As arbitrary as our calendar is, this is a new year (by the way we reckon time) and, well, here's my thoughts about what we'll see in the coming year in electric racing. Overall I think we've seen great leaps over the last three years of electric racing, and I see that 2013 will be a huge leap over 2012.
1. The TTXGP will continue struggling with audience and racer participation. When they announced the new Chief Commercial Officer and opened hiring for a Marketing Manager, their announcement claims this is part of a plan to raise the TTXGP's profile in the world. That should translate into more interest, more fans, more sponsorship dollars, etc. But, do I have any confidence about this? No.
We're entering the 5th year of TTXGP (4th year of it as a track race series), and last year was bleak in terms of actual interest. At the same time the technology has made huge leaps, and there was some truly exciting racing action in 2012. At the 2012 Laguna Seca race we saw five bikes equaling the lap times of 600cc superbikes, and at the 2012 World Final (Daytona) Brammo's Empulse RR's hit 170 miles/hr in race conditions. Two years ago that was the land speed record (set by Lightning), this year it was the top speed in regular competition.
At the same time the TTXGP events were being played to empty grand stands, and I was the only journalist covering the race. Well, in North America. I am not certain anybody was even covering the TTXGP races elsewhere. Motorsports relies on ticket sales to convince sponsors to pony up the money that keeps it all going. No fans, no ticket sales, no sponsors. Unless you can find sponsors with a long range vision of what this could be in a couple years time.
I've talked with +Azhar Hussain about the future of the TTXGP - He's got a nice long term vision about where this is going, and I largely agree with the goal. But I don't expect much of that vision to come about in 2013.
2. The most important electric motorcycle events of the year will continue to be the TT-ZERO and e-Power/TTXGP Laguna Seca. Neither of which are organized by the TTXGP themselves (the Laguna Seca event is held within the context of a MotoGP event, and has huge logistics and marketing support from FIM's e-Power). Both of these races get a fair amount of attention, both from the Press and from the Racers. Both have served as a great benchmark for the gains in electric motorcycle technology. Again, I am expressing doubts that the TTXGP will gain any attention, but also that the e-Power events outside the Laguna Seca race will gain any attention.
3. The drag racers will make another speed breakthrough. Last May a drag bike broke 200 miles/hr in a 1/4 mile drag race. I still fail to see the overall significance of drag racing, but the people doing it are real proud of themselves, and it is amazing to hit such a speed in such a short distance. I would think they'll bump it up to 210 or more maybe?
4. There may be another electric motorcycle land speed record breakthrough. First, the KillaJoule team has been going to land speed events at Bonneville and elsewhere looking to hit 300 miles/hr or more with their streamlined electric sidecar motorcycle. They've been facing technical difficulties, and will no doubt sort that out and set an impressive record this year or next. Second, there's the issue of the existing record for regular superbikes. Lightning Motorcycles has a non-FIM record of 215 miles/hr while Chip Yates has the FIM record at just shy of 200 miles/hr. Both of those were set in 2011. Lightning or someone else may want to do something about this.
At Daytona, in the context of Brammo's 170 miles/hr speed on the track, I asked Brian whether they'd be going for the land speed record. He said "No," they don't find that sort of record interesting. MotoCzysz and Mission Motors have been past land speed record contestants. Lightning may feel their existing non-FIM record gives them a strong enough laurel that they don't need to go to the salt yet.
5. The TT-ZERO competition will heat up even more, with MotoCzysz gunning for an even faster lap, Mugen hot on their tails, and Lightning may even complete the race. Last year, 2012, was when MotoCzysz broke the ton and recorded a 104 miles/hr lap time. That breakthrough was a long time coming, but perhaps the bigger news was the presence of Mugen (apparently a Honda proxy) at the event. Assuming that Mugen truly is a Honda proxy, this means we aren't many years out from direct participation by the major motorcycle makers in electric motorcycle racing.
Lightning Motorcycles has gone to the Isle of Man in both 2011 and 2012 and failed to complete the race each time. In 2012 they even failed to get to the starting line. One assumes they'll attempt it again in 2013, and one hopes they'll complete the race this time.
6. +Brammo may very well blow away Lightning in 2013. In 2010 and 2011, Lightning had the North America TTXGP to itself with bikes far more powerful than any of the competition. But, Lightning had some reliability problems in 2011 and 2012 - They weren't able to make it to the 2011 Infineon race, and at the 2011 North American final one of their bikes broke down with a chain break, and the other nearly had the same problem. In 2012, Lightning had two bikes at Infineon each of which broke down during the race which then left the Zero's (+ZERO MOTORCYCLES) as the winners. In the meantime, Brammo kept improving and improving their bike. While Lightning beat Brammo every time they faced off in competition, the margin of victory was slim at the 2012 Laguna Seca race. Due to some snafu's Lightning and Brammo did not face off again in 2012, and it seems that if Lightning had showed themselves at Daytona they might well have lost.
7. The Virginia Tech Bolt team has promised a proper superbike for 2013, and I suspect they may pull it off. Their initial showing in 2012 was pretty solid, however hampered it was by being in the TTX75 class.
8. Formula E will be announcing more venues for the 2014 launch, and we'll see them in exhibition action during 2013. This isn't much of a stretch, because that's their actual announced plans.
9. Another electric race car series, ZERCUP, may come out of the shadows and announce their plans. I've been talking with their CEO and know a few things, that I've not been given the green light to reveal. If both theirs and Formula E's plans turn out as expected we could see two high profile electric car racing series in 2014.
10. Electric cars and motorcycles could make a bigger presence at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The 2012 Pikes Peak race saw two electric cars in the top 10 cars, and other electric cars placing well.
11. Lightning Motorcycles appears close to selling at least one duplicate of the race bike. They've long described their race bike as a production electric motorcycle, but with zero sales it technically isn't "in production" is it? They tell me they've got an order in hand for a bike, and perhaps another one ready to place the deposit. One or more of these bikes could well end up in competition somewhere.
12. The TTXGP will shake up the field again with a new set of racing classes. For 2012 we had the TTX75 and eSuperStock awards (which were not technically classes, but awards). The first was defined as bikes with 7.5 kilowatt-hours of energy (or less), and the latter was for bikes in production volumes over 25 units. Because Brammo is going to have over 25 Empulse R's sold and delivered by the time the season starts, the TTXGP may want to change the definitions around again.
For 2013 both Zero and Brammo have production bikes rated at over 100 miles/hr. If Lightning can pull it off, they'll also have a "commuter bike" with a similar speed, but probably not 25 units of sales. By the current definition, both Zero and Brammo owners will be able to race eSuperStock. Additionally, Brammo is expected to deliver the Empulse TTX specifically for TTXGP race teams.
But will the TTXGP keep the class organization as they had it in 2012? Or change it around again?
13. The Nurburgring will see more electric race car lap speed action. Toyota has gone to that track the last two years to set lap speed records with an electric Formula car. Maybe another organization will also do it?
14. The REFUEL race will have yet another awesome event that goes under-covered. The REFUEL event is a track day organized by a racing school, Speed Ventures, that operates at the Laguna Seca raceway. The event is open only to electric vehicles (motorcycles and cars primarily) and has been held for 4 years now. The attendance has increased every year, with 2012 having twice as many attendees as 2011. That's largely due to the large number of electric cars now in the hands of regular people. That made for 32 electric cars on the track at Laguna Seca in the same event. Of those, approximately 12 were Tesla Model S's or Tesla Roadsters (+Tesla Motors).