True perspective only emerges with the benefit of time and hindsight. It’s been about 3 weeks since our last race round of 2022, and I think I’m finally ready to reflect on what has been an action-packed season. Special thanks to Nick Lambert for helping me pull this post together as well as anyone who makes it all the way through to the end! ;)
We headed into this final race weekend knowing it would be our 3rd trip to Laguna Seca this season, and with our 3rd different club racing organization (AFM). We had some unfinished business from our first two races - see Part I and Part II if you haven’t already. Bottom line - we needed to show what kind of speed and lap times the bike was capable of and prove to ourselves that we weren't just spinning our wheels... (figuratively)
Leading up to the race, we had a chance to participate in an Alpinestars track day at Sonoma and ran into our other favorite fast journalist, Rennie Scaysbrook, fresh off his maiden race at the Isle of Man TT. After allowing the CEO of Alpinestars to spin a few laps on the bike, we turned the bike over to Rennie for his first test since the end of 2020. Rennie’s been a bit of a skeptic historically on electric motorcycles, so hearing his excitement about the possibility of racing the bike got us trying to find a way to make it happen.
Nick was first to volunteer his personal bike, which was up in Oregon getting some upgrades by Ely Schless. There was even a chance we'd have our customer bodysets from our new friends at Hotbodies Racing by then, which would make a cool showing to finish out the season. However, a few weeks prior to the race weekend, I learned that Troy was looking tentative to race based on some back issues that popped up in his old age (I kid - he’s much younger than me). With that news, we made a call in the best interest for Troy's recovery and invited Rennie onto the “factory” bike and Nick happily took back the reins on his bike.
Side note that we were more than hoping - planning, actually - to have a 3rd Lightfighter in the pits for Canadian racer Steven O’Brien, who drove down with his FZ-07 and a bunch of racer buddies from EMRRA to race at the historic circuit. Unfortunately, we ran into some 12V DC-DC issues with his bike that we had not seen on the others that threw us for a loop and prevented us from getting him his bike in time for the round. Big bummer, but I’m so grateful for his patience as he knew we were trying our darndest to get the bike running reliably. Fast forward to the Tuesday following the event and we did get him on his bike for a test. We hadn't yet fitted all the new bodywork, and there's definitely some loose ends to tie off, but I was happy we could at least give Steven a glimpse of the performance waiting for him next season. His ear-to-ear grin after his first laps reminded me, once again, why we do this...
Ely drove the bike down to Thunderhill to meet Steven on his way back to Canada to hibernate for the winter. Luckily, he has dreams of racing his Lightfighter next season to keep him warm throughout the winter... ;)
Back to the race weekend…
Early October in Monterey means cooler weather and a solid marine layer (i.e. fog) each morning. With Laguna Seca being up in the hills, this means no racing until about 11 am, when that layer of mist clears off and the corner workers can finally see the track activity. That said it is a nice change up as the mornings evolve much more slowly compared to the normal 7 am starts, and you can ease into the day. The downside is compressed schedule for the races and a bit more stress in the afternoon to make use of the available time if you're chasing setup or issues.
For this particular weekend, AFM was holding a double race schedule, so both Saturday and Sunday would feature the full series of races, with all but the Formula Pacific race cut down to 5-6 laps. If things stayed roughly on schedule there'd be at least 2 races each day, with possibility of a 3rd if we could get the bike charged in time.
Another exciting development for this race weekend was getting Nick's Lightfighter updated with the new, custom designed bodywork we debuted on the factory bike earlier this year. With a huge thank you to Hotbodies for taking over the molds that were made by Paul Taylor, we are now in a position to offer fiberglass versions of the body work set for each new bike made. We still go to Taylormade Racing for the structural carbon fiber seat unit, however. We didn't have much time for paint or graphics, so we just threw some stickers on the optional primer grey finish from Hotbodies. AFM rules require a green numberplate background with white numbers - a rule that comes from the original TTXGP electric bikes at the Isle of Man in 2009! (AFM adopted these rules when it ran some TTXGP race events in the States in 2010-2013).
