MotoE World Cup: How a new 'silent' motorbike series has risen from the ashes
"It is the sound of silence - a sound of a new era."
Imagine what it would be like riding a motorcycle that is nearly completely silent. The roar of a super-charged engine replaced with a whirring - like a washing machine on high spin.
For MotoGP rider Bradley Smith this is now his reality as he prepares to compete in the MotoE World Cup.
The new event is part of the MotoGP series and is the equivalent of Formula E, as it features electric motorcycles powered by renewable energy.
Bike fans will have to be content with a new 'silent' alternative. MotoE machines have no engine, no gearbox and are charged by batteries.
"I can hear my knee slider touch the ground and I can hear my bike vibrate as it goes over the kerbs, and all of that is really strange," says Smith, who will be racing for the One Energy Racing team.
"For me, it's like something out of Star Wars - they're not completely quiet, the bike still has character."
The opening race gets under way on 7 July at the Sachsenring in Germany, but there were doubts the championship would ever go ahead this year after a fire at a test session in March destroyed every single bike.
MotoE rises from the ashes - what happened?
The March fire engulfed the newly built 'E-paddock'. No-one was injured and an investigation is still ongoing. However, MotoGP bosses confirmed that a short circuit in one of their charging units appeared to be responsible.
The inaugural MotoE race was set to be held in Jerez on 5 May. British rider Smith, 28, was not sure if the class would go ahead in 2019.
"I was heartbroken - all the hard work, bikes, parts, all goes up in flames. It put a big downer on everything. It was worrying times, but a week after everyone was committed and got the show on the road. We don't lose out on any races and they jiggled the championship around," says Smith.
MotoE executive director Nicolas Goubert was confident that the motorcycle supplier Energica could get new motorcycles, parts and tyres in a short time frame. And this is exactly what happened, with the organisers even managing to retain all six scheduled races.
He says: "I was very confident because the day after the fire - which happened in the middle of the night - the next morning, when I met everyone from Energica, all the mechanics were all very motivated saying they would work night and day if needed to come up with a solution.
"And on that day they contacted the key suppliers to confirm their commitment to the series. And very quickly we were confident it was possible - I am not saying it has been easy though."
Before the fire, the riders had three days of testing in November and a one-day test in March.
"We are heading into the unknown," says Smith. "I think that's one thing that is going to make the championship quite tricky in many ways. I think whoever turns up and is instantly fast is key - that will be the secret in winning this championship.
Who else is on the grid?
Eighteen riders are taking part, all competing on the same Energica electric motorcycles, including two-time MotoGP runner-up Sete Gibernau. The 46-year-old has come out of retirement to compete in MotoE as he wanted to be part of this historic project.
"I started thinking about how I have been riding two stroke, four stroke and now electric bikes and that would mean I would have ridden all types of motorcycle - it's a new adventure for me," says Gibernau, who will be riding for the Pons Racing team.
Gibernau is more commonly known for his rivalry with nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi, most famously clashing in Qatar in 2004, and a year later in Jerez when the pair came together at the final corner.
Now though, he is trying to adjust to competing on a motorbike that sounds like nothing he has ridden before.
He says: "A lot of the sensations are not there anymore and you need to look inside of yourself to judge what is happening. The silence is now your companion, you need to understand that. It is the sound of silence - a sound of a new era."
Gibernau is not the only former MotoGP star embracing electric motorcycles. He will also be competing against Randy de Puniet and Alex de Angelis. There is one female competitor too - Moto3 rider Maria Herrera.
How long could this last?
The race itself will consist of seven to nine laps, depending on the circuit. During the race weekend, the Friday will feature two free practice sessions. Then, qualifying follows a day later with pole position determined by a single lap, with a 15-minute race on Sunday.
Even before the start of the opening race, the future is looking bright for MotoE.
"We have a three-year contract with all the partners like Energica with the same 'one-make' bike and what we will try to do is expand some of the races," says MotoE executive director Nicolas Goubert.
Even veteran racer Gibernau believes MotoE could be the start of a new era for motorcycle racing.
He says: "It is completely different - the whole industry is going to change. We don't even know how big it's going to be. We are encountering a new era and we do not know what to expect."
MotoE bikes - the quick facts
- The MotoE motorcycles are fully electric and zero-emission.
- The top speed is 155mph compared to 220mph for a MotoGP machine.
- A MotoE bike can go 0-60mph in three seconds.
- There is no gearbox or clutch.
- MotoE motorcycles weigh nearly 60% more than MotoGP machines.
- They take no more than an hour to charge, and for every hour there is 20 miles of maximum performance from that battery.
- Race one: 5-7 July - Sachsenring, Germany
- Race two: 9-11 August - Red Bull Ring, Austria
- Races three and four: 13-15 September - Misano, Italy
- Races five and six: 15-17 November 15 - Valencia, Spain