Rising out of the chilly waters of the Irish sea, the Isle of Man is paradise for those who consider the world's most dangerous motorcycle racing circuit to be nirvana. Once again, it is also the setting for the TT Zero: a one-lap race around the 37.7 Snaefell mountain course for all-electrics that pushes the edge of what's possible with battery-powered bikes.
This year, history is sure to be made as the clean, quiet(er) machines finally break the ton – that is to say, exceed an average lap speed of 100 miles per hour. Besides a place in history, the fastest team will also claim a check for £10,000 (U.S. $15,660 at today's rates).
Last year, Michael Rutter was, effectively, unchallenged when he just missed the mark for Team Segway MotoCzysz with an achingly-close 99.64 mph. This time around, as many as 18 riders could be vying for glory. We've got a preview of who's coming to party.
Our favorite to win it is, of course, Team Segway MotoCzysz. Once again Michael Czysz has spent the off-season designing and building a new pair a bikes specifically suited to the purpose of taking the top podium spot. While Czysz is typically painstaking in matching exquisite form to effective function, the 2012 version of the E1pc is said to be somewhat compromised visually with the implementation of wheel fairings and other drag-reducing elements. Though it's difficult to imagine the overall effect with only a few teaser shots to go by, Czysz is confident that the bikes he hands over to riders Mark Miller and Michael Rutter are up to the task, and make up aerodynamically what they lack aesthetically.
The big news for 2012 is the entry of the Mugen Shinden, which is thought to be something of a proxy entry by Honda. With seventeen-time TT race winner John McGuinness in the saddle and the tech savvy of Mugen incorporated into the bike, the team is seen by many as a serious threat. A win for this team on its first trip out would definitely send a signal to the many boutique builders that it's time to get real or go home.
Speaking of big-time manufacturers, another entry that could be seen as an OEM proxy entry comes from Bournemouth Kawasaki Racing in partnership with Zytek Automotive. With help and blessings from Kawasaki Motors UK, this effort has taken a Ninja ZX-10R and installed the same 100-kW (134-horsepower), oil-cooled, permanent magnet KERS motor setup used in some Le Mans and Formula 1 race cars.
They've also decided to keep the Kawasaki transmission and clutch system. This should prove an interesting test for the ongoing gears versus voltage discussion – it is argued that gearing is not needed in a high performance electric vehicle given enough voltage. In contrast to much of the competition, the bike is also going to try to do more with less energy storage, opting for an 11.8-kWh battery pack, about 2 kWh short of the capacity of some of the others. James Hillier will pilot the machine.
Lightning Motors, another strong entry from the U.S., is also back again. Defeated last year by red tape courtesy of customs, along with a few gremlins, the 2012 machine has been much improved over the winter and has already competed in the first TTXGP race of the season. When John Burrows takes the saddle, he's going to experience a ride quite different than in 2011. Team principal Richard Hatfield enigmatically tells us they've also made a "series of changes" specifically for the Isle of Man, and we hope to see great things from the world's fastest electric motorcycle.
The Ion Horse from Kingston University and Ecotricity made third place a year ago and has returned in an attempt to improve on that. It will receive competition from both the other teams and from inside its own stable, though. The undergraduates in the racing program have built an impressive new steed to challenge the field that could prove very fast indeed. Like the original, it also sports an axial flux motor from YASA within its custom frame but this one is more powerful, making a peak 150 kW (201.2 horsepower) and 400 Nm (295 pound-feet) of torque. (You can get more information on its build at El Moto.net thread here.) Riders George Spence and Paul Owen will be holding the reins for Team Ecotricity.
Yoshinari Matsushita crossed the finish line aboard the Team Prozza entry in 2011. This year, he's representing for Komatti Mirai Racing – a collaborative effort with the University of Brunel – aboard a new bike based on a Triumph Daytona. We don't know a lot about this machine except that it appears to be powered by Agni Motors and makes extensive use of carbon fiber.
The University of Brunel also has a Triumph Daytona-based bike as a separate entry that will be piloted by Russ Mountford.
Team Agni is said to be coming to the Isle of Man with no fewer than three entries this year. Information is scarce on these bikes, though it's reported that its TTXGP UK winner Jenny Tinmouth will be piloting one of the machines. She's a formidable rider and the fastest women around the mountain course. We can only hope the team has a set of wheels equal to her abilities.
Another machine with a multiple gears comes courtesy of Team Vercar Moto of Italy. This carbon fiber clad bike packs a clutch-less 6-speed Power Shift transmission to help the 75-kW (100-hp) motor keep up. The arrangement is said to bring the bike up to its top speed of 250 km/h (155.3 mph) in 38 seconds. Whether that's quick enough to keep the converted Yamaha R6 in contention remains to be seen.
Tork India participated in the very first electric motorcycle race on the Isle of Man in 2009 when it was held under the auspices of the TTXGP and later ran in that organization's road racing series. It has, however, been on something of a hiatus this past season. Now, it has teamed up with a battery manufacturer to form Team Tork Haiyin and is coming back to the mountain course with a new bike sporting the new Agni 111 RDR motor. Though unproven on the track, the powerplant should put out about 50 kW (67 hp) and is said to be able to handle abuse better than the 95R model found in some of its competitors. We will see how it holds up when Antonio Maeso twists the throttle.
Other entries include the return of 2009 winner Rob Barbour. This time he'll be riding for TGM IOT, a team from an Austrian technical school that also had a bike in that first race. Another repeater is Dan Kneen, who will once again grip the bars for the homegrown ManTTx team, while Roy Richardson returns to ride for Imperial College.
The title of mystery team for 2012 goes out to Saroléa from Belgium. We can only speculate that this historic brand – it was last heard from in 1963, though its origins date back to a weapons factory in 1850 – is considering an electric revival. It is depending on rider Paul Shoesmith to help put them on the map.
More details should become available as teams hit the road during this practice and qualifying week and begin to show their cards. The big show is currently scheduled to take place Wednesday, June 6 at 10.45 AM BST, though depending on the weather, that could change. While we hope to see records broken and amazing performances from machines and riders, what we wish for most is a crash-free contest and the safe return of all involved. Good luck and Godspeed.