Mugen dominates the 2018 Isle of Man TT Zero with record lap
The electric superbike class of the 2018 Tourist Trophy remained under Mugen's control, after the Japanese team secured its fifth straight win. Seasoned TT competitor Michael Rutter rode the Shinden Nana at a record-breaking pace, attracting attention to the TT Zero despite dwindling competition.
When Victory Motorcycles joined the Isle of Man TT Zero class in 2015, fielding an updated Brammo Empulse RR rebadged as Victory RR, it seemed that the electric race would finally get some serious competition. After all, until then there was only Mugen, leading a small group of privateer competitors that couldn't really challenge its Shinden series of electric sportbikes.
Then Victory decided to pull the plug on its motorcycle business in 2017, in a move that also spelled the end for the American company's TT Zero involvement. Just as it had seemed that someone would finally give Mugen a run for its money, the Japanese were left alone to dominate the field as they had done continuously since 2014.
The 2018 edition of the TT Zero didn't leave much room for hope, as all the other contenders were either University teams or privateers that could hardly reach the 100 mph mark. When Mugen unveiled the Shinden Nana, marking the seventh (nana in Japanese) version of the Shinden racer, no-one questioned who would win the 2018 TT Zero.
Mugen had contracted the cream of the crop to race the Nana, in the shape of the former king of the Isle of Man John Mc Guinness, along with two expert TT racers, Bruce Anstey and Lee Johnston. Unfortunately, a few weeks before the TT, Mc Guinness announced that he wouldn't be fit in time to race for Mugen due to a slow healing prior injury and, to make things worse, Bruce Anstey also had to retire with a very serious health issue.
Michael Rutter stepped in at the last minute to take over one of the three available Shinden Nanas, making for a two-rider team with Johnston.
The race itself didn't leave much room for debate, as Rutter and Johnston were faster than anyone else throughout qualifying. Rutter went on to win with a record-breaking lap of 121.824 mph (196.057 km/h) in average speed. This is the first time anyone managed to complete the 37.73 miles (60.72 km) that constitute a single lap of the Mountain Course with a pace above 120 mph.
A hint of drama played out behind the winner, when Johnston found himself in trouble with his motorcycle's chain drive, forcing him to make a stop mid-race and fix the problem himself, before rejoining the race. In the meantime though, Daley Mathison had passed him on his way to a second-place finish with the University of Nottingham racing prototype.
Johnston would eventually secure the third place, followed by James Cowdon with Brunel University's electric racer, Adam Child with an Energica Ego and Shaun Anderson with a Brammo. These are the only six riders that have made it to the official results list, out of the 12 competitors that were supposed to start the race.
Although Rutter's record lap makes for some solid publicity and hints at strong competition, the sad truth is that there is very little to support the electric motorcycle class besides Mugen. With a field of amateur privateer entries, the TT Zero seems to be feeding only on Mugen's will to dominate proceedings – which is good, while it lasts.
Several questions pop up, such as why no team from the MotoE championship bothered to join the TT Zero? With most teams based in England and The Netherlands preparing to compete in a four-race championship that is set to start in July, one would think that the TT Zero would seem like a good idea.
Also, there is still no apparent interest from USA, despite having several strong companies that could find a relatively easy path to a podium finish at a race with guaranteed publicity.
One answer could be found in the upcoming MotoGP electric class, set to debut in 2019 with identical Energica Ego motorcycles. Maybe when the new championship kicks off it will also reignite the interest for electric motorcycle racing, especially for the professional teams that will take part in this new racing series.
SES TT Zero – Results
1. Michael Rutter – Mugen, 18:34.956 min, 121.824 mph
2. Daley Mathison – University of Nottingham, 18:58.600, 119.294
3. Lee Johnston – Mugen, 21:26.668, 105.566
4. James Cowton – Brunel Racing TT Zero, 23:14.934, 97.372
5. Adam Child – MCN/Moto Corsa, 27:50.042, 81.332
6. Shaun Anderson – Brammo, 30:16.155, 74.789
Source: Isle of Man TT