected to have 10 teams, 20 drivers, with the races themselves staged in urban centers around the world.

The deal is for a collaboration between McLaren and SRT to build race cars for the series.  SRT is a new company and has Frédéric Vasseur as its CEO.  Vasseur had previously run Formulec, a company which built the first electric Formula car.  Vasseur later joined the Formula E organization when Formula E Holdings bought his company last August.  Now they are starting a new race car technology company, so I suppose this means they're relaunching Formulec under a new name and tasked with providing cars and technology to Formula E.

Formula E is designated as an 'open' series, meaning that the teams are free to build their own vehicles.

Why, then, is Formula E getting into the business of building electric cars and providing them to the teams?  I'm sure that it's a simple matter of ensuring a full race grid.  It would be embarrassing and unattractive-to-fans if the 2014 season featured only two teams, because it was so expensive to build suitable race cars and launch a full team of engineers, drivers and support crew.

The series plans to have four cars per team, with two drivers per team.  I've been told that this is because during a race they plan to have each car do a set number of laps, followed by the teams' second car making a few more laps, and so on, until all four cars have run.  I don't know the precise race format (will ask Formula E for more information) but the point here is the expense this will entail for each team.

For each team to have four electric Formula cars - well, you're talking about millions of dollars of funding per team.  Just to get started.  How many teams will be able to afford this?  

For Formula E to provide cars to teams should reduce the barrier-to-entry for teams to sign up and participate. At the same time, by being an 'open' series the door is open to a team to develop their own race cars. For example, when Toyota Motorsports set a lap record at the Nürburgring (or Nürburg Ring) in August 2011, with the EV P001, they claimed to have proved the TMG electric drive train was "ideal to power any future single-make electric motorsport series." This is a broad hint that TMG intends to participate in a future electric race car series, and/or to supply parts to teams who wish to do so.

Having attended quite a few TTXGP races I've seen up-close the effect of an 'open' series.  A risk exists of extreme power mismatches between the teams, resulting in fast and slow cars racing each other.  That degrades the enjoyment of the race, and is a bit dangerous to the racers.  Especially when the speed difference is 60 miles/hr, and the slow vehicles look like they're standing still when passed by a faster bike.  Formula E is planning to release technical rules soon, and perhaps the rules will specify power levels and battery pack sizes to ensure the cars in their series are evenly matched.

Jean Todt, FIA President, said: "It gives me great pleasure to be in Rome for this exciting announcement that the eternal city has expressed its firm interest to host a race in the Formula E 2014 championship calendar. The contrast between this innovative motorsport series and the rich ancient history of Rome is one I am sure the public and the media will be intrigued and enriched by."

Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings said: “We are honored to have Rome on board as the first European city to host Formula E, since Italy is renowned for its motorsports passion, expertise and technical innovation. Clean urban mobility and sustainability are a priority for our Championship, and Formula E wants to become a showcase for these advances through an entertaining and all-inclusive spectacle. We are thankful to the Rome City Mayor and authorities for their enthusiastic welcome and support.”

Formula E holding electric Formula-car race in Rome, in 2014

McLaren jump-starting Formula E series with 42 all electric race cars

What will happen to TTXGP in 2013 because AMA Pro Racing is not returning

In late October, the Sonoma Raceway (previously known as Sears Point and Infineon Raceway) announced: "The raceway in Sonoma will not host an AMA Pro Racing event during the 2013 motor-racing season, track officials announced today." That event has been the umbrella event within which each TTXGP North America season began. This will mean the 2013 TTXGP season calendar will not begin with an event at the Sonoma Raceway. We won't know the precise effect until the TTXGP announces their calendar, however.

Michael Hannas (Electric Race Bikes)
about to be passed by Kenyon Kluge (K Squared Racing)
during practice at the 2010 TTXGP at Infineon Raeway
The TTXGP race events have always been in conjunction with other race events. In the case of the Infineon race each season (Infineon Raceway being the name of the track at that time), it was the weekend of the AMA Pro Racing event. The TTXGP events themselves are not enough to support the cost of operating a race weekend. As I write below, the TTXGP cannot at this time host its own events and relies on other organizations to do so.

The announcement from the Sonoma Raceway says that "AMA Pro Road Racing has been featured on the raceway calendar every year since 1993," and that track management believe "that current conditions within the motorcycle industry and the economy at large did not provide the necessary confidence to promote a financially viable event in 2013."

“This facility has a long tradition of professional motorcycle racing and this was a very difficult decision. It’s particularly disappointing because the competition over the last few years has been outstanding and we’re sorry we won’t be able to bring this show back for our fans," said Steve Page, president and general manager of the raceway.

As an example of the outstanding competition, at the 2012 event Michael Barnes (who rides for Lightning Motorcycles in the TTXGP) was riding in the Harley race and took an amazing win that he had been working for years to achieve. He was hot on the heels of the lead bike all through the race, until the last corner of the last lap when he heard the transmission slip on the lead bike letting Barnes zoom past at the last minute to snatch first place. I was in the press room trying to write my TTXGP race report, but could not because the Harley race was so interesting.

In 2009 the sole TTXGP event in North America was held at the Mid-Ohio Racetrack in conjunction with the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days event in late July. In 2010 the TTXGP events were held in conjunction with AMA race weekends at several tracks, and in conjunction with the Canadian equivalent when the TTXGP came to Mosport near Toronto.

In the 2011 and 2012 seasons the situation changed a bit. In each year the first race was at the Sonoma Raceway (at that time, Infineon Raceway) in conjunction with the AMA Pro Racing weekend. The other races were held in conjunction with Club Racing events, or else in conjunction with the FIM e-Power series. For example the June 2012 TTXGP event was held during an OMRRA Club Racing weekend at Portland International Raceway (PIR).

The three races held at Laguna Seca during the MotoGP weekend (2010, 2011 and 2012) were all sponsored by the FIM e-Power series. The first year that occurred, 2010, was solely a FIM e-Power event. The second two years, 2011 and 2012, were joint events run jointly between e-Power and the TTXGP. There is an AMA race on the same weekend, but the presence of the AMA is separate from the presence of the TTXGP at that event. The entire event is organized and managed by Dorna, the company which organizes the whole MotoGP season. The arrangements under which I attended each of those races was made through FIM and Dorna.

The result is that because the TTXGP is not a big enough deal, on its own, to host its own race events, its' ability to host a race is subject to the whims of other organizations. The AMA and Sonoma Raceway probably didn't even consider the impact on the TTXGP from canceling the AMA Pro Racing event at Sonoma.

The TTXGP is doing fantastic fabulous things. There has been a tremendous movement in electric motorcycle technology since 2009, and I think it's correct to say the TTXGP played a large role in those improvements. But this did not result in throngs of fans coming to see the races. What pays for the race venues is those throngs of fans buying tickets, and more importantly the sponsors seeing an opportunity to put their brands in front of throngs of fans. Until the TTXGP fans are found the series is going to continue struggling to put on races.

AMA Will Not Return to Sonoma in 2013