With Honda’s electric motorcycle racing effort thinly disguised as the Mugen Shinden and getting a tremendous amount of attention, the motorcycle racing press missed the very subtle joint-entry by Zytek Automotive and Bournemouth Kawasaki Racing into the 2012 TT Zero. Already incorporating one of the most advanced technology groups in electric and hybrid automotive technology, as well as one of the top Isle of Man TT racing teams, the Kawasaki-Zytek ZX10ev race bike also benefits from another important element: the backing of Kawasaki Motors UK.
Using one of Zytek’s 100 kW (134 hp) permanent magnet oil-cooled KERS motors for its power plant, the Kawasaki-Zytek ZX10ev has the added benefit of a six-speed gearbox, which like the bike’s chassis, is a recycled component from the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R donor bike the electric racer is built from. Using the firm’s automotive racing experience to its benefit, Zytek’s motor design has previously been used on the company’s Hybrid Le-Mans 24 hour race-winning car, and uses technology similar to Zytek KERS system used in the 2009 Formula 1 Championship.
Powering the motor will be four 15Ah LiFeP04 cylindrical cell battery packs, which have been located in the ZX-10R’s fuel tank, airbox, radiator, & exhaust for a total of 11.8 kWh in energy storage. “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,” said Zytek Project Manager Des Hill. “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.”
Riding the Kawasaki-Zytek ZX10ev will be the TT’s “best newcomer” James Hillier, who finished in 8th place at last year’s Senior TT race, and has been campaigning in the British Superbike Championship on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. “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.”
The Kawasaki/Zytek entry is an interesting one for a variety of reasons, but most prominently it is because of the team’s use of a tradition ICE gearbox with its race bike design. Continuing the debate as to whether electric motorcycle drivetrains need to be mated to transmissions, and whether a six-speed close-ratio design is the best package for the application, Zytek and Kawasaki have taken things a step further by using a conventional ICE unit.
Contrast this development with the one currently underway by Brammo, who acquired SMRE’s IET six-speed gearbox for use on the company’s recently unveiled Brammo Empulse R electric street bike. Talking to Brammo’s Director of Product Development Brian Wismann at Sears Point a few weekends ago, Wismann explained that the efficiencies of a gearbox like Brammo’s IET were lost on higher-voltage machines, like the Kawasaki-Zytek ZX10ev, hence the reason the IET gearbox was not used on the 2012 Brammo Empulse RR.
Zytek’s Des Hill would seem to disagree about the choice of application though. “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, said Hill. “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.”
The team hopes the Kawasaki gearbox will allow Hillier to get a rapid launch from the TT’s standing start and slower corners, as well as being able to post 200+ mph speeds on the road course’s fastest sections, like the mile and a half long Sulby Straight.
The proof will be in the pudding as to the gearbox debate, but one thing is for certain: the involvement of Kawasaki Motors UK is not only a huge boon to the sport of electric motorcycle racing, but to the Isle of Man TT as well. With two traditional ICE OEMs now vying for position on the Mountain Course, along with up-starts MotoCzysz and Lightning Motorcycles, this year’s TT Zero should prove to be an interesting event, with a number of teams poised to takedown the 100 mph barrier, and then some.
The 2012 Isle of Man TT practice sessions start this weekend, and of course Asphalt & Rubber will be on the Isle to bring you the latest news from the TT fortnight. Stay tuned.