What happens when you combine proven superbike experience with cutting-edge electric drive technology? You get a serious contender to win the Isle of Man SES TT Zero race and a possible record breaker if the stats are anything to go by.
British Superbike race team Bournemouth Kawasaki Racing has been working with electric powertrain specialists Zytek Automotive to develop an electric race bike for the highly competitive race on Wednesday 6 June, and it looks hard to beat already.
The team are using a race proven Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R chassis powered by a Zytek Permanent Magnet oil cooled KERS motor. At 100kW (134 horsepower) the design has previously been used in a Hybrid Le-Mans 24 hour racing car, and uses technology similar to the extremely successful Zytek KERS system used in the 2009 Formula 1 season.
What sets this entry apart (ignoring the use of F1 cast-offs!) is that they are using the original Kawasaki clutch and gears which will provide a wide spread of torque, giving the machine rapid acceleration from the traditional standing start race format and a geared top speed in excess of 200mph.
Zytek Project Manager Des Hill said, “I watched the TT Zero race last year from the Gooseneck corner at the start of the steep “mountain” section and, frankly, many of the entries were very slow. Using direct drive and no gearbox they simply didn’t have the torque to pull away from Ramsey Hairpin and accelerate up the mountain in same way as a conventional engined bike would. By using the Kawasaki six speed transmission we won’t have just built an electric motorcycle, but a machine with the performance nearing that of a conventional racing machine.”
It will be ridden by 25 year old James Hillier, who has British Superbike Championship experience and a short but successful TT career. Riding a conventionally powered Ninja ZX-10R saw him achieve eighth place in the 2011 Senior race and the honour of being named ‘Best Newcomer’ in 2008.
“The TT course is over 37 miles long and is reckoned to be perhaps the most demanding road racing circuit in the world,” said Hillier. “Having competed here several times I can attest to that reputation. I am really excited by the challenge of piloting the electric powered Ninja through the myriad corners and ascents that includes the famous “mountain” part of the TT circuit. As a test of contemporary and possible future two-wheeled technology there could be no better stage than this”.
Creating a battery pack that is powerful enough and also fits into the bike frame was a considerable design challenge for REAP Systems of Southampton. They used 15Ah LiFeP04 cylindrical cells in four separate packs in a battery of their own design mounted in the twin spar aluminium Ninja ZX-10R frame, totalling 11.8kWh.
The distribution of the battery packs was a real challenge according to Hill. “The shape of the Ninja ZX-10R frame is designed to curve around a conventional engine, and does not lend itself naturally to the fitment of a battery. We have ended up filling the area normally use by the tank, air-box, radiator and exhaust with four sculpted packs. In total we have 240 power cells carefully distributed around the bike.”
The motor controller is also a bespoke design and is included as part of the rider’s seat unit, while the three phase power inverter uses the very latest 10kHz microprocessor technology.
For their part, Bournemouth Kawasaki Racing provides the team with a road-racing pedigree missing from many of the other TT Zero entries, as BKR Team Manager, Peter Extance, explained: “This is not a simple “plug and play” race and there is a vast amount of transferable experience that we bring to the party that others on the grid simply won’t have. You can’t underestimate James Hillier’s circuit knowledge but that is simply the tip of the iceberg. In terms of preparation, team organisation and approach to what is certainly going to be a gruelling, hard fought race I believe that, along with Zytek and the help and support of Kawasaki Motors UK, we have a winning combination.”
Zytek Automotive Managing Director Neil Heslington shares Extance’s optimism, commenting “Our desire to highlight the technology we are developing at Zytek Automotive dovetails amazingly well with the ambitions of the Isle of Man Government and this SES TT zero race. Marry that with the hard earned experience of Bournemouth Kawasaki and I think we are justifiably confident about our chances for success.”
For Howard Dale, General Manager, Kawasaki Motors UK, the chance for the company to lend support at such a pivotal time in transport technology played a fundamental part in a decision to become involved. “It is fitting that, as a base for their machine, the team have decided on such a successful road and racing platform as the Ninja ZX-10R chassis and gearbox. Whilst this is a wholly independent effort with no link to Kawasaki in Japan, we wish both Bournemouth Kawasaki and Zytek well in their endeavours and hope that theirs is the machine that both wins the Zero emissions TT and also breaks the much anticipated 100mph average lap for the class which now appears to be tantalisingly within their grasp.”