Categories: Features
June 1, 2015
| On 5 years ago

Tomfoolery – Electric Faster Than Petrol at IOM TT

Andrew Capone, in his Top 5 Storylines For The 2015 Isle Of Man TT article, poses two significant topics: 1) How far are we from ‘Peak Speed?’ and 2) Will electric racing motorcycles finally capture our fancy?

Capone postulates about Peak Speed that “the limitations of the human being astride the machine must be also considered.” I would argue that this is the only consideration in substantially lowering lap times of the TT course, or any race track for that matter. Tires will continue to get stickier, engines more powerful and weights will decrease, but human physical and mental limitations will, at some point, be unable to keep up with the progress of technology. Think of it this way, in a hypothetical situation of unlimited resources, if Honda put all its might into developing an autonomous MotoGP bike, would it be able to lap a track faster than Marc Marquez? I believe it would. It might take a lot of R&D effort, but eventually it’ll happen.

Look out, Marc…

If we look at the rate of lap-record advancement at the TT, however, we’re in no immediate danger of replacing human riders with robots.

1957: First 100-mph lap by Bob McIntyre
  • 10 mph gain in 19 years
  • Average annual increase of 0.52 mph
1980: Joey Dunlop raises course record to 115 mph
  • 15 mph gain in 23 years
  • Average annual increase of 0.65 mph
2000: David Jeffries sets a new lap record 125 mph
  • 10 mph gain in 20 years
  • Average annual increase of 0.50 mph
2007: John McGuinness records a new lap record 130 mph
  • 5 mph gain in 7 years
  • Average annual increase of 0.71 mph
2014: Bruce Anstey sets a new lap record of 132 mph
  • 2 mph gain in 7 years
  • Average annual increase of 0.28 mph

In the early days of the TT, new lap records were being set in leaps and bounds. Take for example Jimmy Simpson, who in 1924 recorded the first 60-mph lap of the TT course. Two years later, in 1926, he added 10 mph to the lap record by setting the first 70-mph lap time. That’s an average annual increase of 5 mph. Fast forward 12 years to 1938 and Harold Daniel breaks the 90-mph lap barrier, but the average annual increase drops significantly to 1.7 mph. From here out the rate of lap-record advancement is incremental.

In 2010, the inaugural year of TT Zero, Mark Miller, aboard the MotoCzysz E1pc, recorded the first electric-powered lap record of 96.8 mph. Last year John McGuinness set a new electric bike lap record of 117.3 mph aboard the Team Mugen machine. That’s a 20.5 mph gain in four years, and an annual increase of 5.1 mph. A very similar annual increase to Simpson’s accomplishment 88 years ago, but his was a 10-mph gain in two years. In 1938 Daniel raised the lap record by 20 mph, but it took 12 years to accomplish the feat, McGuinness and Mugen went 20 mph faster in only four.

When you compare the rate at which new lap records are being set and the increase in the top speed of those lap records, electric bikes are developing much faster than their petrol counterparts. It’ll be interesting to see what the new kid, Victory, brings to the table this year as well as reigning champ Mugen. We’re well aware of the exponential rate at which modern technology is evolving, but even if electric bike lap records fall to an average annual increase of 1.5 mph, and ICE bikes continue at an average annual increase of 0.5, it’ll take about 14 years for electric bikes to be circulating the Mountain Course faster than gas bikes. I’ll wager it happens much sooner.

Granted TT Zero is currently limited to only a single lap of the Mountain compared to three for the dino-bikes (six for the Senior TT), but I’ll save the issue of endurance for a future electric Iron Butt editorial.