Brammo Laguna Preview

July 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm

By Steve Atlas

It’s that time again. Laguna Seca is upon us and for the third year running one of the support races is the FIM ePower/TTX Championship event.  And for the second straight year, Brammo will be taking place in the event. But whereas last year the Oregon-based electric motorcycle manufacturer fielded a single entry with yours truly at the helm, this year that number will be doubled and I now have a teammate for the first time. So who will be piloting the second Icon Brammo Empulse RR around the NorCal circuit? None other than Eric Bostrom. Yep, the former AMA Superbike race winner will make his electric motorcycle debut around the dry lakebed-based track, which is also his home circuit, having grown up not far away from the corkscrew.

Eric has now tested the Empulse RR twice and has been happy with its setup, so don’t be confused when you see two Brammos on track. As for my end of the pits, since the last installment of this blog we were able to do a single day of testing at Thunderhill in order to try and get a solid base setup going into this weekend. And despite a few hiccups in the morning, once we made a few key suspension changes we ended up going around Thunderhill faster than we ever have before, despite it being at a track-day and traffic holding us up nearly every lap.

This was very promising and with the guys from Parker-Hannifin sending us new motors for this coming weekend, now that we have the chassis setup as well as we do, we should be able to put a good deal more of the available power provided by the new powerplant to the ground. This will allow us to be quite a bit more competitive than last year, where the top three had a serious HP advantage (we finished a hard-fought fourth). All one can ask for as a rider is an even playing field and if this new Parker motor is half as good as they say this shouldn’t be a problem. And for that reason this should easily be the most competitive and closely-contested E-Power race in the event’s three-year history. So if you are planning on coming to Laguna Seca this weekend be sure to stop by the Brammo pits and say ‘Hi’! This should be one exciting and fun one!

“ReFuel” Minus the “Fuel”

July 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

By Steve Atlas

Now we’re cookin’ with gas…I mean, now we’re cookin’ without gas! Pun intended. After winning round two of the TTXGP North America Series and getting to back within 5 points of the series lead, which is held by Kenyon Kluge of K Squared Racing, things were starting to really click again on the Empulse RR. After a couple long but cool days filming with team sponsor Icon (video should be out mid-August) at Oregon Raceway Park outside Portland, I shot home for two short days and then headed back up to the Pacific Northwest.

We were headed to Laguna Seca for the ReFuel Time Trial, an event for electric-powered vehicles which is run by Speed Ventures and features several sessions practice as well as a one-lap timed event in the afternoon, the top-three of each winning an award. The event has been run for a few years now and those of you with Jedi super memory will recall we attended last year as well. What a difference a year makes!

At this point last year Team Icon Brammo came to ReFuel aiming, more or less, simply to finish. Now we came to finish first! Last year some software issues were driving the team up the walls at that point and ReFuel was used as simply one of many tests where competing was merely a hope, one which we weren’t able to finish last go-round. How different this year is! The guys at Brammo have worked so hard on this project and put in so many hours these past 365 days it’s amazing! Fast forward to 2012 and problems with the bike’s ability to run properly are a thing of the past. In fact, the bike works so well from time to time I find myself forgetting it’s a one-off prototype from and swear I’m riding a production bike from one of the big-four Japanese manufacturers. It’s that good!

This year we used the event as an opportunity to work on suspension and chassis setup, as well as dial in added motor power, allowing me to work up to speed prior to our next race there in late July, which runs in conjunction with the MotoGP boys and is one of our biggest races of the year. And while running during a GP is awesome, there are a couple downfalls, one being a lack of track time. This is why ReFuel couldn’t have come at a better time.

Three morning sessions of just under 20 minutes each gave as valuable track time, though some interesting moments kept our laps times back a bit. Because this event  caters to all kinds of electrics and anything with two wheels was classified as a motorcycle and ran in the same group as us, well, let’s just say the closing speed were quite eye-opening. With some of these “motorcycles” barely reaching 50 mph, there were times I would pass someone going upwards of 100 mph faster! This meant any of the blind crests had me holding my breath every time over them and made getting a clean lap impossible. Still, the time on track was a great benefit and by the third session I was down to a 1:40.4, faster than I ever did on the 2011 Empulse RR. So going into the time trial, which would be my only clear lap of the day, I was quite optimistic of being well into the 1:30s.

Unfortunately, the timing of the lap didn’t work out well for us and after being held in the starting area for an extended period of time my tires lost all the heat from the warmers and I was unable to get them up to temperature fast enough to push for a full lap and the best I could muster was a 1:40.2. While it was enough to win the TT event that day by a healthy margin, I was a bit disappointed that I was unable to explore the bike’s full potential. Still, the day was a huge benefit in terms of both bike setup and myself getting comfortable and up to speed on the new bike at Laguna. Now we have a test to try a few new parts at Thunderhill in a couple weeks and then it’s back to ‘Seca for the MotoGP weekend and after this past event I can’t wait! Hopefully we’ll see you there. And if you do make it out be sure to stop by and say Hi!

