Electric glimpse of motorsport’s future

The Engineer

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