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PHOTO CAPTION: Richard Hatfield with driver Aaron Frank astride Lightning prototype at Bonneville Salt Flats.

Bolt of Lightning

Motorcyclist profiles Lightning Electric Motorcycles and its founder, Richard Hatfield.

Published: 09-Nov-2010

This year has been hectic for Lightning Electric Motorcycles founder Richard Hatfield. The Lightning race team, with rider Michael Barnes, just clinched the inaugural American TTXGP championship. In addition, Hatfield's team competed in the Pikes Peak hillclimb, the FIM e-Power support race during the USGP at Laguna Seca, and at press time was preparing for the BUB Speed Trials at Bonneville. His goals on the hallowed salt flats are to surpass the Lightning's previous 166-mph run, break the current 176-mph electric-bike record and, ultimately, the 200-mph barrier. Why the frantic racing schedule, chasing glory in multiple disciplines? Hatfield is very simply a man on a mission. "We're trying to push electric-motorcycle technology to parity with gas-powered motorcycles."

See also: Lightning Strikes Again

Hatfield's concisely worded objective belies the colossal effort that entails. In the late 19th century Ferdinand Porsche debuted an electric automobile, but it wasn't until the 21st century that the green movement, technical advances in batteries and the global economy conspired to finally set the stage for electric vehicles' success. Hatfield sees racing as the path to push EV development over the top, hence his efforts to showcase the technology at every opportunity.

The Lightning e-racer is powered by a three-phase AC motor rescued from a doomed General Motors EV-1. Batteries are A123s, which Hatfield described as "flawless" in their operation. He had development help along the way from professionals such as Ray Abrams at A&A Racing, who constructed the Lightning's chromoly-steel trellis frame, and RaceTech's Paul Thede, who tamed its handling. Hatfield has his own decades of experience, too, having raced such esoteric vehicles as a Wankel-engined Mazda 13B and a 320R Honda-powered Le Mans racecar running on alcohol. As Hatfield states, bluntly, "Racing is racing. It's all competition." And having a competitive machine on the grid in a "builder's class" like TTXGP is a significant part of the challenge.

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