It’s electrifying…finding out more about MotoE

Chatting with the head of the new MotoGP support class

Say what you like about the ploy to widen the motorcycle racing ‘experience’ at MotoGP but there is little denying the level of curiosity around the FIM Enel MotoE World Cup for 2019 and ahead of the first official tests for the class in Jerez. It would seem not only fans and social media critics are looking at the fetching Energica bikes with an arched eyebrow. The presence of several grand prix winners on the official entry list (see HERE) is also grounds to claim that the newest support class is ready to turn even more heads.

The full run-down on the technology, rules, calendar and runners – all part of official MotoGP team set-ups – can be seen HERE. This is the first significant motorcycle racing championship based on electric power and comes after four years of FormulaE, where cars have now reached 250hp, around 150mph and can do 1-100kpmh in almost three seconds. It has also materialised on the back of the TT Zero race on the Isle of Man: a spectacle that originated in 2009 for ‘non-fossil fuel’ motors and has become a showcase for Mugen’s evolving engineering.

But to gain a bit more perspective on how the five round series will run at Jerez, Le Mans, Sachsenring, Red Bull Ring and Misano (just after MotoGP warm-up on Sundays) and what people can expect we sat down with Cup Director and former Michelin tyre chief Nicolas Goubert…

How have preparations gone in the build-up to the Jerez test?

The bikes are real and will be leaving the factory on Monday and arriving Wednesday in Jerez. Twelve bikes and one per team. They are the same spec as some of the black models that have done some laps at the GPs recently. From what the riders say the bikes are quite different; the brakes have changed a lot and the suspension and front forks are very different. The tyres are different and the battery pack has been modified. If I look at the evolution of the lap-times from the first test we did at Jerez to the last ones in Misano then we got closer to the other categories. There is no more development planned but if there is a consistent request between April and May then we can adjust some things.

What is the biggest challenge with the bikes?

The maximum speed is quite high because the power is there. During the race we will have 125KW and 145hp so it is quite powerful and the torque is high and acceleration is good. The weight is a limiting factor because it takes longer to reduce the speed and it’s different to flip the bike in the corners. You have to adapt your riding style. I had two comments that made me think it won’t be that difficult. Max [Biaggi] tried the bike at Mugello – which is not easy for the change of direction – and he said he had to adapt his style to anticipate this but then it was not such a big thing. I remember Randy de Puniet riding it in Le Mans and he said ‘I won’t tell you it is a light bike but compared to what I use with a full tank in Endurance there is not a big difference’. It will be different but the riders will get used to it.

How will the fans deduce the differences between the bikes and how will set-up have an influence?

When you look at the bike from a distance I don’t think you can see it is much different. The fans will obviously hear it is very different, for sure! The riders have said it is quite easy to ride the bike because the delivery is smooth. There is no gearbox…but you could tell me in MotoGP there is no gearbox; everything is automatic. You have the start but even then there is a start mode. It is less complex for set-up compared to MotoGP for sure where they have many things. Our category will be limited and we wanted that because the guys will have limited time on the track; only two thirty minute sessions with 18-20 minute riding time. In that period, considering that some weekends might have different weather, there is not much time for set-up. They’ll have to look at suspension and that’s it. Then they will have two different power delivery modes, three engine braking map modes as well as an electric rear brake. So there are already six to seven configurations for the rear brake and engine and then the suspension. That’s enough.

Can the bikes race at full power for the duration and at which type of circuits will they be able to get closer to their counterparts?

For sure we want then to have full power and enough power to last from the first lap to the last whatever the rider because they won’t use the same energy. We want to make sure that the race distance is short enough so that nobody will have trouble. We have only two test riders so we have a race distance in mind based on the ‘worst’ rider – the one that uses the most energy. If we find out from the eighteen racers that we have to shorten distances again then we’ll do it to make sure everyone has what they need. We don’t want that riders have to ‘control’ their power or try to learn another way of riding. In terms of lap-times with the other categories the best results we’ve found so far were in Austria – that grand prix was close to the end of development of the bikes – which is a high-speed circuit. After a forty-five minute test, which is nearly three sessions for us, Loris [Capirossi] was making times that were 0.5 away from the Moto3 lap record. So I think there the guys will be at the same pace as Moto3. It won’t be the same at the twisty circuits where the average speed is quite low. That’s because of the weight and being unable to take advantage of the higher average speed. It’s hard to say how much at the moment.

