Motorcycles

Mugen sweeps the TT Zero race for sixth consecutive year

Mugen sweeps the TT Zero race ...
Michael Rutter flies to 2019 SES TT Zero victory with his Mugen Shinden Hachi
Michael Rutter flies to 2019 SES TT Zero victory with his Mugen Shinden Hachi
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Ian Lougher on the Team Mirai electric prototype, on his way to a third-place finish
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Ian Lougher on the Team Mirai electric prototype, on his way to a third-place finish
John McGuinness on the Mugen Shinden Hachi
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John McGuinness on the Mugen Shinden Hachi
Michael Rutter flies to 2019 SES TT Zero victory with his Mugen Shinden Hachi
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Michael Rutter flies to 2019 SES TT Zero victory with his Mugen Shinden Hachi
Michael Rutter set a new TT Zero lap record on Mugen's new Shinden Hachi
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Michael Rutter set a new TT Zero lap record on Mugen's new Shinden Hachi

Fielding an all-star team with seasoned Isle of Man TT champions Michael Rutter and John McGuinness, Team Mugen had a rather easy job conquering the two top podium positions, racing against a small number of privateer and university teams on the 10th anniversary of the electric superbike class.

The 2019 SES TT Zero race should have been a celebration of the next generation of racing motorcycles. During its formative steps it attracted several manufacturers and gradually evolved into a discipline that would go faster year after year, right up to the point where its lap times were comparable to those of the Supersport 600 class.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the electric bike class in its current form, the TT Zero finds itself running a diminished field of just eight motorcycles, only two of which come with proper factory support. In the course of this last decade, companies like Motoczysz set the bar with the inaugural 2010 win and subsequent success until 2013. Unfortunately it would abandon the TT Zero after its founder, Michael Czysz, was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually claim his life in 2016.

As Japan's Mugen took control of the TT Zero, Victory arrived in 2015, backed by Polaris and equipped with Brammo's freshly acquired technical know-how. The Victory RR electric racer challenged the Mugens, until Polaris decided to limit its motorcycle operations to only the Indian brand name, and in 2017 Victory shut down.

Michael Rutter set a new TT Zero lap record on Mugen's new Shinden Hachi
Michael Rutter set a new TT Zero lap record on Mugen's new Shinden Hachi

This left Mugen as the sole properly organized racing team in the TT Zero field, occasionally challenged only by Sarolea, though the Belgian manufacturer proved to be no match for the Japanese.

In this year's race Sarolea didn't join the race at all, leaving Mugen to fight against three university entries – Bath, Brunel and Nottingham – and the two privateer outfits of Team Mirai and Daffy Motorsport.

The race was held in the wake of Daley Mathison's accident, as the 27 year-old rider from England tragically lost his life during the Superbike race in the opening days of the 2019 TT. He was a frequent podium finisher of the TT Zero during the last three years, managing a surprising second place finish last year, splitting the two Mugens – albeit after McGuinness lost time because of a small technical mishap.

Mathison was expected to challenge for another podium finish on the University of Nottingham electric prototype and was replaced by Davey Todd for the TT Zero race. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have the chance to honor the memory of his friend with a strong result, as his bike gave up during the race.

After this, and given the enormous advantage that Mugen's latest motorcycle – the Shinden Hachi – had displayed during qualifying, it was just a matter of which of the team's two riders would win.

Michael Rutter won the single-lap race, adding a fifth TT Zero victory to his tally, which had started when he was riding for Motoczysz.

Ian Lougher on the Team Mirai electric prototype, on his way to a third-place finish
Ian Lougher on the Team Mirai electric prototype, on his way to a third-place finish

Rutter managed to win in perfect style, breaking his own lap record from last year's race with a 121.909 mph (196.194 km/h) lap, which translates to shaving almost a full second off his 2018 best lap. John McGuinness followed in second place, some 7.5 seconds slower, and Team Mirai's Ian Lougher rounded up the podium with a 102.690 mph (165.264 km/h) lap.

Traditionally announced in terms of average speed, Rutter's lap would be enough to give him first place in the Lightweight race, or place him within the Top-20 of the Supersport class. That, of course, would be the case if these racing disciplines ran only a single lap.

It is also a notable display of the progress these machines have managed within a decade of racing at this level, the first ever lap record that was set in 2010 by Motoczysz's Mark Miller was 96.82 mph (155.82 km/h).

Yet, the unconvenient truth is that behind Team Mugen's apparent success, there is little room for optimism. There's no doubt that universities acquire valuable knowledge at the TT Zero and any new privateer effort is equally important for the evolution of the species, but should next year Mugen decide to pull the plug, it would simply leave the TT Zero in ruins.

After all, it is more than a race; it is supposed to accelerate electric motorcycle evolution, but for the time being it looks more like a life jacket.

Source: Isle of Man TT

3 comments
usugo
In fairness, it is a competition where the skills and experience of the rider are paramount. So, you can even show up with a great electric motorcycle, but if you can't afford to hire one of the big shot riders, your chances to succeed are pretty slim
Daishi
It's not just the TT Zero struggling. Polaris bought Brammo motorcycles in 2015, renamed it Empulse, then shut it down within a couple years. Harley invested in Alta Motors and announced a collaboration in March 2018 and by October 2018 they shut their doors. Zero motorcycles seems like the only manufacturer surviving. Their financials aren't public but they are likely operating in the red like most startups. If investors don't see the growth they need from the company and decide to stop providing funding they could end up in trouble too. Electric technology has seen steady improvement but has done so against the backdrop of fewer people taking up motorcycling. I think electric motorcycles could fill a niche but they still have a long way to go. A zero with a 124 MPH top speed and 82 miles of range at 70 MPH is $20k. A YZF-R3 with a 110 MPH top speed that gets 56 MPG is $5k. That might not be a fair comparison but the 600cc sport bikes for $12k will do 160 MPH and post worthy TT laps pretty much unmodified from the factory and still get over 40 MPG in regular driving. Tesla is Tesla because they are better than traditional cars in many ways so they justify the cost premium. In what ways are electric motorcycles better than traditional ones? You can't be "the Tesla of motorcycles" if you don't offer a fundamentally improved experience beyond just having a battery.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
Such a sad state of events, puts a downer on my day, this news. Never has the need for a true breakthrough in electricity storage been greater! Right now there seems to be lots of life in the e-bike space... perhaps this enthusiasm will "bubble to the top" as riders seek more capability. Here's hoping! ☺