Third consecutive triumph for Mugen at the 2016 TT Zero
Having dominated the electric superbike class since 2014, Team Mugen has returned to the top step of the 2016 TT Zero podium with Bruce Anstey. Victory Racing followed with a close second in front of University of Nottingham's motorcycle, as technical problems prevented Saroléa Racing from competing.
This year's SES TT Zero Challenge was expected to be the most exciting ever. The Japanese Team Mugen returned to the Isle of Man (IoM) with a heavily updated Shinden Go electric superbike, going up against Victory Racing's new and more powerful version of the Empulse RR bike, now called Victory RR.
What is perhaps more important than the evolution of the motorcycle itself is that Victory's star rider, William Dunlop, was in full health – unlike last year, when he was replaced at the last minute by Guy Martin after he was injured during Supersport practice.
Team Saroléa Racing was also a force to be reckoned with, fielding the SP7 motorcycle in its latest, most powerful form. The two-rider outfit was looking to lap above the 120 mph average speed mark. But things don't always go as planned.
The first practice session of the class seemed to support the prospect of a very competitive race, as Mugen's riders were lapping in the 117-118 mph bracket, closely followed by Victory's single rider. Saroléa's Lee Johnston was up there as well, managing a 115 mph lap on the first practice session on June 3; quite the achievement considering that last year the Belgian team had finished the race in fifth place with a 106.5 mph lap.
Things started to go awry for Saroléa during qualifying, as both its bikes ran into technical problems. In the end the team's riders, Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison, did not take part in the race. So far there is no official statement from the team as to what hampered its effort.
Come race day, a thick morning fog covered large parts of the Isle of Man and caused minor delays, but by midday everything was back on track. The start of the TT Zero saw Mugen's John Mc Guinness lead the small electric pack, ready to repeat his winning performance of 2014 and 2015. Arriving at Ballacrye at full speed, his Shinen Go jumped over a crest of the road – as all IoM racers inescapably do there – but when he landed his engine stalled.
"As the bike landed at Ballacrye, it stopped," said Mc Guinness after the race. "I pulled up at Quarry Bends and started pushing the buttons to get it going again. I had landed on the emergency button under the seat and shut it off. One of the marshals, or a spectator said press it. I did and got going – it was just not my day, having broken down in the 600 race and after all of the work the team had done for this race I am so disappointed."
It was Bruce Anstey that profited from his team mate's misfortune. Following just 3.4 seconds behind him, he took over the lead and was never again threatened by any other rider until the checkered flag.
William Dunlop crossed the line 25 seconds later with his Victory RR, while third place unexpectedly went to Daley Mathison aboard the electric racer built by the University of Nottingham. The latter arrived on the podium having significantly improved his team's performance with a 99.884 mph lap. Last year this team managed 73.156 mph for sixth place, with Michael Sweeney riding the experimental racer.
John Mc Guinness came in fourth with a 94.989 mph lap as a result of the time he spent trying to restart his bike. Fifth and last position went to Brunel University's Allann Venter, who posted a 94.628 mph lap.
Prior to the race the electric superbikes were expected to exceed the 120 mph mark, but unfortunately the turn of events disproved these predictions. Anstey admittedly decided to relax his pace when he passed by his stalled team mate, and the fact that no other rider threatened him translated to a 118.416 mph winning lap; a tad slower than last year's 119.279 mph average speed posted by Mc Guinness.
The promising news is that, apart from Team Mugen, all other motorcycles posted considerably improved performances. Victory Racing's motorcycle boosted last year's 111.620 mph to 115.844, Brunel's bike that hadn't finished the race in 2015 now closes in to the 100 mph lap, while the unfortunate Saroléa Racing team had already done a lot better than last year during practice.
What the TT Zero needs is more competitors. If a field of three professional and two university teams can push laptimes from 87.4 mph (Team Agni in 2009) to almost 120 mph in just six years, we can imagine that with factories such as Lightning, Zero and Energica in the mix competition could heat up exponentially.
Also we shouldn't disregard the fact that all the top TT Zero riders race the electric class on the side, as most of them have their main focus in the Superbike and Supersport races. McGuinness, Anstey, Johnston and Harrison had contested the Supersport race just a few hours before the TT Zero and had very limited testing time on their electric racers.
Despite the 2016 TT Zero proving to be less competitive than last year, the fact that electric sportbikes are rapidly approaching the performance standards of the traditional petrol bikes doesn't seem to have changed at all.