2012 FIM e-Power/TTXGP Laguna Seca Race Report
Electric motorcycles compete in front of a world audience
The third round of the TTXGP championship was poised to be a momentous event, as the series dawned on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in front of an international audience during MotoGP weekend. A couple noteworthy competitors from the FIM e-Power series – Matthias Himmelmann and Katja Poensgen of Muench Racing – made the trip from Germany for this joint round, while American racing hero Eric Bostrom made his electric motorcycle racing debut aboard a second Team Icon Brammo Empulse RR entry.
Bostrom, the youngest of the three (yes, three) Bostrom brothers got his first taste of the bike the week prior during testing at Thunderhill Raceway. Not sure what to expect from an electric motorcycle he told the team, “If I don’t like it, I’m out.” Thankfully, E-Boz enjoyed his experience. Had he tried the Brammo entry last year, however, his opinion might be different, as the 2011 machine was powered by a 90-hp motor. With the help of a new motor from Parker-Hanifin, the 2012 machine pumps a claimed 140 hp to the rear wheel.
Despite the fanfare surrounding the German team and Bostrom, it was the team Barracuda/Lightning effort with pilot Michael Barnes that topped the timesheets in free practice with a 1:35.0, more than four seconds faster than second place Steve Atlas (1:39.2) on the other Team Icon Brammo machine. Barnes’ teammate, local rider and Isle of Man competitor Tom Montano (1:43.1), placed third. Himmelmann (1:44.2) and Poensgen (1:53.4) rounded out the top five.
It’s no surprise Barnes was also the fastest rider through the speed traps, clocking in at 136.5 mph, more than 14 mph quicker than the rest of the field. Interestingly, Kenyon Kluge, aboard a Zero S production bike racing for the TTXGP’s new e-Superstock award clocked a 2:04.0 lap time and top speed of 78 mph.
Unfortunately, last year’s winning team, Mission Motors, was not present for this year’s outing. However, their rider Steve Rapp was busy piloting the Attack Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R in AMA Pro Racing American Superbike competition while also developing the team’s CRT entry in its maiden voyage in MotoGP.
Also absent was the vaunted MotoCzysz entry that won this year’s e-bike race at the Isle of Man and set the class’ first 100-mph lap of the island.
In qualifying, the Lightning bikes made their way to the front, with Michael Barnes again setting the pace with a 1:33.8 lap time, more than two seconds slower than Rapp’s 1:31.7 track record from last year. Montano qualified third with a 1:38.6 and Bostrom split the two Lightnings, clocking a 1:37.1. Himmelmann (1:38.9), Atlas (1:41.0) and Poensgen (1:48.5) rounded out the top six qualifiers. Atlas’ Brammo Empulse RR experienced a technical gremlin during qualifying and was only able to complete one flying lap.
In the speed traps, Barnes increased his pace to 140.0 mph, followed by Montano at 134.5 mph and Bostrom at 130.8 mph. For comparison, the quickest qualifier in the Daytona Sportbike class, Martin Cardenas, posted a best trap speed of 133.4 mph in qualifying on his GSX-R600. AMA Superbike leader Josh Hayes took his Yamaha R1 to 146.1 mph in qualifying.
Fastest of the TTX75 sub-class for motorcycles limited to 7.5-kWh batteries was the ProMoto entry of Ely Schless who clocked in a 1:57.9 on his Honda RSE. The other TTX75 entry – a Honda CBRE fielded by the student-run Virginia Tech Bolt team – failed to post a time in qualifying but was still allowed to enter Sunday’s race. He ran a 2:01.0 in free practice.
Fighting for eSuperstock honors for production streetbikes were a trio of Zero S machines. Ted Rich posted a 2:00.0 to lead the pack, followed by Kluge (2:01.1) and Jeremiah Johnson (2:07.1).