On the Horses Again

July 6, 2012 at 11:06 pm

By Steve Atlas

As you know by now if you have been keeping up on Team Icon Brammo’s progress that the opening TTXGP round at Infineon didn’t go too well. Some mechanical issues ended up in one of the biggest crashes of my road racing career. The end result was six fractured vertebrae in my upper back and a torn-up right pointer finger. And while it sounds bad, it could have been a lot worse. My Icon helmet did a great job preventing a concussion and my leathers and back protector kept my spine in line and allowed for quick healing without surgery. All things considered, I came away from a 90 mph high-side relatively OK. Thankfully I had six solid weeks to heal before round two at Portland International Raceway, so physically I was 90 percent back in shape. Mentally, well that was a bit of a different story.

After a big get-off, it’s always tough to keep one’s confidence up, and with six weeks of thinking about the crash and waking up in a few cold sweats, let’s just say rolling out for our first practice Friday morning was a bit nerve racking to say the least. Add to that the fact that I had never been to PIR before and that it was sprinkling rain and, well, you get the picture. To make the transition easier, we detuned the engine slightly; which proved to be a perfect way to get started.

With new geometry and fairly big suspension changes, both aimed to handle the huge gain in power the team found this off-season, I instantly felt at home for the first time all year on the 2012 Empulse RR. The Steve Atlas of last year was back, and after getting my confidence up we started turning the power up and dropping time lap after lap.

PIR features an extremely long front straight, giving us our first chance to test the new bike’s top-end. And the results were extremely impressive. Running at roughly 70 percent of our available power, the bike reached 143 mph; true GPS measured speed! Compared to a best of roughly 115 mph last season, that is a serious gain. And once we upped the power another 8 percent I was quickly knocking at the door of 150 mph lap after lap. Because the race was run in conjunction with an OMRRA club race we were practicing side by side with gas-powered bikes of all sizes and definitely turned a few heads when we passed several super sport 600s at the end of the front straight – impressive stuff!

Friday stayed mostly dry and allowed me enough time to learn the track and get my head back in the game. This proved invaluable as Saturday was almost totally washed out as typical northwestern weather dumped rain nearly all day. Fortunately, our qualifying was at the very end of the day and the weather finally broke about an hour before we got on track.  The track dried quickly.  Through a small miracle the track was mostly dry for our 20 minute session.

Pre-qualifying our best lap had been a 1:20.3, which we quickly matched and surpassed despite several wet patches on the backside of the track. We were in the low 19s during our first eight lap run. After a quick stop in the pits we headed back out, mostly as added track time for my behalf as the number of laps I did in the first run used a fair amount of battery. Even with slightly less power, as my comfort level increased the time kept dropping and we ended with a high 1:18 on our twelfth lap. Not only were we happy with the time, but it coming after so many laps boded well for the race Sunday, showing we would be strong over the full race distance.

Our time was good enough for third on the grid, just over two seconds behind the two Motoczysz bikes. And with power in reserve and my comfort level going up every lap, the outlook for the race was a good one. It looked like an epic battle with the Motoczysz boys was in store. Unfortunately the battle was over before it started as Czysz had some bike troubles which prevented them from making the grid and promoted us to pole position. While this helped us, no one ever wants to see a good competitor and friend have troubles. Hopefully Motoczysz will have the issues fixed and we can have a good race at Laguna Seca in July where we race as part of the MotoGP weekend.

Sunday brought with it much improved weather and after a good morning warm-up to scrub in tires it was time to go racing. Just after 2pm we rolled out for the warm-up lap and gridded up. Starting on pole never hurts and as the green flag flew we got away to a great start in the lead. Nine laps lay ahead and I quickly put my head down and went to work.

We had a fairly large gap in lap times over the rest of the field so the key was to put in consistent laps and collect a much needed win. With all the bad luck we had in round one, this was a nice change of pace as I clicked off consistent laps in the 1:17s, our fastest of the weekend, in route to actually lapping the entire field, some bikes twice, as we cruised to the victory! This came at a perfect time, giving us confidence rolling into one of the biggest races of the season at Laguna in July. It also put us right back in the points chase as well, so our championship title defense is nicely back on track. But we’re not about to sit back and rest either, as we know the competition will be much higher at Laguna and a podium finish there won’t come easily.

Following the race we stayed in Portland to film a new video for team sponsor, Icon, which will be coming out in mid-August, so be sure to stay tuned for that. Shooting everywhere from a wind tunnel to the racetrack with a helicopter should make for one seriously cool flick. Now were off to the Re-Fuel electric vehicle event at Laguna this Sunday. This will be a good warm-up for the race in July and should provide valuable track time to get a good baseline setting. That’s all for now, check back next week for an update after the Re-Fuel event. Maybe we’ll have a new track record to speak of…"