Following the success of the Isle of Man TT Zero and FIA Formula E, MotoGP is on course to develop its own electric motorcycle racing class. Four manufacturers have reportedly offered to power the new supporting discipline, which is expected to debut with five races in the 2019 championship.
Intrinsically tied to the marketing of production models, the motorcycle racing world has just begun to scratch the surface of high-profile electric competition. It all started with the TTXGP that debuted at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) in 2009, attracting the interest of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), which soon after attempted to run its own ill-fated e-Power championship. The result was a short period of controversy with competing events, until in 2013 the two sides finally joined forces to create the FIM-sanctioned eRoadRacing World Cup – which, once again, failed to complete a full season and didn't ever resume.
In the meantime, Isle of Man authorities managed successfully to dodge the bullet by cutting ties to the TTXGP and organizing its own electric class as of 2010. The TT Zero gradually cemented its place in the annual TT proceedings, attracting a small number of manufacturers and top riders like John McGuinness and Guy Martin that helped generate significant publicity for the battery-powered racing class. Similar attention has been drawn by the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race in Colorado, where electric bikes found enough leeway to shine amidst petrol-powered competition.
With the automotive example of FIA's Formula E championship having proven its viability, FIM returns to the electric field with fresh ideas. Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of MotoGP commercial and television rights holder Dorna Sports, revealed in an interview that an electric class is on its way to join the MotoGP circus by 2019.
The new discipline will be a one-make series, for which four manufacturers have already placed their offers and more are expected, according to Ezpeleta. The plan is to field a total of 18 electric prototypes that can reach top speeds of approximately 200 km/h (124 mph), so that they can last 10 laps on a single charge. This new class will support five MotoGP events in Europe, and most seats will probably be offered to existing privateer teams from MotoGP and Moto2.
While Formula E's batteries are charged by glycerine generators, Dorna and FIM are looking straight at the sun for carbon-free charging. "We want the batteries to be recharged from solar panels, not from generators like in other championships," said Ezpeleta. "This way, we can leave something profitable for the circuits where the series races."
This would be the second attempt by FIM to promote electric motorcycles to the general public, engulfing them right in the top level of international motorcycle racing. If 2010 proved to be a bit premature, this time conditions could be a bit more favorable, especially under the protective wing of a single-make class.
At first the whole idea seems somewhat underwhelming, given that the electric prototypes are expected to run at a pace comparable to the 250 cc bikes of the Moto3 class, but just remember what happened with the TT Zero. The slow and primitive-looking bikes of the 2009 TTXGP grew in just a handful of years to lap the Isle of Man at a pace that would stand its ground in the 600 cc Supersport class.
The lack of engineering competition that is inherent in any one-make series will probably slow down development, but the first target should be to create a permanent fixture in the MotoGP calendar, get audiences accustomed to the new, silent racing, and then let it loose when conditions are more favorable. After all, many market analysts predict that the coming decade will host the commercial tipping point for electric motorcycles, and racing unavoidably follows market rules.