“We don’t have any motorcycle any longer equipped with a direct-current (DC) type motor,” he noted. “This is because of the overheating problems which the teams faced in previous years. The batteries are more compact this year and evacuate the heat much faster than before. This is the first year where all machines are fitted with thermal sensors in all components, meaning the controller, the battery pack and the motor. This is a big improvement safety wise.” He was still critical of the machines, however, and stated “the teams still have plenty of work to do on aerodynamics and we are confident that they will enhance the overall efficiency in the years to come.”
As was to be expected from Free Practice and Qualifying, the race at the front was rather uneventful, with Barnes leading the field from flag to flag. Thankfully, the race behind him wasn’t so boring, with Team Icon Brammo teammates Bostrom and Atlas swapping spots for second early on, with Atlas eventually commanding the position. He made a spirited charge for Barnes, but couldn’t match the pace of the veteran and had to settle for second. Bostrom finished third.
Himmelmann and Montano completed the top five, while Poensgen’s sixth-place finish means she retains the lead in the FIM e-Power International Championship with 55 points ahead of Himmelmann (38) and Chris Amendt (36), who didn’t participate at Laguna.
Robert Hancock finished seventh overall and first in the TTX75 class, beating Ely Schless who was in contention with Hancock before eventually dropping out of the race. Zero’s Kluge finished eighth overall and won his first e-Superstock award aboard the Zero S, beating teammate Ted Rich. Jeremiah Johnson on the third Zero S machine completed the top 10.
Judging by lap times, the race at the front could have been more exciting, as Barnes' best lap of 1:35.3 was barely quicker than Atlas' 1:35.6. Third-best was Bostrom's 1:36.3, but he had problems on the fourth and sixth laps and ran laps 3 seconds slower than his best. If the trio could have stayed together from the start, there might have been some dicing. Himmelmann (1:37.2) and Montano (1:37.7) also could have had a good race had they been consistent. At any rate, Rapp's best race lap of 1:33.194 is still safe for another year.
During the race, Montano actually achieved the quickest trap speed of the weekend at 144.8 mph. Barnes was next at 140.5 mph, with Bostrom third fastest at 133.9 mph. After the race, the podium finishers gave their thoughts about the weekend.
“We were not about to lose this one. We have worked hard on the Barracuda Lightning bike to hold enough energy for the whole race. We’ve improved 12 seconds from two years ago and are four seconds quicker than last year.”
When comparing trap speeds, Barnes made a very interesting observation, “(Getting up to) 140 mph was hit in qualifying, which is faster than any 600s out here. The bike does feel more like a 1000 as far as the torque is concerned. The sky's the limit with electric power. I’m sure we will eclipse something soon. I don't know when or how, but we are going to make our mark with the electric industry, that’s for sure.”
“I only got one lap in qualifying due to a resistor part in the bike not working. And I only did three laps in the first practice so the race was all new for me as I didn't get much track time beforehand. For first few laps, I stuck behind Eric (Bostrom), but unfortunately he had some trouble. I just felt in the groove and I was surprised by how quick we were going.
“The bike is a huge improvement over last year – probably seven or eight seconds faster. It was fun out there trying to keep Barney in sight. It was cool to not have a huge runaway as there was in the past, and it is really cool to have a new teammate in Eric and I am excited for the rest of the year. Once the battery technology catches up, we will give the gas bikes a run for their money.”
“I only rode the bike a week ago and I said to the team if I don't like it I am out. But just pulling out of the pits and coming out of the race track, it put a big smile on my face and surpassed all my expectations. The biggest disappointment for me was not being able to keep Barney honest and push him to the end.
“The feel is similar to a normal motorcycle. We’re just having teething problems with this new motorcycle, that’s all it is. If you asked somebody like Kenny Roberts, then he would say the same thing about a gas bike at this stage of development.“It is strange, but you feel more than ever that you are in your own little world. There is a feeling of 'Oh man, they have taken away some of the sensations,' but on the flip slide, you have more sensation and more feedback from the asphalt so you are getting better feedback to where I can actually hear and feel the brake rotors on the bike.”
The next round of the TTXGP championship will take place at Utah’s Miller Motorsports Park, September 1-2.
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