Analysis: TT for a new age
The Isle of Man TT circuit is an endurance test for bikes and riders. This year, the programme includes a zero-carbon event, writes E&T. The characteristic smell of motorbikes will be missing, but the excitement will still be there.
The Snaefell Mountain Course on the Isle of Man holds a special place in the hearts of motorcycle racing fans. For almost 100 years the best, and some would say most foolhardy, motorcyclists have battled against the 38 miles of public roads to gain the title of TT champion.
It is the oldest motorcycle racing circuit still in use. The demanding 37.733 mile course follows public roads on the island. It has 200 bends and climbs from sea level to a high point of 422m on the primary A18 Mountain Road between the Bungalow and Hailwood Rise.
Last year, Cameron Donald manhandled his Suzuki GSXR 1000cc machine around the six laps in just over one hour and 47 minutes, clocking an average speed of 126.826mph. This year there will be a new category of racers, the TTXGP. On the final Friday, 12 June, there will be a one-lap race of zero-emission motorbikes. They will not challenge the outright records, but in achieving race speeds they will set down a significant marker for the future.
The event, billed as "the world's first zero-carbon Grand Prix", is the brainchild of businessman Azhar Hussain, who says he is "thrilled with the high level of interest that TTXGP has generated globally" since its launch just a year ago.
Although internal combustion engines are permitted, carbon-based fuels are not, and neither are toxic emissions. However, multi-traction, hybrids and regenerative braking are all permitted, and there is flexibility of 'rider configuration' - i.e. seating position. Because of the short timescale, many of this year's entrants have opted for electric propulsion, taking a standard motorbike and putting in an electric drivetrain and batteries.
This year, 23 bikes have been entered from 16 teams representing seven countries. Entries are divided between 'pro' and 'open' (budget-limited) classes, and range from the US-based Mission Motors team, through several university teams to the Isle of Man's own entry.
Veteran racer Tom Montano will be riding Mission One, which its makers claim is the world's fastest production electric sportbike. With a top speed of 150mph, a 150-mile range and unparalleled access to torque, Mission Motors says it surpasses the performance figures of other production electric motorcycles and gives chase to gas-powered incumbents. The Mission One's design, created by Yves Behar and fuseproject, "blends traditional racing elements with a modern pioneering sensibility".
The electric power comes courtesy of a high energy lithium-ion battery with integrated thermal management system that drives a liquid cooled three-phase AC induction motor that delivers very high torque.
Seven-times TT winner Mick Grant will ride for the British EVO Design Solutions team. Director Rick Simpson said: "Our EV-0 RR and EV-0 R entries will highlight the all-British design and manufacture aspect of our race team. The motor, chassis and control systems used by our team are all developed and built in the UK."
A number of the UK's top universities and colleges are getting involved. Brunel University, Kingston University and Imperial College London are all developing electric race bikes and hope to provide some serious competition to the more commercial US teams.
Together with Mission Motors, commercial US teams include MotoCzysz, Barefoot Motors and Brammo, makers of the Enertia electric bike.
In terms of technology, the use of lithium-ion batteries is a common theme running through many of the teams' bike entries, but that's where the similarity ends. Some teams have incorporated the use of regenerative braking, another first in racing terms, while others, such as Imperial College, are using a fully recyclable composite material for the body work.
It became clear early on that TTXGP would need expertise from outside motorsport. The IET is official technical advisor, and is providing a panel of experts from the academic and commercial sectors to act as scrutineers, ensuring the bikes meet the technical and safety requirements. This panel is chaired by Simon Maddison, a Fellow of the IET and TTXGP technical director.
"TTXGP is a fantastic initiative to drive forward the development of new technologies in order to meet the real challenges the world faces in the 21st century," Maddison explained. "The partnership with the IET is a perfect match, tapping into the wealth of talent and experience of its membership. Most importantly, it provides an ideal means to reach out to and inspire a new generation of young engineers, who will pick up this torch, and carry it forward."