A Mountain of Unfinished Business Part Three

Victory Racing hits Pikes Peak International Hillclimb practice with the Empulse RR prototype electric racer and Project 156. #TeamThunder vs #TeamLightning

This past weekend the #TeamThunder and #TeamLightning duo of Victory Racing's Project 156 V-twin and Empulse RR prototype electric racer had a successful pre-event test on Pikes Peak in preparation for the upcoming 100th Anniversary Race to the Clouds. Making his first return since winning Pikes Peak in 2014, Jeremy Toye showed good speed aboard Victory Project 156 as we both sorted our equipment and got reacquainted with the 12.42-mile, 156-turn course.

Unlike race week, which kicks off next Monday with technical inspection followed by early morning practice runs Tuesday through Friday, the course this past weekend was extra raw and intimidating. Straw bales had yet to be placed along the steel Armco barrier that lines many corners and the road surface beyond Glen Cove, located at mid-distance, was particularly dirty. Making matters worse was an oil spill that ran for miles! Apparently the fluid had leaked from a piece of heavy equipment driven up the road a few days earlier. Luckily, the dark stain looked much worse than it proved. But man!

POV of deer running off the road
The Deer Hunter! A brush with wildlife slowed Canet down on a fast run. The largely silent Victory Empulse TT electric racer will need a louder siren come race week June 20-26, 2016. A 120-db horn or siren is required on all electric bikes running at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.Don Canet

Despite all that, I was grateful the top of the mountain was available for testing since last year the upper section was still covered in snow during the early June test dates.

Like the 14 other motorcycle competitors in attendance, I measuredly picked up speed with each of my four runs aboard the Empulse RR electric racer, mentally mapping out the minefield of bumps and pavement undulations scattered throughout the final 2 miles to the summit. The road surface has deteriorated each year since my rookie race here in 2014, caused by the severe winter climate at that elevation.

Don Canet Pikes Peak practice action
Riding for #TeamLightning, Canet found it warm enough during testing to shed his insulating vest. Chassis tuning and traction-control adjustment were key since it was the Victory Empulse TT racer’s first run on the mountain.Ranels Media Group

Best thing about the Victory Empulse RR at a “Race to the Clouds” like Pikes Peak? It’s completely unaffected by oxygen deprivation, and this electric racer gains an appreciable performance advantage over the gas-powered competition as we near the mountain’s 14,114-foot summit. The reality, however, is that the brutal road condition from Boulder Park to the finish impose a limit on how hard anyone dares to push. Event organizers mentioned the possibility of filling and grinding some larger woops this week. Fingers crossed.

Isle of Man TT sticker on chassis
While this was the Empulse TT's first run on this mountain, in fact the chassis and powertrain had been run at the Isle of Man TT in 2015 to a podium finish by Irish racer Lee Johnston. The bike has been reworked as a muscle standard to comply with the "handlebar rule" instituted at Pikes Peak this year.Don Canet

We tested below the treeline the second day where the course is comparatively smooth and offered decent grip—aside from crossing over paint lines. With a claimed 192 lb.-ft. torque available from a slow roll to about 80 mph (with our current gearing) the Empulse RR pulls off many of Pike’s corners with enough vigor to break its soft-compound rear Dunlop D211 GP-A Pro supersport race tire loose and clocked a peak speed in excess of 120 mph. Considering the countless trees, boulders and sheer drops lining the road, I’ve never valued traction control more. Analyzing the bike’s MoTeC data logger between runs showed a massive amount of TC intervention once I stepped up the pace. Team manager Brian Wismann and my chief mechanic Richie Tatum turned down the TC sensitivity level for my last couple runs, an adjustment that can only be performed with a laptop connected to the bike.

prepping the race bike in the early morning
Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night… Actually, rain and snow would stop runs on the mountain, but testers have to be in position well before first light. Bring a jacket!Brian Wismann

Despite the excessive TC activity, we clocked a 4 minute, 21.370 second time on my second run of the morning, with my teammate second quickest on the time sheet 3 seconds back. The following run felt even quicker until I rounded a blind curve to discover a deer in the road! I whooshed past the startled doe as she scrambled off the line, but got the message loud and clear.

Perhaps loud pipes can in fact save lives?!

Project 156 Pikes Peak practice action
Riding for #TeamThunder on Victory Project 156 is previous PPIHC winner Jeremy Toye, a highly experience all-around roadracer who gave the brutish V-twin-powered, custom-built racer a good showing with an excellent time.Ranels Media Group

The weak volume output of the warning siren fitted to my silent runner needs to be greatly increased to meet the 120 dB requirement prior to rolling the bike through tech next week. My final run was a bit slower yet as KTM 1290 Super Duke mounted Rennie Scaysbrooke posted a time of 4:20.914 to top the day.

“After our first real test on the mountain, it is painfully clear why this is one of the toughest races in the world,” remarked Wismann, this year’s team manager who is a newcomer to Pikes Peak. “The schedule, temperature fluctuations, and lack of oxygen at these elevations can really wear you down. Luckily, our riders are our most experienced members of the crew, so they knew what to expect!

snow trims the Pikes Peak race course
Snow remained on the hillsides but thankfully the full course was open for testing. Upper areas have much degraded pavement in the short three years that Canet has been racing at Pikes Peak, thanks to the extreme winters this 10,000-14,114-foot course suffer each season.Ranels Media Group

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the work accomplished on the Empulse RR and Project 156 bikes to get them ready for the official practice and qualifying that will start in a week,” continued Wismann. “Don gathered some good data on the all-electric RR to confirm final gearing, traction control, and other electronics settings. Jeremy focused on chassis changes on P156 to gain much needed feel and a better weight balance. At this point, we feel we have a good baseline to work from and both riders seem to be competitive and surprisingly close to each other on practice times.”

With a mountain of challenge ahead, I look forward to returning to Colorado next week and getting on with the task at hand.

cockpit view of Empulse TT race bike
The office: MoTeC management system monitors the Empulse TT’s power system and traction control. The electric motor’s 192 lb.-ft. of torque is available essentially zero revs, so TC was a much-needed feature on the Pikes Peak course, where grip varies widely and paint lines are crossed hundreds of times per run.Don Canet
battery details of Empulse TT race bike
How to pull the plug: With this kind of voltage and amps, it’s important to be able to isolate the battery.Don Canet