Lightfighter Racing - Celebrating the Fast Life
An ode to a (mostly) successful 2023.
When we attended the Annual AHRMA Racing Barber Vintage Festival for the first time in 2019 with all-electric Lightfighter v1, we had almost no expectations, especially when we entered the Pro Cup Race on a whim. After the high of the Laguna Seca race round this season though, “the return” crept into our collective sub-conscience, albeit along with loftier expectations. Taking not one, but two v2 bikes to the hallowed ground of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama in October would be the ultimate test to see just how far we’ve come in three seasons of development. And after a successful race weekend at Laguna, we were also anxious to see how well our setup translated to a very different track layout and surface.
We were suddenly reminded, however, how quickly what seems important can change. Less than a month out from the event, tragedy struck hard. Our long-time supporter and friend, (and Motorcycle.com Editor-in-Chief) Evans Brasfield, lost his life in a motorcycle incident while leaving a shoot. All that knew him, and especially Troy – who was the last to see him, were understandably shocked by the incident. Evans was a well-respected moto-journalist with a lifelong obsession with motorcycles and the riding skills to back it up. For him to be taken from this world while on a motorcycle seemed a cruel reminder of the risks we all take when throwing a leg over these intoxicating (and occasionally infuriating) machines. After a few days of mourning and soul-searching, Troy remembered how excited Evans was for us to be returning to Barber and realized that to back out now would be, in fact, the opposite of what Evans would have wanted for him. A conveniently timed press event on track with a newly released production bike in Italy a couple of weeks before the race weekend gave him some additional confidence that he could get his head back in the game when the time came.
So, with heavy hearts, we said goodbye to a friend and recommitted to our season-ender at Barber. We agreed that our focus would be on enjoying the camaraderie of our sport rather than finishing positions in the races. We would make time to visit the Barber Motorsports Museum, with its unrivaled collection of historic motorcycles, and truly experience the full Vintage Festival and force ourselves to contemplate our own tiny place in the history of the sport.
The event saw us reunited with our friends at Kramer Motorcycles USA, who have also made amazing progress in these past few years. Founder Markus Kramer himself was on hand as Kramer was making their US race debut for the new GP2-890RR and brought in the dynamic duo of Chris Filmore and Rennie Scaysbrook (Pikes Peak record holder) to show what the new bike was capable of. Troy even used his skills of persuasion to convince the Kramer crew to allow him to ride the “backup” 890R (not double R) in classes he wasn’t riding the Lightfighter or his personal Evo2 single in. We were certainly amongst great company in the paddock as well! The 4SR Pro Cup Race, with a sizable $50k winner’s purse, had attracted top Pro-level talent like Stefano Mesa, Geoff May, Gus Rodio, Nate Kern, and Hayden Gillim. As in 2019, for Lightfighter - just being in the show as the only electric bike in the field counted as a win in my book – but only if we could make it to the finish this time…
Unlike the other race classes, the 4SR Pro Race had an extended lap count from eight to 10 laps. The last time we attempted it, the Pro Race had been conveniently cut back to eight laps and we blew a 12V fuse on lap 7, so we didn’t actually finish the full lap count. We used that experience to fix the vulnerability of the 12 volt system and finished our 2019 season with a win in the Formula Thunder class; but the bike cut power right at the finish line of that eight-lap race. While we have increased the capacity of our Farasis Energy cell in our lithium-ion battery since that race, doing two full laps further at race pace was going to be a stretch and I anticipated the need to slightly de-tune the bike, which was going to make Troy’s job even tougher to keep up with Pro riders on very fast machinery. In the field were the two previously mentioned Kramer GP2-890RRs, a Pierobon Ducati, several race-prepped 1199 Panigales, a Buell 1190 RS, and even a BMW R9T prepped for SuperHooligans racing. The Lighfighter would be on the lower end of that horsepower battle, but hopefully 240lb-ft of torque would help keep us competitive...
With such a big event (arguably the largest attended motorcycle race event in the US) and so many classes vying for track time, AHRMA allows an extra day of practice to prepare for the typical two days of racing. Our practice and qualifying sessions went relatively smoothly while we made similar adjustments as our 2019 visit to add rebound damping and increase tire pressures to adapt to tire wear and the track surface. We had an issue with fading brakes at Laguna that I had chalked up to bad brake fluid, but the issue returned at Barber as well. Having nothing left to try, Joe Karovonen at Kramer USA was kind enough to allow me to buy a new Brembo Corsa Corta master cylinder to swap in and see if it solved the issue. Lo and behold, I was able to bleed the system to a much firmer lever and this time, no return of the fade we had previously experienced. I usually start my assessment of a problem by thinking about what I could’ve done to cause it in the first place, so it’s somewhat reassuring to know that sometimes the part is just bad.
With the brake fade resolved, Troy got down to doing what Troy and the Lightfighter do best - holeshots off the line, hounding big-twin Ducatis, and generally showing that speed and burning dinosaurs can be mutually exclusive. Our first race was Sound of Thunder 1, an eight-lapper, in which Troy finished in 5th from about 30 racers. It was a great performance, and it gave me the data needed to understand how far I would need to detune for the Pro race later that day.
In that same race, Nick Lambert had a great battle with Pete Nicolosi on his Energica Eva (the same bike Stefano Mesa’s racing in Super Hooligans), the only other electric competitor in the Formula Lightning Extreme class. Nick and the Lightfighter came out on top in Saturday’s race, but they swapped spots on Sunday. It was great to see so much variety in the machinery on track, a real visual and aural treat for the motorcycle enthusiasts attending the Vintage Festival.
