If you have been following what has been described as the “Soap Opera” going on between the TTXGP and the FIM, two organizations responsible for the care and feeding of the bouncing baby motorsport of electric motorcycle racing, then you know, at one time, the two organizations used to be happily engaged. Before that, of course, FIM was a charismatic, confident bachelor, jetting around Europe, telling companies and racing teams what it would or would not tolerate, calling its “companions” across the pond (the AMA being one of many of the numbers in FIM’s little black book) and generally being the king of the castle. FIM was, and is, the “leading man” in this drama.
TTXGP showed up last year at the Isle of Man TT races and, although its bikes were slower and quieter, they represented one possible future of motorsports. TTXGP flitted silently around the island, capturing the attention and affection of a growing crowd of admirers. TTXGP caught the eye of FIM and, shortly after the race, they met formally. Then, after a short courtship, they announced in June 2009 that they were engaged.
But it was not meant to be. TTXGP had come into the relationship with a child (the eGrandPrix), and FIM wanted to adopt it as his own. That was fine with all parties involved but then FIM got cold feet. We may never know the whole story behind the breakup: Did FIM demand a dowry? Was TTXGP a willing and consensual partner when FIM liberated her from her rules and called them his own? Did she consent at every step of the escalating relationship? Did TTXGP think that the rule-stripping was expected of her? Did TTXGP ignore the repeated advice of her friends who told her that “nice racing organizations” don’t have to say “yes”? And what about Naomi?
They may yet reunite, at least that’s the hope of TTXGP, but you can bet she’ll want an ironclad pre-nuptial agreement this time.
Now, with all that fluff as an introduction, I wanted to put the following article in its proper context. In late Summer 2009, Azhar Hussain, the organizer behind the TTXGP, was still celebrating the success of the Isle of Man race and had just met with FIM to discuss the future. It was at this point in time that he was interviewed by Jon Excell, a reporter with “The Engineer” Magazine, a UK publication that has been in existence since 1856. His article appeared in the October 12, 2009, issue. My excuse for not reading it and reporting on it at the time is because it came out during the same month that Jay Leno got his Brammo Enertia, the Best Buy stores in California began selling the bikes, and, of course Shocking Barack began. That, and I don’t have a subscription, and because I did not know the magazine existed until it showed up in my email inbox a couple days ago.
I am not going to slurp the entire article and re-publish it here, but I do want to share some great quotes and some insightful writing from a perspective other than the HellforLeather/AsphaltandRubber/Plugbike/Brammofan/GreenTransportationExaminer point-of-view.
Last summer, we spoke to TTxGP’s founder about his hopes for the race. Despite having just 10 months to go and only two teams signed up, race organiser Azhar Hussain confidently proclaimed that an emphasis on speed would dispel some of the prejudices surrounding alternative propulsion systems. He said that the competition could point the way to a fundamental shift in terms of the types of companies that would drive the industry in the future. ‘If you move from hydrocarbons to anything else, all the expertise and heritage in the combustion engine isn’t relevant anymore,’ claimed Hussain. A year on, he can reflect on his predictions with some satisfaction. Sixteen bikes took part in the pro class, with the winning bike, made by Agni Motors, averaging 87mph, completing a lap in 25 minutes and 53 seconds and beating the 50cc lap record.So what is the outlook for sustainable motor racing? Do those at the top of the sport have an appetite for change? Or willthey be overtaken by a new breed of young climate-savvy engineers? And could green motorsport drive innovation on the road?‘When you look at a grown man hurtling round a racing track in a fast car burning lots of fuel, it becomes difficult to justify,’ he said. ‘ I don’t think anybody’s going to throw any money at this unless they can see it giving wider benefit to society.’ Sustainable motor racing, added [Warwick University’s Dr. Steve]Maggs, offers the industry a chance to deliver these benefits. ‘Motorsport could be a driving force for future innovation, but it has really become irrelevant in terms of driving technology forward for other industries,’ he said. ‘ I would defy anybody to prove that at the moment motorsport is providing any technological driving force, because all the people that are doing innovation hold their cards very close to their chest. It’s not in their interest to share their IP [intellectual property].’Talking to The Engineer, [Azhar] Hussain said that, by kicking off a competition guided from the start by a low-carbon approach, the potential spin-offs are greater and the development curve is much faster than is the case in other areas of motor sport. ‘There’s a much shorter road to travel if you’re building motorsport for zero carbon and building a vehicle for the road for zero carbon,’ he said.One of the attractions of the electric drivetrain technology used on the TIxGP bikes, added Hussain, is that it can be developed on a race bike and then rapidly reconfigured on different vehicles in a way that is not possible with conventional technologies. ‘Take motorcycles: a combustion-engined motorcycle is a fundamentally different beast to a combustion-engined car,’ he said. ‘But when it comes to electric, the drivetrain is basically your batteries, your controller and your motors and, whether you have a car, boat or bike, it’s always the same.’ A motorcycle is also a particularly good development platform. ‘With bikes, you get an incredible bang for your buck in terms of R&D,’ said Hussain. ‘The problems are the same but the cost of developing bikes is far less. Once you crack the problem, moving from there to any other transport is direct, real and very, very short.’Hussain believes TI’xGP, which will next year run a standalone UK championship and return to the Isle of Man, could stimulate some vital breakthroughs in electric powertrain technology that will push the wider industry forward.‘It’s incredible how much technology doesn’t exist,’ he said. ‘This is a really green area for IP. There isn’t really an effective battery management or control system; the motors could do with a lot more efficiency; and the batteries could do with improvement. On every single measure, there’s huge scope for improvement. On cars today, if you get a one to two per cent improvement you are the toast of the industry, but we are lookingat a 30-40 per cent improvement year on year; we’re on a very different trajectory.’Chris Aylett, chief executive of the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) believes that TI’xGP could be onto something big. The bikes at last year’s event did 115mph,’ he said. ‘The average lap speed is 88-90mph. That was the 50cc lap record of the Isle of Man TT. The biggest marketplace for bikes is at 50-125cc in India and China, so squillions of them will be turned on by going at that speed on electric bikes: that is called opportunity.’Whatever happens, an uncertain future, said Aylett, is a good thing for the sport. ‘Each one of these directions is likely at some point to have someone in it saying “how about a competition?” And we will race anything. All this change of consumer interest is outstandingly good for motorsport. The more confusion there is as to the eventual solution, the better for us. Frankly, long may confusion reign.’(Copyright 2009, The Engineer)