Monday, June 30, 2014

Risking life and limb to electrify racing - is it worth it? PLEASE, do it safely!

Bobby Goodin, R.I.P.
A question in my mind since the 2014 TT ZERO (and TT) at the Isle of Man is the carnage happening in this kind of race.  The TT course, the Pikes Peak course, and some other races, are severe challenges between person, machine, and the elements.  The challenge is higher than at regular race tracks, and while track based racing see's a fair amount of injury and even death, courses like the Snaefell Mountain Course (Isle of Man) or Pikes Peak seem to have a higher rate of injury and death.

What I'm pondering is my role in this process.  By covering these events as news I'm contributing my little bit to the spectacle around the event, and contributing my little bit to encouraging other riders to participate.  Some of whom have wives and children at home who would be devastated if it was their husband whose face appears on TV thanks to a fatal accident.

I've covered the electric racing scene since 2009 - including Zero Motorcycles' "24 Hours of Electricross" event, and at the Vintage Motorcycle event in Ohio that year where the TTXGP made its first appearance in North America.  Following that was several years attending TTXGP, e-Power, eRoadRacing and REFUEL races, as well as remotely covering events like the TT ZERO and PPIHC.

Covering electric racing has been, for me, a matter of recognizing that in order to change the worlds transportation system, we have to go into and transform every field of transportation.  That includes racing.

For this project of electrifying all transportation to work, we have to convince the serious gear heads to begin racing with electric vehicles.  That means building, racing, and winning with electric vehicles that catch attention of the gear heads, breaking the haze of their gasoline addiction.  That also means entering the territory, getting into the same events, as regular racing - and obviously it'll take a "few" years to fulfill that destiny, but it must eventually happen.

Fortunately the electric race vehicles are improving rapidly - as evidenced by events like Mugen's win at the TT ZERO this year (117 miles/hr lap speed) and Lightning's win at Pikes Peak last year (10 minutes).  The 2014 Pikes Peak saw a smaller electric field, but the first sub-12 minute time by a production electric motorcycle ridden by Jeff Clark, and an excellent first showing Brutus Motorcycles with Jeremiah Johnson riding (I'll be getting to the details of this later - if I'm misrepresenting this somehow, bear with me, I haven't looked up the details yet).  All this is proof positive that electric motorcycle capabilities are moving forward rapidly.

At the 2014 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, reports that Bobby Goodin died shortly after finishing the race.  He's an experienced rider, had just finished 4th in his class ("Pikes Peak Middleweight", gas powered, with a 11:07 time), and unfortunately when he raised his arm in victory he lost control of his bikes, hit some boulders, destroying his bike, sending him flying, and he died on the spot.

The same report says deaths among racers and race officials at the Pikes Peak race is fairly infrequent.

The Isle of Man TT event has had enough deaths that there's a very long Wikipedia page to list deaths at that race.  There were two deaths this year, Bob Price and Karl Harris, and I know from having listened to lots of ManxRadio coverage during TT Week that several other "incidents" resulted in serious injury.  In 2009, the first year of electric racing during TT Week (when it was still run by the TTXGP), John Crellin died in the Senior TT race after completing the TTXGP.

To give a sense of conditions at Pikes Peak, consider this video shot as riders were returning down the mountain last week during practice.  All of a sudden a riderless motorcycle comes tumbling down from above, and fortunately the impacted rider was able to avoid a serious crash, performed a perfect roll on the ground, and didn't fall off the cliff himself.  But just look at the narrow margin these guys have, and how far they have to fall if they do go off the edge.

Obviously, racing on this sort of course comes at the risk of injury and death.  Some people enjoy taking that risk.

What is our role, as spectators and journalists, in this scene?  It's not far removed from something like the fights in the Roman Coliseum where people were literally fighting to the death.

Don't we, as the spectators and journalists, have on our hands the blood of every racing death?