We're really loving how the lines of the new bodywork really set the bike apart without looking derivative. I really wanted a bike that looked very modern, but also had a bias towards GP style race bikes with a larger front fairing and very functional surfaces for aerodynamics. If you'd like to read up more on the backstory of this development, which goes way back to 2020, check this blog post. Special thanks to Fabien at Redster Design and Nick Gravely at Claymoto for lending their talents in turning this dream into a reality!
We always appreciate racing at Laguna Seca, for an electric motorcycle we have to rent a garage but feel we get a great value out of the rental. For one garage, we get 2x 208V 30A sockets that can support 2x Lightfighter bikes charging together, plus multiple 120V outlets for warmers, fans, and laptops/lap timers etc.
For this weekend we were fortunate to have Garage 14, placing us in the middle of the garages. It was awesome to have several fans and race spectators walk past and ask 100s of questions about the bikes, proving there's interest in seeing more electrics on the track.
Now with AFM hosting the race weekend, the schedule was to have Practice and some qualifying on Friday, and then Sat/Sun being full race days. Our goal for Friday practice was to settle back into riding at speed, getting Rennie comfortable and set up on the bike, and test some of the minor changes on Nick’s bike.
First roll out for Rennie Video: Brian Wisman
Like a duck to water, Rennie was already up to speed in no time, super eager to push the bike and find its limits to bring some electron powered competition to the middleweight class. We made a change to spring rates front and rear with the help of Bobby Loo of Motorrev Suspension Tuning, but didn't mess with the set-up much more than that as Rennie just wanted to focus on acclimating to the bike. By the 4th practice session, Rennie was topping his practice group and pushed Lightighter to the fastest lap it’s ever done at Laguna Seca with a series of laps in the 33s. He backed it up by topping the 5th and final session before we shifted our attention towards race day (and dinner!).
The official recorded time was 1:33.489, which not only makes it OUR fastest lap, but the fastest electric lap at Laguna this year, including Stefano Messa's Energica Superhooligan entry. Additionally, if we were to breakdown the GPS data recorded, map the 4 major segments on the track we see in the data using the fastest 4 combined segments in a row, Rennie had a theoretical best of 1:31.05. And while we didn't put that time in the books for real, it has provided some proof that there's more potential left in the bike if we can put it all together. For the moment, Steve Rapp's record lap on the Mission Motors R from 2011 (!) still stands...
A 1:33.489 set by Rennie is his practice group - Sector by sector showed even more pace
Photo: Brian Wisman
Rennie was using a Insta360 camera and captured his fastest laps in that practice session, the camera really helps shows the ability of the Rennie and bike, a joy to watch!
Rennie putting Lightfighter through its paces around Laguna Seca
Video: Cycle News, Rennie Scaysbrook
Rennie was to race in the similar races as Troy in the past - Formula 1, and 750 Superbike - both of which match the Lightfighter up to the fastest Middleweight spec bikes - Yamaha R6s, Kawasaki 636s, and even a KTM SuperDuke 1290. Due to how the schedule worked out, due to the new AFM double race day weekend, the first race up was Race 4. Also due double points on offer, limited practice due to compressed weekend, and rider count limits for the track - this meant gridding was done based on previous results, so new riders to AFM, such as Rennie, were placed at the very back of the grid.
But give the guy a challenge, and he was able to show the strength of the Lightfighter with a superb start, see the video below.
Rennie starting his first race for the weekend, back of the grid Video: Brian Wisman
With his mega start, Rennie was able to go from last to 6th going into Turn 2, and on the drive into Turn 3 he made it to 4th. On the drive out, unfortunately that’s where the race (and our race weekend) ended...
Here's another view of the incident, captured by a racer a few bikes back. You'll see Rennie come through on the right shortly after the video starts...
