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Electric glimpse of motorsport's future

Motorsport doesn’t get much more dangerous than the Isle of Man TT, an adrenalin-fuelled festival of speed that since its inception over 100 years ago has claimed the lives of more than 220 riders.

All the more surprising then, that in recent years the home of racing’s most unapologetically unreconstructed event has played host to a series of competitions that offer a glimpse of a wildly different future.

The island’s role in fostering the rise of electric bike racing is examined in our big story “Back on track” and it’s a phenomenon that gets right to the heart of one of the industry’s perennial questions: has motorsport lost its once critical road relevance?

It’s a thorny issue. For die-hards, road relevance is not an issue, motor racing is entertainment and the low-carbon concerns that dominate the wider automotive industry have no place on the track. But for an increasingly vocal body of engineers, enthusiasts and industry experts, motorsport will not survive unless it can drive innovation, champion low-carbon technology and reaffirm its role as a high-speed technology incubator.

Wherever you stand on this, the electric bike racing featured in our report provides a compelling glimpse of how motorsport can be simultaneously relevant and exciting. Unfettered by many of the regulations that stifle innovation in top-flight racing, the teams competing in races such as the TTZero are making big leaps in the development of electric powertrain technology that promise benefits way beyond the rarefied world of motor-racing. What’s more, these advances are rapidly closing the performance gap between electric bikes and their petrol powered forbears, proving the point that so-called green motorsport can be exciting as well as emissions-free.

For the wider world of engineering, a motorsport industry that embraces the spirit of innovation is critical

For the wider world of engineering, a motorsport industry that embraces the spirit of innovation is critical. As IEEE president Moshe Kam claims in our latest interview, visible, exciting examples of engineering in action are critical in attracting the next generation of youngsters into a career in engineering.

There’s a strong argument that motorsport is the most visible and appealing end of the profession. And a continued emphasis on the industry’s ability to address some of the wider world’s biggest problems will only enhance this appeal.

On a different note, Kam pours fresh fuel onto the debate over a protected status for engineers. Many believe that legal protection akin to that given to GPs would do much to improve the standing of the profession. But have engineers done enough to deserve this tag? According to Kam, the answer is no.

To have your say on this emotive issue vote in our online poll

Readers' comments (14)

  • 'Wooosh' is not as aurally entertaining as 'Neeowww'. The electric bikes are too quiet to capture spectators' attention. Motorcycle racing will have had its day when these machines take over.

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  • As a spectator at the first electric race round the island, I found the electric bikes have an attraction of their own, as does any pioneering technology.
    Electric racing may attract a slightly different audience, but I believe racing will still be popular. How many turn out to see the Tour de France?

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  • I'll never forget the first Moto GP I went to see. I could feel the noise of bikes reverberate through my spine long before I got inside the gates of the circuit and saw them. The noise is as much a part of the experience as anything. I certainly wouldn't waste a penny going to watch it live, I'd watch it at home with the telly on mute whilst listening to AC/DC's ace of spades.

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  • Shouldn't that be Motorhead?

  • Emission free? Really, where did they get the power for the batteries?

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  • Certainly not from burning sulphurous coal, Don!

    I was hoping someone would raise this point. I am not yet convinced that the lifecycle of an electric vehicle results in a significant reduction of emissions. High capacity batteries are produced expensively and traditional electrical power grids are not exactly models of energy efficiency.

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  • An end to noise injunctions for circuit owners and operators?

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  • @anonymous

    MotoGP is kid's stuff compared to TT - ask Lorenzo.

    For listening pleasure I might stick with AC/DC's Highway to Hell or Motorhead's Ace of Spades..

    Your pedantically


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  • @James

    Same difference, I know what I meant I'm to young to remember either being released. TT may be the "real" mans race, I've been to see that to, but TT racers do sound like electric bikes compared to the Moto GP bikes, like comparing the sound of a touring car to an F1 car.

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  • The whole point of electric power is it is easier to manage 1 source of pollution (the power station) rather than manage the 33 million vehicles on UK roads today. I say its a step in the right direction. Motorsport gives us more than entertainment it is also a major driver in product development for civilian transport.

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  • We're seeing more and more about electric motorcyles, but I have also noticed a new interest in electric outboard boat motors. The electric boat has been around since 1881 and the new interest has sparked even the hobbist to experiment with electric boat motors. From the Ray Electric outboard to the guy building one made out of an angle grinder on a old lower unit with a homemade prop You Tube offers hours of intertainment.

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