McGuinness and Mugen dominate 2015 SES TT Zero Challenge

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John McGuinness dominated the 2015 TT Zero Challenge

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Team Mugen reaffirmed its electric class authority at the 2015 Isle of Man TT Races with the same two-rider team that monopolized last year’s proceedings. Yet this time it seems that serious competition has arrived in the form of Victory Racing.

As expected, the race evolved into a Team Mugen show as the two Shinden Yon bikes led from start to finish. McGuinness was the faster of the two, managing to keep Anstey four seconds behind him. With this win the Englishman reached a total of 22 victories, just four shy of Joey Dunlop's record.

Seven electric motorcycles stood in line under a glorious sunshine in anticipation for the start of the 2015 TT Zero race. Departing in 10 second intervals, each racer is up against a timed lap of the 37.73 mile (60.72 km) Mountain Course. John McGuinness, a legendary 21-time Isle of Man winner, was on board the first of the two Team Mugen electric racers, having shattered the lap time record in qualifying. Behind him was Bruce Anstey, an equally expert TT contender and in proven form after having won the RST Superbike TT race on Saturday, ahead of McGuinness who was fourth.

The next two participants represented the rookie team of Victory Racing. The faster of the two is Lee Johnston, who started third, ahead of the famous Guy Martin. Dressed in his Tyco BMW leathers, Martin didn't have the chance to test ride his electric Victory racer as he's been part of the team for just two days. William Dunlop, the team's leading rider was forced to withdraw after sustaining chest injuries when he fell on the Laurel Bank section during a Supersport TT practice session on Monday.

Team Sarolea Racing with Robert Wilson on a single electric racing prototype contested the TT Zero Challenge for the second time. Having debuted in 2014, the Belgian team knows there is not much chance for a podium finish, yet there are important targets to achieve.

At the back end of the starters' list were two student teams. The University of Nottingham and Brunel University raced prototype e-bikes, fueling an interesting duel on academic honors.

As expected, the race evolved into a Team Mugen show as the two Shinden Yon bikes led from start to finish. McGuinness was the faster of the two, breaking his own lap record for an electric bike and managing to keep Anstey four seconds behind him. With this win the Englishman reached a total of 22 victories, just four shy of Joey Dunlop's record.

2015 SES TT Zero Challenge Results

1 John McGuinness (Team Mugen) - 18:58.743 - 119.279 mph

2 Bruce Anstey (Team Mugen) - 19:02.785 - 118.857 mph

3 Lee Johnston (Victory/Parker Racing) - 20:16.881 - 111.620 mph

4 Guy Martin (Victory/Parker Racing) - 20:37.987 - 109.717 mph

5 Robert Wilson (Team Sarolea Racing) - 21:15.256 - 106.510 mph

6 Michael Sweeney (University of Nottingham) - 30:56.695 - 73.156 mph

What does it feel like to lap a 37.73 mile course on an electric bike at an average speed of almost 120 mph? Check out this video McGuinness' record breaking run:

Equally important is the fact that both Mugen bikes improved their laptimes, with the winner's average speed reaching 119.279 (192 km/h). To get a sense of measure, McGuinness has now officially surpassed Joey Dunlop's 1984 winning performance on the Honda RS500, a proper two-stroke GP bike of the era. His average speed was faster than what the Sidecars have ever done, more than enough to win this year's Lightweight TT and would have easily landed him a top-20 finish in the Supersport class.

An important target in the recent past, the 100 mph (160 km/h) mark is now trivial business for Team Mugen, as both its bikes consistently lapped above "the ton" from the very first practice lap. Electric superbikes have come this far in just a handful of years and they are still pushing the envelope. By next year we'll probably be talking about the 124 mph (200 km/h) lap – that'd be top Supersport territory.

The Victory Racing team represented a more or less unknown quantity prior to the first practice sessions. Its Brammo-derived motorcycle had never raced a TT before and only some cold technical figures would suggest it could be a serious contender. As it turned out, both Victory bikes danced around the 110 mph (177 km/h) mark, securing third and fourth places in the race. Lee Johnston was thrilled to achieve his first ever TT podium, while Guy Martin showcased his talent by lapping close to his teammate, despite the fact that he had neither any experience with electric superbikes in his past, nor any time to get properly acquainted with his racing bike.

Victory's TT Zero attempt bears many similarities to Mugen's first participation in 2012. After Team Agni won the inaugural TTXGP in 2009, MotoCzycz proceeded to a four-year domination in the zero emissions class that was henceforth rebranded as TT Zero Challenge. Team Mugen arrived in 2012 and immediately John McGuinness rode the Mugen Shinden motorcycle into second place, behind Michael Rutter’s MotoCzycz. The Japanese team emitted all kinds of warning signals by breaking the ton in their first race at the Mountain Course. The following year McGuinness again finished second – this time breathing down Rutter’s neck at a distance of just 1.7 seconds, or just 0.15 mph (0.24 km/h) in average speed. In 2014 MotoCzycz did not come to the Isle of Man and Mugen whitewashed the field with McGuinness and Anstey. If Victory Racing returns next year, Team Mugen will definitely have a race in its hands.

For Team Sarolea Racing the 2015 race was a milestone event. Last year, at its TT Zero debut, the team managed to finish the race with a 93 mph (149.7 km/h) lap, while yesterday Robert Wilson reached as high as 106.5 mph (171.4 km/h) in the race, happily celebrating the introduction to the "100 mile Club" with the relevant trophy.

As for the academic race within the race, it was Michael Sweeney on the University of Nottingham's motorcycle who managed sixth place with a 73.156 mph average (117.7 km/h). Brunel's James Cowton didn’t make it to the results' list.

Can Electrics conquer the Superbikes?

The evolution of the electric motorcycle seems to have reached a power source quagmire. The Shinden Yon's most important update for 2015 was a new suspension system. Of course "a little more power" was part of the typical description of the bike, but most of the PR talk was around Showa's new single action racing forks. Derived from its Motocross range, these forks separate the hydraulic functions on one stanchion and the mechanical on the other. Mugen's electric superbike featured the first asphalt oriented application for this system and its most communicated benefit was weight loss. In the racing world this is just another way to get more usable power – short of more potent battery cells that is.

In just six years the electric superbikes have covered the same distance as conventional motorcycles in almost half a century

A similar situation unfolded in the Victory garage. Its motorcycle had to be considerably detuned in order to make the race distance. In comparison to the output it was making as a Brammo when competing at the 2013 FIM eRoadRacing World Cup, in TT Zero guise Victory's superbike was some 25 hp (18.6 kW) weaker – and this is two whole years later.

After having progressed so far, the modern electric superbikes have now arrived at a very tricky point: The closer one gets to the top, the harder it becomes to shave seconds off laptimes.

With Superbike winners at 128 mph (206 km/h) laps and Supersport royalty residing at 125 mph (201 km/h), one may assume that Team Mugen – standing on the doorstep at 120 mph (193 km/h) – can almost smell the gasoline, and Victory Racing isn't far behind.

If the plan is to gradually get the general public accustomed to the electric motorcycle, inevitably the two worlds will have to fight elbow to elbow at some point. At this stage the playing field is not level, with the TT Zero race covering one lap while gasoline-powered bikes go six times around the Mountain Course, but race results still indicate that this point is not very far away. A lot will depend on how soon and at what cost battery technology can take these incredible and rapidly evolving motorcycles to the next level.

Watch John McGuinness and Lee Johnston at the SES TT Zero post-race press conference in the following video.

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