The state of electric motorcycles were improved greatly during the years of active racing action. Ten and one half years ago the TTXGP kicked off the era of modern electric motorcycle racing with a one-lap race on the Isle of Man during TT Week 2009. That race garnered a bunch of international attention, and proved it was possible for electric motorcycles to finish a lap of the TT course. But ever since that day electric motorcycle racing has struggled to gain any recognition, an effort that was not helped by the fact that the Isle of Man tourism board took over the TTXGP (calling it TTZERO), and then pushed the TTZERO race into the background so that nobody knew about it.
According to a post on RevZilla, Rob Callister announced that the TT ZERO race would be on a moratorium for at least two years. Who is Mr. Callister? He is a Member of the House of Keys (the Isle of Man’s Parliament) and is also the Minister that oversee’s motorsport activities. Hence he oversee’s the TT Week and other racing activities on the Isle of Man.
The RevZilla article quotes Mr. Callister saying “As an island we remain committed to the principles and passion that continues to motivate everyone associated with the TT Zero class and the clean tech industry.” Of course this is followed by a “But,” namely: “Our intention is to have a moratorium on the event to allow the motorcycle industry as a whole to catch up on the leading edge developments that some manufacturers and individual race teams and universities have achieved to date. We remain incredibly proud of everything that has been achieved in clean emission racing at the TT and will work closely with the industry and with manufacturers without the pressure and focus of delivering a race format to build on the success to date.”
This is clear enough. The participation in the TTZERO has not been good over the last few years. The heydey of the TTZERO was the 2010-2013 seasons when MotoCzysz was competing, especially when Mugen started showing up.
MotoCzysz was a small motorcycle design shop in Portland Oregon run by Michael Czysz. He got the electric buzz and entered the first TTXGP in 2009, and for every year afterward came back with ever better bikes despite operating on a shoestring budget. Unfortunately, cancer cut short Czysz’s career and while the team made it to the 2013 event it disbanded after Czysz’s passing.
Mugen is, by contrast, a much larger organization that’s closely associated with Honda. Mugen is extremely well funded, and it started with one bike per year and grew its team to at least two bikes in recent years.
Some other worthy competitors ran in some of the TTZERO races, primary among them is the University of Nottingham. That’s a student-run team operating on a shoestring budget but who managed to bring a top-notch bike to several TTZERO events. Another student-run team, from The Ohio State University, was also on a shoe-string budget but managed to bring a top-notch bike to TTZERO until they switched focus to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
The transition from TTXGP (during 2009) to TTZERO (starting in 2010) threw a kink into the mission of electric motorcycle racing during the TT Week. As the RevZilla article said, us in the EV community were ecstatic with the result in 2009. Several electric motorcycles finished the course (a nearly 38 mile loop around the Isle of Man, climbing a 1400+ foot mountain, and traversing a grueling mix of road conditions from country road to village street). But TT fans were simply turned off by what they saw as lackluster performance. The winning bike in 2009 (Rob Barber riding for Agni Motors) managed an 87 miles/hr lap time when the gasser bikes at the time were doing 130+ miles/hr lap times. Further, the TTXGP and TTZERO was only one lap, where the gasser races are two laps or more.
During the winter of 2009-10 a battle raged between the TTXGP organization, the FIM (which oversee’s all of motorcycle racing) and the Isle of Man tourism board (which oversee’s the TT Week). The result was that the IOM TT board took over the electric race on the Isle of Man, calling it the TTZERO. TTXGP launched two racing series, one in Europe the other in North America, each consisting of several races at regular race tracks. Later the TTXGP launched a series in Australia as well. The FIM launched a competing racing series primarily in Europe called FIM e-Power.
Each of those series struggled mightily. The TTXGP and e-Power series held several separate racing seasons, then after the 2012 season they joined together as eRoadRacing. The plans for eRoadRacing were grand, but did not make it past the 2013 season. Having electric motorcycle racing efforts split into three directions, in my opinion, weakened the whole field to where it could not survive as three separated entities.
On the Isle of Man, within a couple years it was almost impossible to learn anything about the TTZERO from the official IOM TT website. In the early years of the TTZERO, the IOM TT website would have occasional press releases about TTZERO activity. But since 2015 or so that dried up and to the best of my recollection there were no press releases from IOM TT about TTZERO. Further, the IOM TT board always scheduled the TTZERO race in an out-of-the-way portion of the TT Week schedule.
Why does a racing team enter a race? It’s not just for the thrill of reaching the podium, or the technical challenge of participating in a road race. They want to achieve some notoriety from their participation.
That means each racing event needs to have enough attention such that winning the race is important enough for teams to participate.
As Mr. Callister put it in the RevZilla article – the race organization see’s manufacturers as a “potential source of sponsorship” for the race, and the manufacturers have to see the race as having “real promotional value” for the participating teams.
Because the IOM TT organization kept TTZERO out of any form of limelight, where is the incentive for teams or manufacturers to bother to participate?
As if to validate that question, the RevZilla article notes that Mugen informed the IOM TT organizers they would not participate in TTZERO in 2020. As Mr. Callister said: “It’s pretty clear that Mugen has little to gain by running essentially unopposed in what has become a very expensive test session. I would not blame them for looking for a new challenge.”
What Mr. Callister says is true to an extent – Mugen has had little or no opposition since 2013 (except for the Univ of Nottingham). But the IOM TT organization shares some responsibility here because of how they’ve treated the TTZERO event, keeping it out of the limelight, and making sure nobody knew anything about it.
Mr. Callister does allow that in the future it may be possible to restart the TTZERO. For that to happen there must be several established manufacturers manufacturing bikes capable of finishing one lap of the TT Course (38 miles) at a lap speed over 120 miles/hr.
Mugen and possibly the Univ of Nottingham have finished the course with that lap speed. But that was with one-off prototype bikes, not manufactured bikes that came off an assembly line.
While the electric motorcycle industry has made large gains over the last several years, it hasn’t quite matured enough to reach that bar for reentry to the TT Week. Zero Motorcycles, Energica, and Lightning Motorcycles, are all on a track to be able to manufacture such bikes.
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I am of mixed feelings about this, for three reasons. First, while I enjoy motorsports, I do not enjoy blood sports, and the TT is a blood sport — in 99 years of racing over 250 people have been killed (to watch it is to be horrified at the ridiculous risk). Second, there is no real competition for Honda, and so it is not really a race. But most importantly, we now have moto-e and formula-e, and those are really great competitive sanctions race series.
I am hopeful that with the recent development of powerful manufacturer-build electric motorcycles from Energica, Lightning, and Zero — and potentially a bunch of others who have announced similar intentions — there will be national superstock-type race series in Europe and America in the near future.