Those of us who choose to participate in electrifying the racing scene - PLEASE PLEASE do so safely.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Harley Davidson shocks electric motorcycle world with electric motorcycle announcement

Harley Davidson just dropped a bombshell, stunning the motorcycle world by announcing the company's first electric motorcycle.  Instead of the obnoxious Harley Sound, the bike has the high pitch whine we know and love from electric motorcycle racing.  The bike looks awesome, and initial response in the articles I've seen have been great.

Normally I'd cover this news on ElectricRaceNews, but thought it was an important enough item to cover the announcement on  To learn about this, click on the link to head over there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

John Wayland starting a business selling Black Zombie electric muscle cars

John Wayland of Plasma Boy Racing, builder of the White Zombie electric 1972 Datsun, has teamed up with Mitch Medford (a Texas Tech CEO) to start building ultra high end electric muscle cars.  The first car they're planning is the Black Zombie, which is a 1968 Mustang powered by twin Netgain Warp 11 motors and dual Zilla controllers.  The car is expected to deliver over 700 horsepower, about 1,800 ft-lbs of torque, and a 120 mile driving range.  That is, if you can keep your speed "normal" rather than lead-footing it around town.

Should we change that phrase?  "Lithium-footing it"?

The team are starting a business, Bloodshed Motors, where the idea is to build amped up conversions of classic muscle cars.  The target market are rich guys with a Tesla Model S who yearn for a muscle car that doesn't get them dirty.

I wasn't able to find a website for Bloodshed Motors, and the Plasma Boy Racing website doesn't have details about this business.  (Wayland's last blog entry is from over 2 years ago, a fascinating story about when he rented an EV1 back in the day.)

The spec's I've gathered from other news reports are:
  • 1968 Mustang - rust free, found in Houston
  • Dual Netgain Warp 11 motors
  • Dual Zilla controllers
  • "Gear Vendors overdrive unit"
  • 40 kilowatt-hour Kokam pack
  • 120 mile range (they didn't specify test procedure for this)
  • 750 horsepower
  • 1,800 ft-lb torque
  • "Street or Track-developed coilover shocks" in the front
  • "Strange Ford 9-inch axle" in the rear along with "Street or Track" suspension
  • 13 inch brakes on all wheels
  • rollcage
  • 0-60 miles/hr - 3 seconds
While the Black Zombie is street legal, and you could take it grocery shopping or whatever, it's set up with a particular goal:  Drag Racing.  Would we expect anything else from John Wayland?

To demonstrate what they've built, they're taking the Black Zombie to an Austin drag strip this week.  They've borrowed a "1.5 megawatt battery pack" from Don Garlits, that he used in an earlier record run, which in the Black Zombie should put down 1,500 horsepower.  With whatever performance it delivers, they'll open the order book.

The price starts at $200,000 if Bloodshed Motors supplies the donor car.  If the customer supplies it, the price drops.

While they're starting with Mustangs, they expect to branch out to similar muscle cars in the future.  The Camaro's, etc.  They may even get into the business of selling kits.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Drive eO returns to Pikes Peak from Latvia, with customized Tesla Roadster

The next major event lined up for the electric racing calender is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.  The list of electric challengers in 2014 is smaller than in 2013, but a return entrant is Drive eO.  Last year the team ran with a custom built electric car, the PP01, but didn't finish the race.  This year, the team is returning with a Tesla Roadster sporting a custom drive train, the PP02.

Rather than the stock Tesla drive train - which would quickly go into thermal protection mode if they tried to seriously race it up Pikes Peak - Drive eO installed a 360 kW (peak) twin-motor system and a 40 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

They're hoping to use the 2014 car to test drive train components "ahead of scaling them up for successive electric supercar projects which are already on the drawing board."

If you grok Latvian, this video will tell you a lot about their plans.  It's clear they did more than just replace the drive train - they worked on suspension and other parts.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

McGuinness 117 miles/hr in 2014 TT ZERO, Anstey 115 miles/hr, shattering 2013's records

Mugen shattered lap speed records in the 2014 TT ZERO, with John McGuinness (117.366 miles/hr) and Bruce Anstey (115.048 miles/hr) taking 1st and 2nd place.   They were the expected winners, and a 115+ miles/hr finish was to be expected after McGuinness' 115.598 finish on Monday, but hitting a speed over 117 miles/hr was beyond expectations.  The battle for 3rd place saw a photo finish between Robert Barber (Buckeye Current) and Robert Wilson (Sarolea), with Barber finishing .3 seconds faster than Wilson to take the podium with a 93.531 miles/hr lap speed.