As mentioned previously, the 4SR Pro Race was always going to be a stretch goal for us due to the competition as well as the extended lap count, but we’re here to push this technology forward, and sometimes that requires getting uncomfortable. After detuning the bike slightly, I asked Troy to skip the warm-up lap and go directly to his grid position. He was also briefed on what to watch for on the dash for those final two laps. If the battery was getting low, he knew he’d have to manage his right wrist to get the bike to the line.
The Lightfighter did its characteristic start and gained a few positions on the run to Turn 1, but this just put Troy right in the middle of some very fast riders on a mission to win that prize money. Troy did well to stay consistent on lap times through lap 8. Lap 9 saw us fall off by about 1 second, so not terrible, but lap 10 required some careful throttle management and Troy’s final lap was roughly 7 seconds slower than his fastest. Troy crossed the finish in 12th position from 17 racers, around 1 minute back from the leaders. The bike reached its low voltage threshold on the cool-down lap and Troy came back on the crash truck to ensure we didn’t damage those precious Farasis battery cells after asking so much of them.
Troy’s best performance over eight laps was about 7 seconds faster than in 2019 with v1, so the single lap speed improvement seemed to translate over the full race distance as well. While that may not seem like a massive improvement, we were able to both increase our speed over a lap while also extending the number of laps we could run at race pace by 20%. In my books, I call that measurable progress. BTW – that lap time compared favorably to the 1’32.128 he was able to run on the Kramer 890 GP2-R that he rode to victory in the SOT2 class on Saturday.
Such is the way of technology development. A glimpse of the future, a spark of encouragement, and then a whole lot of work. Development is so much more frequently small steps of progress and learnings over time that build on each other to something substantial vs. a headline grabbing revolution or breakthrough. It takes a level of commitment and perseverance uncommon for most to find satisfaction in these small victories on the way to real progress, but I am glad to count myself and this project among them. We’ll keep learning and one day… you might thank us for it. Or not.
BEST LAP TIME
2019 Lightfighter v1
P12 in Barber Pro Cup, P1 in Formula Thunder (Sun), P1 in Formula Lightning Extreme (Sat & Sun)
2023 Lightfighter v2
P5 in SOT1 (Sat & Sun), P12 in 4SR Pro Challenge, P1 in Formula Lightning Extreme (Sat) and P2 (Sun)
Remember there were two Lightfighters at Barber; the factory bike ridden by Troy and a customer bike owned by Nick Lambert, a professional automotive EV engineer and amateur motorcycle racer. Nick’s been an important part of the Lightfighter family over the past couple of seasons helping with CAD modeling, designing parts, and pushing development forward on the overall control strategy for the bike. After a nasty high-side at Buttonwillow Raceway partially due to our basic level of traction control, Nick engaged with David Ferguson of Veracity Racing in Paso Robles, CA to see if the Motec M130 engine control unit (ECU) could be leveraged as an EV full vehicle control unit (VCU).
When combined with David’s unique ability to develop custom firmware for the controller, the answer became an emphatic yes and we’ve been using Nick’s bike as a test bed ever since. While the factory bike relies heavily on the Cascadia Motion inverter for vehicle level control and decisions, Nick’s bike has an even smarter “brain” controlling all bike parameters since the Laguna Seca round earlier this season. Barber marked another turning point in this development with the addition of new tuning parameters and on-the-fly ride mode changes Nick was able to test and use in his races. Eventually, this will provide us the option to adjust traction control, regen, and forward torque parameters on the fly as well as build out more sophisticated protections for our custom electric powertrain.
Now remember that we really wanted this trip to be a celebration of motorcycling in remembrance of Evans, so we made sure to visit what could only be considered hallowed ground for motorcycle enthusiasts – the Barber Motorsports Museum. The museum houses the largest and most diverse motorcycle collection in the world and its focus on design, restoration, and preservation of some of the most influential vehicles in motoring history only heightens it’s stature on the “must visit” list for motorsports fans. Bonus for me was seeing Victory Racing’s 2016 TT Zero competitor, which I helped design and then managed the team, and seeing my first Britten V1000 in person.
The Lightfighter program began with a question rather than a goal – “Can we build an electric motorcycle that can compete head-to-head with gas-bikes?” Answering that question led to a purpose – “Inspire the motorsports industry and enthusiasts to embrace an electric future.” As we walked the halls and ogled decades of technology development on two wheels, I realized that our tiny contribution to this world was simply to keep that advancement moving. A tiny push on a gigantic flywheel that spans centuries. A pin on a Pinterest board I’ll never see or a reference folder on a student’s laptop. Eventually - a dusty relic in a museum. All a part of a much larger picture that keeps us moving forward - because we must.
And I think Evans would have been pleased with that. Ride on, Evans. We’ll keep trying to make you proud.
When he's not busy at his day job as the VP of Product Development at Zero Motorcycles, Brian spends his free time designing and building world-class electric racebikes in his home garage. The Co-founder of Lightfighter Racing, Brian and his partner Ely Schless are exercising their combined experience in electric propulsion to create electric racing motorcycles that can stand toe-to-toe with their internal combustion counterparts. Motorcycle.com is honored to have Brian share his experiences with us in his Lightfighter columns.
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