2023 Edmonton Motorcycle Roadracing Association (EMRA) Round 1 & 2 Race Report …and the journey to get here. By: Steven O'Brien
Wow, what a crazy race round. Nothing worth doing is easy. But succeeding through adversity makes success so much sweeter. Racing motorcycles is awesome!
For me this weekend really started on July 21, 2021 when I emailed Brian Wismann about his @lightfighterracing motorcycle and asked if he would sell me one. He responded the next day saying that I would be his second customer; but cautioned me that the bike is very much a prototype.
Fast forward to October 2022, and I was in California to pick up the bike, and race it at the world famous Weathertech Raceway, Laguna Seca. Unfortunately, my brand new electric bike wasn't quite ready as Brian and his partner Ely were still troubleshooting a stubborn electrical issue. I was able to ride the bike for a one-day test at Thunderhill on the way back home, but I ultimately returned to Canada disappointed without an electric bike to show off.
In March 2023 I returned to California to try again, this time to race at Buttonwillow. The bike was working great on Friday practice, and all-day Saturday for qualifying. I even got to do my very first race on it late Saturday afternoon in the AFM Formula 40 race. Technically I was 1 day shy of my 40th birthday, but don't tell American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) that.
While the bike was working great, there was a lingering signal problem that would cause the dash to lose the voltage signal. Brian and Nick Lambert took my bike apart Saturday night trying to track it down and eventually found a short in one of the main wires supplying motor voltage. Unfortunately, the 2am reassembly left the bike with a new issue.
AFM ended up cancelling races on Sunday because of the weather and track conditions, and so we spent all morning continuing to troubleshoot the bike. Finally finding the problem (a hastily assembled motor cover plate causing misalignment with the resolver) we reassembled the bike, and we all packed up to head home. I was very relieved as I spent all night Saturday thinking I was going home empty handed for a second trip to California.
The trip south, and a little bit of racing had really whet my appetite for the 2023 season with the EMRA. I was super excited to ride my fancy new electric motorcycle and make history as the first to race electric in my local club. I booked a half day track day with Motorheads Track Attacks at Stratotech Park to try out the bike for the first time on Canadian soil, and make sure it was working. Thank goodness that I did...
The bike couldn't handle anything past about 30% throttle without the power cutting out and having to restart the bike. Brian had a good theory about the cause of the issue, but I didn't have all my tools at the track, so I had to wait to get the bike home to try and fix it.
I booked 2 more track days a week before EMRA
Round 1 and 2 double header, this time at RAD Torque Raceway. Saturday morning as I was putting on my leathers, very excited to ride the bike, when I was informed by a Motorheads representative that electric vehicles were not permitted on track. This was a punch to the gut that I was not prepared for; suddenly I felt like all my effort to get this bike was a waste of time and money, as I wouldn't be able to compete in half of the EMRA events each season. Fortunately, Motorheads reached out to the track owner and after a chance to show him the bike and have a conversation about it, I was given permission to ride. That afternoon the bike was working great, and I was learning how to ride it on a track I was familiar with.
Sunday was a different story; as the same issue was back and again, the bike could not accelerate. Disappointing as this was, it was a problem I could do something about.
Another round of troubleshooting back home in the garage, and I thought I had the problem solved. I was incredibly excited to race my new bike. Unfortunately, Friday morning would prove to be another low point as the same problem persisted. I was unable to ride the bike Friday and qualify, and it seemed unlikely that I would be able to race it this weekend. I made the most of the day qualifying on my FZ07 and putting in lap times close to my personal best. Brian and Nick were both available to offer suggestions to try and fix the problem. After a sad Friday evening exchanging messages, I came up with a plan to try something Saturday morning to fix the problem.
I arrived at the track early Saturday morning to work on the bike before rider's meeting and the warmup session. My planned fix didn't work, but as I was working on the bike, I tried something else, and discovered the problem that had been jamming me up ever since getting the bike back to Canada. The motor position sensor was rotating relative to the motor casing; effectively this was like a timing belt skipping a tooth, and everything was firing out of order. I secured the position sensor so that it could not rotate, and then recalibrated the offset with Brian's help, and all of a sudden I was off to the races!
Saturday was a couple of races where I gridded myself at the very back of the grid for fear that the bike would cut out again mid-race, and someone would drive into me as I stalled. But the bike was working great, and despite not having time to fully charge the battery for each race, forcing me to baby the throttle, I was still putting down lap times just as fast as on my FZ07 I have been riding for the last 3 seasons. I was ecstatic! The bike was working, and I was riding just as fast as ever on this new bike. I couldn't wait for Sunday to get it into a race with a full charge.
And Sunday proved to be everything I could have hoped for, and then some. In my first race of the day (Senior Open), 4 out of 5 laps were faster than my personal best set the day before on the FZ07 (and the 5th lap was faster than my PB from last season)! The second race on the Lightfighter was Formula 112, where I definitely surprised some other racers who hadn't noticed I wasn't riding the FZ07; in their defense, both bikes are bright pink from tip to tail. I latched on to John Ryan's rear tire, and he towed me to a new personal best 2 seconds faster than I had just set earlier that day.
My third race on the Lightfighter was Intermediate SBK, a 10 lap race. Brian Wismann was again available to support me, and he had a look at the data from my previous races and confirmed that I should be able to make full race distance, as long as I skipped the warmup lap. I had been looking forward to battling with Kirk all day in this race, but he was feeling the effects of the heat over the course of the weekend and decided to crack a beer instead. So it was a lonely race, but I still put in some good laps, just a little slower than the morning. I ended up getting lapped by the race leader right at the finish line, so I only did 9 laps, but the bike definitely had enough charge left for at least 1 more.
It was a really great weekend; I was smiling from ear to ear all day Sunday, and absolutely reveling in all the comments and questions from other racers about the bike.
Thank you to all the volunteers who make racing possible, including the executive team who dedicate too much of their time making these weekends happen for the club. I know how much work you do, and how little of it most club members see; so, I really appreciate all of you.
And thank you to Brian and Nick for all the help troubleshooting the bike. I couldn't have made this happen without your support, and I really appreciate it.
Editor's note: It took me a bit to get this posted, and Steven's just wrapped up another race weekend with even better results and (spoiler alert) his first race win! Look for that race report in a fast follow to this one...