Lightning Doesn't Strike at 2011 TT Zero

By Bill Moore

Posted: 14 Jun 2011

In 2010, Richard Hatfield and his Lightning Motorcycle dominated the North American TTZero circuit, quickly reconfiguring the electric superbike after coming in second in the first race held at Sonoma, California's Infineon Raceway. In 2011, he and his team hoped to seriously challenge the MotoCzysz team, which took the checkered flag at the 2010 TTZero race on the Isle of Man (and again in 2011).

But from the start fate would again hand him another series of disappointments even he booked the trip to Britain. Hatfield new Lightning superbike, which he had planned to enter in this years Isle of Man TTZero wasn't finished in time. They had to go with their backup bike. Once on the ground in Britain, the bike and battery were impounded and nearly didn't make it out of British customs. Settled safely on the Isle of Man, near-miraculous interventions at the very last minute saved team's "bacon."

Still, the fickle finger of fate continued as race day dawned. Richard included EV World in the email below describing events of the day. In a follow-up note, he explained that his decision to wire the battery pack in series would prove disastrous, writing, "I made a battlefield decision to series the cells which in retrospect was the wrong decision. The high voltage limits of the controller limited us to 3.69V per cell or only approximately 70% SOC."

The TT Zero race was scheduled for 3:45pm on Wednesday. Wednesday morning 6am came with the bike disassembled in our tent still after working for 30 hours straight. The Remy engineers left for a shower and a coffee and I caught 20 minutes sleep on the floor by the bike. We still needed new cabling and some parts machined and we had less than 10 hours before the race. Jim, one of the Marshalls that shared the home in Bradden with us dropped by and advised that we should pray for rain. It seemed like the only chance to finish the bike in time for the race, so after a quick prayer I jumped back into cabling. Thankfully the Remy engineers returned to lend their capable hands. By mid-afternoon the bike was still many hours from done and we heard the impossible. Rain falling on the roof of the tent. We seemed to catch a second wind (maybe third) and stepped up our efforts. By 2pm we were notified that we were saved by the rain, the race was postponed until Thursday. Shortly after we received notice of the race delay there was a bright flash and one of the engineers jumped backwards. A short had occurred that left two of his fingers burned requiring the track paramedics to take him to the hospital for dressings. We were tired and not strictly adhering to the rule that we always wear nitrile gloves when near a live pack.

Shortly after he returned the Remy engineers had to leave to catch their rescheduled flight out. At this point our team consisted of Shei, one of the Marshalls who also by good fortune was an electrician, and John Burrows' very capable race crew. After Shei's girlfriend made us tea and gave us time to reflect, I decided that the highest probability to finish the bike was to re-cable the bike in series (which would prove a disastrously wrong decision).
This meant disassembling the bike yet again. When I asked John Burrows if his crew could helped he told me that they still had to put motors in his petrol bikes that night. John asked how long it would take. I replied that with their help and the parts already being machined we should be able to disassemble the bike and be ready to reassemble in 30 minutes.

At this time it had taken us over 2 days non-stop to machine and fit parts and cable the bike. After a quick look of disbelief John gathered his crew and instructed them to assist with the rebuild. We covered the battery shipping container with a shipping blanket and made a make shift operating table. After removing the side frame and re-cabling the batteries we were ready for reassembly.

John looked at his watch and said "Richard you lied to us. You said this would only take half an hour and it's been 31 minutes."

With an additional 2 hours we had the fairings fitted and began charging the cells. By midnight we headed off to catch some sleep so we could return by 6AM. In the morning I continued the charge process and the John Burrows crew competed final prep and applied the race graphics. At that time our main competitor and the last years race winner Michael Czysz stuck his head in our tent and commented "Your applying the graphics you must be ready!" I continued to monitor the voltage hoping to bring the cells up as high as possible without exceeding the maximum voltage limitations of our controller. This would give us the maximum energy possible and the best opportunity to win the race.

60 minutes before the race I unplugged the charger to fire up the bike to confirm that we had not exceeded the high voltage limits. We were at 418VDC and needed to charge as close as possible to the maximum voltage we had tested the cells to. The bike would not start. Our attempt to override the 415V high voltage cutoff had failed.

The Burrows team once again jumped into action and took one of our spare Anderson charge connector and attached it to a tea pot. We plugged in the Anderson and turned on the pot and the nearly 1/2 gallon tea pot was at a rolling boil within 3 seconds. We unplugged the tea pot and refilled it with cold water. Once again after reconnecting we achieved full boil within 3 seconds then then the tea pot failed. We were still at 417VDC! The Burrows crew soldered the Anderson connector to a five plug strip and we plugged in a pair of tire warmers, a soldering iron and a second tea pot and monitored them very closely to prevent failure.

After 30 minutes of plugging and unplugging the tire warmers we were down to a "safe" 414VDC. Once again we attempted to fire up the bike and this time it started. We gathered our gear and headed for the Scrutineers and skated through tech inspection.

The two Czysz bikes started first with our bike following. John ran a smart race and paced the two Czysz bikes planning to pass them towards the end of the race if he had sufficient energy left in the batteries. John reported after the race that although he never exceeded 25% throttle he easily kept pace with the two leaders who were on track to set the first 100mph average lap by electric motorcycles at the TT. We hovered over the lap tops waiting to see the time separation between each bike as it completed the sector. Near the end of the race we saw the two leaders had passed through the segment and we waited to see the separation between our bike. 20 seconds passed and then 30 seconds turned into 40 and we still waited. Something had gone wrong. The leaders crossed the finish line and we waited still no word on John. Then the 3rd place bike , the 4th place, and the fifth place bikes crossed. Still no Johnny B. After a few more minutes we saw a group of Marshall's bike motoring slowly up the side of the course. Johnny was pushing the bike up the last hill to finish the race. After crossing the finish line he collapsed out of breath by the fence.

Although this was not the outcome that we had hoped for John's performance was heroic. We now know what needs to be done to the bikes to win the race and we have 360 days to complete them. The consolation prize was that even though the winning bike followed team orders and drafted the second place bike to maximize his battery his time was only 99.6 mph. We still have the opportunity to be the first bike to break the 100mph average mark next year. On the island we were warmly welcomed. The TT Zero was a true adventure, we are looking forward to redeeming ourselves next year.

2010 TTXGP: Virginia International Raceway

WTVR's Stacy Sacra attended the 2010 TTXGP North America's final race, held at the Virginia International Raceway and produced the following video, which helps give a sense of what electric motorcycle racing is all about.

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