Both McGuinness and Anstey set a faster pace at every sector than during practice.  At Ballaugh Bridge, McGuinness had a 123.749 miles/hr lap speed versus 122.701 on Monday, and Anstey had a 121.482 miles/hr lap speed versus 120.620 on Monday.  At the Ramsey Hairpin, McGuinness had a 128.263 miles/hr lap speed versus 127.344 on Monday, and Anstey had a 126.190 miles/hr lap speed versus 125.074 on Monday.  At the top of the mountain (Bungalow), McGuinness had a 124.871 miles/hr lap speed versus 123.308 on Monday, and Anstey had a 122.443 miles/hr lap speed versus 121.271 on Monday.

At the finish line it was McGuinness first, 117.366 miles/hr (19:17.300) and Anstey second, 115.048 miles/hr (19:40.625).

We came with a sledgehammer of a bike and cracked the nut at 117mph winner @jm130tt second for Bruce Anstey great job for Shinden san
6/4/14, 4:08 AM

We've been watching 3rd place all week to see who would take the other spot on the podium. On Friday, Rob Barber took 3rd in practice. But battery pack issues forced the Buckeye Current team to redesign their battery pack field in the field and they weren't able to enter either qualifying round in-between. Sarolea's Rob Wilson took 3rd in both qualifying rounds, turning in times faster than what Barber did on Friday. That meant we'd be seeing a close finish between these teams, but we didn't know how close.

The finish was so close to cause confusion at the finish line. At first the Manx Radio announcer told Sarolea they'd taken 3rd place. That would have been stunning for Sarolea to take a podium spot on their first showing at TT ZERO. But, race officials closely studied the results and determined that Barber had finished .3 seconds faster than Sarolea to take the 3rd place podium spot for the Buckeye Current team.
4th place on the IOM TT ZERO! Only 0,003 seconds to slow for 3rd place. But anyway, a very nice result!
6/4/14, 3:42 AM

Thank you to @iom_tt for a great event. #Sarolea, we had an excellent race and hope to see you next year!
6/4/14, 3:22 AM

Barber's 93.531 miles/hr lap speed was a jump over his 2013 90 miles/hr lap speed.   But, was it significantly faster?  In the 2010 TT ZERO, Mark Miller (riding then for MotoCzysz) had a 98.820 miles/hr lap speed, and Barber (riding then for Agni Motors) had an 89.290 miles/hr lap speed.

Russ Mountford (ARC EV Engineering), George Spence (Kingston Univ ION Horse) and Paul Owen (Brunel) had to retire from the race early.

  1. John McGuinness, Mugen Shinden, 117.366 miles/hr (19:17.300)
  2. Bruce Anstey, Mugen Shinden, 115.048 miles/hr (19:40.625)
  3. Rob Barber, Buckeye Current, 93.531 miles/hr (24:12.230)
  4. Robert Wilson, Sarolea, 93.507 miles/hr (24:12.600)
  5. Mark Miller, VercarMoto, 85.828 miles/hr (26:22.562)
  6. Timothee Monot, ManTTX, 77.592 miles/hr (29:02.378)

An interesting tidbit is that this makes John McGuinness's first win in the TT ZERO, but his 21st career win at the TT.  His lap speed today was faster than his first win at the TT, in the 1999 250cc Lightweight TT.

@JM130tt winning speed is faster (albeit over one lap) than his first #iomtt win in 1999 250 Lightweight TT #iomtt
6/4/14, 3:21 AM

The tremendous jump in top lap speed from 2013 to 2014 is stunning, a nearly 8 miles/hr improvement.  We should recognize that it's only the top bikes seeing this rate of improvement.  The teams in the 2nd tier gave results not significantly different than previous years.