So... what happened? Well... The unfortunate mix of super high torque, fresh tire, cold track, colder winds, and sitting for about a minute on grid before the start, created the perfect conditions to send Rennie flying when he got a little aggressive with his throttle apply on the exit of Turn 3. In the data, I can clearly see our traction control system attempt to intervene, but it was a case of too little too late. The speed at which the tire lost traction was pretty surprising... there was nothing he could've done to stop it once it lost grip.
To add insult to injury, the rider he passed into Turn 3, was directly behind Rennie and had nowhere to go, unfortunately driving over Lightfighter and into Rennie as all 4 objects then tumbled into the gravel.
Rennie was clearly limping and a little dazed directly following the incident but was able to walk back on his own and start to rest/heal up. The other rider, Jessie Carter, also thankfully walked away and was able to continue his race weekend on another bike. HUGE thank you to Alpinestars and their awesome Tech-Air product line, as it clearly kept Rennie from experiencing any major injury as a result of the crash. Having seen this technology save riders from injury first-hand, the Lightfighter racers have sworn never to head out on track without a Tech-Air airbag product.
The Lightfighter architecture was able to again prove its toughness in crashes, with cosmetic damage to the bodywork, some bent handlebars and triple clamps, but all the major (read: expensive) powertrain components in fine working order. Thankfully we have the offseason to reset, rebuild, and come back even stronger with the factory bike.
Here's a nice, impromptu interview I conducted with a TT racer who came out on a holiday to race Laguna Seca for the first time. During one of those foggy mornings, he decided to come over and take a closer look at the bike:
So, the sole remaining Lightfighter was in the hands of Nick Lambert, who was signed up for Lightweight Superbike, Open Twins, and Formula 4 (equivalent to Twins cup in MotoAmerica). The big changes for Nick this weekend was refreshed body work to the newly made Hotbodies Lightfighter custom kit as well as some tweaks to his torque delivery courtesy of a dyno session, hopefully giving him a better launch and bit more top end. As a reminder, Nick's bike is running just over 100hp to stay roughly on par from a power-to-weight perspective with bikes in the class.
After the first sessions, Nick was coming back grinning ear to ear, the tweaks helped make the bike that much easier to ride and he was hitting the PBs from the previous race weekends at Laguna consistently in practice. He was one happy racer!
Nick was feeling confident heading into the races, a bit nervous and wanting to be able to stay close with his competitors throughout the entire race. He needn't have worried...
With a great launch, Nick was able to find himself out front of the pack, leading the class the entire first lap. This was a huge testament to how much Nick and program have grown over the season. He was able to finish the race with a 4th place, 0.3 secs off of the podium with a PB of 1:40.3 secs and give a good fight to the leaders throughout the race.
Next up was the Formula 4 race, which included those same Lightweight Superbikes (Triple Criples, a Kramer, RS660, Lightfighter and Zeros) plus 2-stroke machines that are even more purpose built for racing. Nick was able to get another great start, but the competitors also found more pace with the top 3 dipping into the 1'37s. Still, Nick managed to finish in 4th again and knows where he needs to focus to be in contention for podium finishes next season.
Electric bikes holding their own, Nick in the fight against Lightweight Superbike class and Formula IV competitors. Photos: Oxymoron Photography
All-in-all, a great weekend for Nick, with massive improvement over the season and able to finish having been competitive with his class. In the off-season, Nick's indicated an interest in reviewing his front suspension set-up choices in an effort to gain even more confidence and feel to allow him to pick up corner speed.
As we head into the off season it's great to reflect on how much was achieved, 2 Lightfighters actively racing, with a 3rd being delivered soon (to Canada), new body work sets completed with the help of Redster Design, Claymoto, Paul Taylor and Hotbodies Racing, plenty of race data to comb through, and lots of learning through a few crash experiences and great race battles.
A big thank you to all our family members, friends, race partners and competitors, and everyone following our project! Here’s to a Happy Holidays and the start of the 2023 season.