What is the main worry? Is it something from the technical side or is it how the series will be perceived from fans and spectators/viewers?

For sure one of the big question marks is the reaction of the fans. Let’s take the comparison with the Formula E because they were the first ones to come up with a series: they have their own championship, in a different environment and with people that choose to go and see those races. We are in the MotoGP scene so we have many advantages with the organisation, media and TV in place. The fans will come to a MotoGP weekend for MotoGP; some for Moto3 some for Moto2 but mainly for MotoGP, not for only MotoE. The fans are used to seeing and hearing petrol bikes and we’ll offer them something additional to the show. I’m looking forward to seeing how the fans take it. It’s hard to see when there is only one bike [the demo laps]. You can hear the bike [only] when it is close to you but I think with eighteen it will be different. We’ll get the first answer in Jerez [test] when we’ll have twelve bikes. It will still not be like the other categories…my worry is that some people might not know there is something going on when it comes to raceday because of a break or people going to get food! Normally you hear all the bikes and people go to take their place. This won’t be the case for us!

When you were asked to take the job what were your first thoughts?

First of all I was happy to come to Dorna. I was involved in racing but in a different way in the past. One of the reasons I left Michelin was that there were no challenges for tyre makers any more compared to what I was used to. MotoGP was a big challenge to start with…but I was happy to have the change. I do know that when you start something new then you need time to build it up and I’m not very patient! MotoE will take time.

You must be impressed by the entry list…

Yes, I’m very happy. We have people from ten different countries and different kinds of riders. There are also the big names and honestly speaking I did not expect someone like Sete [Gibernau] to come back but it is great news. We also have Randy De Puniet and Bradley Smith and Alex De Angelis. It’s good. I hope we will have good fights. We have to produce races with a lot of overtaking and that’s what we’re aiming at. They will be short races but with unexpected results up until the last corner.

How expensive is the class?

We are doing everything at Dorna to keep the cost at a reasonable level. We are going to take care of almost everything except for the rider and mechanics, so that gives you an idea of the cost that is left for the teams. We will transport everything and we have developed everything – and still are – with the help of Energica. We are making life quite easy for the teams. There will be a special paddock and we need to find the space at each circuit to fit the big tent. It is something similar to the Rookies Cup set-up but we’ll make it a bit more ‘modern’ or impressive. We still have the same problem of finding space.

From the beginning of the tests to the bike that will be used at Jerez has there big one aspect of major progress?

I would not say it is a singular thing. It is three or four: brakes, tyres, suspension and the battery. To start working on the tyres we needed the brakes and suspension at the right level and they evolved together.

Are they any concerns about the bikes in the event of a crash?

When a rider crashes today then the biggest danger is being hit by somebody else. If you are hit by a Moto3, Moto3, MotoGP or MotoE bike then it is likely you’ll be in trouble. Regarding the bike itself then a crash will see more damage than say Moto3 and that is why we have five spare bikes.

Are you ready for the spotlight on the series? There are plenty of electric off-road bikes but a championship has not evolved so MotoE really is the first move outside of the Isle of Man competition…

The FIM have looked at an E series before…but for me technology has evolved so quickly in the last two-three years. Take the example of the Energica bike. The road version has been on the market for two years and with the same battery pack they had two years ago they have nearly doubled the energy. The car industry has been making great progress and you have a constant evolution of 8% per year for the last ten years in the energy density of a battery. Let’s imagine if that was money in a bank: you’d be very happy! I read an article recently about Toyota and they are the masters of hybrid cars but they have yet to bring a full electric model to market. They are saying in 2020-21 they will come with a breakthrough technology that nobody has. Normally Toyota is not the kind of carmaker to claim things that they cannot sell or prove. So in two-three years time if they come with a breakthrough then in a few more years the others will have come up with the same thing. If you go to the internet and see what is in research labs now when it comes to battery technology then it is really different from what we can have. We can use technology that it really up to date but it is not [at the level of] a lab! It might take five years to come from the lab to market and for sure what we are using now is very different to what we had five years previously. You see many cars and brands making cars now that did not exist five years ago simply because the technology was not there. I was at the EICMA show and we saw the Harley Davidson that will come out in 2019. This is not a brand that you’d expect to produce an electric bike…but it proves the technology is ready. Kymco were also proactive with a prototype. So the bike makers are working.

By Adam Wheeler @ontrackoffroad

Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp/Polarity Photo @polarityphoto