What's different?  Deep pockets, and the Mission Motors secret sauce on-board the Mugen bikes.  Even so, one wonders what the results would have been had MotoCzysz been able to enter this year (the best of health to Michael Czysz).  Here's a few tweets with which to ponder that thought.

@andypople @iom_tt Only the @MugenShindenTT and the one that didn't show up are quick, rest are still faaar behind
6/4/14, 3:45 AM

@die996 @iom_tt @MUGENSHINDENTT Yip, you're right, but it shows what's possible. Even just the speed of development since TT Zero started.
6/4/14, 5:16 AM

Carl Fogarty did 118mph to win in 1990! "@PhillipMcCallen: #iomtt TT Zero - 1st John McGuinness 21 TT Wins! @jm130tt"
6/4/14, 3:45 AM

117mph lap from McGuiness on the #mugen in #TTzero. Time to put them in with the #lighweights? ;)
6/4/14, 3:37 AM

TT Zero not the same without @MotoCzysz team. Missing Michael and the boys
6/4/14, 3:36 AM

Monday, June 2, 2014

McGuinness scored an odometer moment - 115+ miles/hr in TT ZERO - what does it mean?

Earlier today Mugen Shinden's John McGuinness shattered the TT ZERO lap speed record - it now stands at 115.598 miles/hr.  His teammate, Bruce Anstey, also broke the previous record, which had been set by Anstey on Saturday, with a 113+ miles/hr lap speed.  These two are top riders in the TT, for example Anstey set the overall lap speed record just yesterday at over 132 miles/hr.  Setting a new record is an accomplishment for the riders, but in this case I feel called to take a step back and consider the broader context.

A year ago we were jumping for joy that MotoCzysz' Mike Rutter shattered the 2012 lap speed record (104 miles/hr) with a 109 miles/hr lap speed.  It's a year later and the lap speed record has jumped again, this time with a 6+ miles/hr gap.  The TT ZERO lap speed's have jumped by 5 or more miles/hr since the 2009 TTXGP.  (TT ZERO took over from TTXGP for the 2010 season)

In Motorsports, that's a very fast rate of improvement.  In gassers they might see a 1 or maybe 2 miles/hr improvement year-on-year, we're seeing 5+ miles/hr per year.  This has been true not just in the TT ZERO, but in other series.  We saw similar improvements at the Laguna Seca race - variously known as e-Power, e-Power/TTXGP or eRoadRacing.  While the 2011 lap speed record by Mission Motorcycles was not broken in 2012 or 2013, the rest of the field moved forward considerably at Laguna Seca.

There is a Mission Motors drive train inside those Mugen Shinden bikes, by the way. 

The gap between gassers (132 miles/hr lap speed) and electrics (115.598 miles/hr) on the TT course is closing rapidly. 

Electrics are gaining 5 miles/hr or so per year, the gassers gaining at a lower rate.  Does this mean the 17 miles/hr gap between the two will close within 3 or 4 years?  During the 2017 season will we be celebrating Yamaha Racing setting the outright the lap speed record on the TT Course with an electric bike?

A year ago we were celebrating Lightning Motorcycle's outright win in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.  Carlin Dunne beat the whole field, top motorcycle racers sitting on 1200cc Ducati's, by over 20 seconds.  With an electric motorcycle.

McGuinness shatters TT ZERO lap record, 115+ miles/hr

The 115 miles/hr threshold has been broken in today's 2014 TT ZERO qualifying round.  Mugen Shinden's John McGuinness finished with a 115.598 miles/hr (19:35.007) lap speed, followed closely by Bruce Anstey who also broke the previous record with a 113.643 miles/hr (19:55.221) lap speed.

The wet weather for which the Isle of Man is famous nearly canceled today's racing, but the IOM TT crew managed to squeeze in a couple full races for the stinky gas bikes, and the TT ZERO qualifying round concluded just before weather closed in.

