The Isle of Man TT and the sustainability aren’t words you would normally put in the same sentence, fire breathing 230 bhp motorbikes ridden by the world’s best riders down country roads at over 200mph on a small Island in the Irish sea: not exactly the image of energy sustainability and carbon reduction.
Innovative technology for the racetrack
But, there is a new breed of racing that has been developing under the radar, taking place during the TT fortnight that has been around since 2009, TT Zero (formally TTXGP). Electric motor bikes powered by rechargeable batteries race round the mountain course. This cutting edge and innovative electric motorsport event has been quietly gathering momentum, with an initial TT Zero lap of 37.73-mile course at 99 mph to an eye watering 121 mph average lap in just 10 years. It took the internal combustion engine motorbikes four times as long to bridge the same speed gap: from 1960 (102mph lap by the legendary John Surtees) to 2002 (124 mph by the equally legendary David Jeffries).
KAST Energy, a Stockport renewable energy company, was approached by Ryan Duffy of Duffy Motorsports (the owner of an electric race bike) during the summer of 2018 with the ambition to become the first “zero” electric motorsport team to be run from solar power. Until 2018, TT Zero racing bikes were charged from a huge diesel generator in the TT paddock. Kes Scott, Managing Director of KAST Energy, agreed with Ryan that this was completely at odds with the TT Zero ethos and not very 2019:”, Kes was determined to provide a solution in time for this years TT. Motorcycles to be powered and charged in the paddock without the use of fossil-based fuels to truly have zero emissions race.
Talking it through
Over the following months, KAST and Duffy Motorsport were involved in lengthy talks to determine the exact frustrations Ryan felt in 2018 and the TT Zero motorbike technology itself: could they really put together a mobile charging solution? The people at KAST were determined that they could.
It had to be transportable, (preferably towable) off grid, reliable and be easy to set up – a race ready package that could easily be set up in the paddock.
Before long, KAST Energy had acquired a 3-metre long ex BT box trailer which had enough room for what was needed. Kes calculated they needed a minimum of 2kW of Solar PV, 25kWh of battery storage and 2 EV points to charge both bikes for both the practise and race schedule. This was going to have to work – even in the unpredictable Isle of Man climate – all of a sudden it all became real and through the excitement it was hard to keep it quiet!
Tension was building as the trailer rolled on to the ferry at Heysham, on her way to what was hoped would be a beautiful sunny two weeks, just like the 2018 TT had been.
To say the 2019 event experienced the worst weather in the TT’s very long history would be an understatement. It was either raining, too cloudy or too windy or, more often than that, a combination of all three to practise or race! The team waited and waited anxiously in the paddock, eager to prove the concept. Despite the horrendous conditions, the equipment worked perfectly. All batteries were fully charged, and the bikes were raring to go.
Eventually, after several days, there was a break in the weather for an evening practice. The bikes were ready and waiting in Parc Ferme for the two riders to come back in from their other (petrol) motorbike practice sessions. Because of the weather being so bad, if any glimmer of sunshine arrived, the organisers would try to get all the bikes out at quickly as they could. Shaun Anderson made it back to Parc Ferme to take one of the electric bikes out for a practice lap. Mike Norbury wasn’t so lucky: his petrol motorbike had broken down half round the circuit in one of the hardest places to get back from. Another setback: they didn’t get two bikes round the course that time but one lap was better than none.
For the next four or five days it rained incessantly. For such a small island it was amazing how it could be sunny in one place and raining heavily 3 miles down the road. The team became despondent: perhaps this wasn’t going to be their year… was the TT Zero over before it had begun?
Kes and Ryan waited, hoping for a break in the weather. Going into race week the forecast didn’t look good, but it was changing all the time. Races were cancelled, postponed or shortened. The long-range forecast (4 days: that’s a long time to predict the weather on “the rock”!) suggested there could be some racing on Thursday and Friday, but nothing was certain. Sure enough, it was Wednesday night before race control confirmed the TT Zero class would be racing the following morning. Time for final tweaks to the bikes and to get them charged up.
Finally, the race
eThursday morning eventually arrived and it was race day, the bikes had been prepped to within an inch of their engineered lives and both riders were ready. Finally, the tyres were warmed up and one last-minute briefing with the riders before walking the bikes up the hill to the starting line…. the tension was building.
The TT isn’t a race, it’s a time trial with each rider setting off at 10 second intervals. Shaun and Mike set off down Bray Hill in turns. Not a lot to do now – just sit and wait – looking nervously at the timer screen that tracks the riders’ transponders at certain markers on the course. They key to racing electric bikes is knowing exactly where you are on the TT course and how much energy you have left in the batteries to get you home, not easy as the final part of the course is the challenging and battery draining mountain section.
As Shaun and Mike passed the last transponder check point it felt like age waiting for them as that part of the course is very hard on the on-board batteries. Not all the other teams’ bikes made it round the course and waiting was getting nerve wrecking.
Mike came into sight down the finish straight: he’d made it! He gave KAST a high pitched beep on the way past the team, which everybody found hilarious. Shortly afterwards, Shaun made it and crossed the finish line. They’d done it!
Judge for yourself how funny Mike’s “beep beep” was – https://vimeo.com/346092061
Delivering on a promise
A genuinely very proud moment for KAST Energy and Duffy Motorsport: I’m not sure anyone noticed but we were the happiest people in the paddock right there for that moment. It was the first time ever at the TT electric bikes had raced round the mountain course, powered by the sun (despite terrible weather) and charged in the paddock – they made history.
Watch out for KAST Energy at next year’s TT Zero.