This year was set to become the very first time that electric motorcycles would feature alongside the premier class of Moto GP, with the MotoE series due to kick off in May 2019.
Featuring around eleven race teams and eighteen modified Energica electric bikes, the Ego Corsa race bike featured a synchronous oil-cooled motor with permanent magnets capable of continuous power close to 120 kW and a torque of 200 Nm.
Acceleration was quoted at 0 to 60 mph in less than 2.8s and top speed up to 270km/h – (168 mph).
However, tragedy has struck the series with a fire obliterating the entire electric bike field and all their equipment.
On March 12 just after midnight at the Jerez race circuit in Spain, a fire was reported in the pits where the MotoE class teams had their equipment stored, ready for final testing. Fortunately, no-one was injured during the fire and it was contained to a specific area.
Video footage shows the containerised MotoE pit area ferociously burning and punctuated by battery pack explosions.
Of course, the first question on everyone’s lips was “did one of the bikes catch fire?”.
According to initial police reports this is not the case, although all bikes and equipment were lost.
Apparently, no bikes were on charge at the time of the incident.
According to reports, at the end of the charging process operators noticed that “fumes were coming out of one of the boxes and when they went there, a prototype charging station was catching fire so they tried to extinguish that. Unfortunately they couldn’t and the fire spread very rapidly to the entire facility, in which we had all the bikes and all the equipment for this year.”
Local media reports say that the prototype charging station included its own battery pack, presumably to allow ultra-fast recharging of the bikes without placing undue stress on the local electricity supply.
Fire authorities reported that a short circuit occurred in the charger, causing one of the batteries to combust in the same system which then quickly spread to the surrounding equipment.
The manufacturer of the charging equipment has not been disclosed.
Italian based Energica and indeed several teams were quick to respond, saying that “The damage suffered was considerable but already from the very morning of the event we took steps to allow the championship to be able to start again. For us this is an important effort but we are aware of our possibilities and we believe in the project so we will do everything to save the championship.”
Various reports are suggesting that although the championship start will be delayed, it will proceed in 2019.
The risk of thermal runaway in batteries used in high performance scenarios like this is a huge test for new technology.
Energica have highlighted that beyond the certification and testing required for automotive street use and CCS fast charging they also conducted testing with race series specialists IRTA.
They said that they conducted “several tests, both the mechanical resistance of the battery casing, and the impact resistance test with blunt weight. The results went well above our expectations and above the traditionally made tests for petrol competition tank”.
Investigations will no doubt continue into the root cause of the fire and how to avoid similar incidents in the future. Fingers crossed, this becomes a valuable lesson to everyone involved and the teams can move ahead with what is set to be a ground breaking and exciting race series.
Video of the electric bikes practicing is here.