Both McGuinness and Anstey made a strong showing today, with lap speeds of 127.344 miles/hr and 125.074 miles/hr respectively at the Ramsey hairpin.  The mountain didn't slow them as much as previous days, with lap speeds of 123.08 miles/hr and 121.271 miles/hr at the Bungalow (the top of the mountain).  At Cronk-ny-Mona, their lap speeds did drop to 119.174 miles/hr and 117.117 miles/hr respectively, also quicker than on Saturday's qualifying round.

It may be that McGuinness and Anstey were doing a better job of managing energy.  On Friday, McGuinness was clocked doing 164 miles/hr at the Sulby speed trap, but today their speeds at Sulby were 156.8 miles/hr and 154.3 miles/hr.

Coming in 3rd was Sarolea's Robert Wilson with a 91.467 miles/hr (24:44.992) lap speed.  This again was faster than the Buckeye Current lap speed on Friday.

The Buckeye Current team explained on Facebook that because of the battery pack damage during Friday's run, they have had to do a field redesign to avoid further damage.  They're testing with the redesigned pack, but were unable to go out for today's practice round.

Fourth: VercarMoto's Mark Miller with a 86.385 miles/hr (26:12.363) lap speed.

Fifth: Kingston Univ's ION Horse, George Spence, with a 81.287 miles/hr (27:50.968) lap speed.

Sixth: ManTTX made it into today's practice round with replacement rider Timothee Monot following Dave Moffitt's injury.  Monot finished with a 73.228 miles/hr (30:54.852) lap time.

With a showing like this, the Manx Radio announcers today began chattering on about the rapid advance in electric motorcycle lap speeds.  The improvements are coming much faster than for gas motorcycles.  In earlier times those announcers seemed dismissive of the electric bikes, but today their tone seemed to recognize the electric bikes are here to stay and it won't be too long before they'll be the main show.

An interesting factoid the announcers mentioned is that the highest speed clocked THAT DAY at the Sulby Speed trap was about 173 miles/hr, on a 600cc gasser.  McGuinness recorded the fastest time with an electric bike at Sulby the other day, at 164 miles/hr.  How soon before the record for fastest Sulby speed is held by an electric racer?  UPDATE: A few people have pointed out the outright speed record at Sulby is over 190 miles/hr, for a 1000cc bike.  I'm guessing that record might fall before the outright lap speed record (132 miles/hr) is held by an electric racer.

The electric bikes are with 10 miles/hr of breaking the Sulby speed trap record - and about 16 miles/hr from breaking the overall lap speed record.

The next scheduled event is the TT ZERO race, Wednesday, 10:45 AM GMT.   Now that they've broken through the 115 miles/hr threshold, will they go faster again on Wednesday?  You bet your booties.  Anstey wants to beat McGuinness, and McGuinness wants to stay on top.

Updates over the weekend

Here's a couple fan pictures of Mugen Shinden riders John McGuinness and Bruce Anstey.  The Mugen Shinden twitter account asked whether today's wet weather will cancel events for today, but that has turned out to not be the case.

ARC EV Racing posted a couple pictures of their bike looking like it's ready to run today.  Not sure what happened, I saw no information on them during the race.

Darvill Racing contacted me to say their rider, Neal Champion, was injured (but is otherwise okay) in practice at Greeba.  They aren't running in the TT ZERO.  They are doing demos of the Empulse R around the Island, and are hoping to do a demo lap.

ManTTX wrote a posting on Twitter implying they'd go out for Monday's practice.

The Buckeye Current team is continuing work on their battery pack. In today's update they discuss "redesigning" the battery pack, so the bottom line is they decided to do more than just replace a couple cells and instruct Rob Barber to hold back on the throttle. In a post on Sunday, they wrote "We've determined the changes necessary to prevent further damage to the battery pack and are charging and balancing the spare cells to be ready for the TT Zero. In order to prevent any further issues, we've decide to not run in the Monday practice lap." Additionally, they'll be ready for a full power run on Wednesday (for the race).

Also on Wednesday, the team posted this about their collaboration with Rob Barber: