Academics and Motorsport Teams Challenge Pikes Peak’s ‘Race to the Clouds’

An international collaboration will take on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 26 with an electric motorcycle.

The high-tech two-wheeler is the result of an alliance between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Electric Vehicle Team, Zero Motorcycles, race companies Komatti (Isle of Man) and Mirai (Japan). Engineering support comes also from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology and London’s Brunel University.

If you haven’t heard about MIT’s Electric Vehicle Team (EVT), it placed fourth in the 2011 Isle of Man TT Zero race using an electrified BMW S1000RR.

For the 100th anniversary Pikes Peak race, the EVT has made significant modifications to a Zero FXS electric suopermoto, including improved aerodynamics. Changes and improvements are still ongoing, but the race bike will use a Zero liquid cooled electric motor with the stock controller, and Zero’s 6.5 kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack.

SEE ALSO: 1,300-Horsepower Electric Racers Dominate at Pikes Peak

Filling the racing duties, in addition to assisting the engineering team with the bike’s development, is 2015 Pikes Peak Electric Modified Motorcycle winner Yoshihiro Mishicot, and founder of Mirai. Mishicot has been running preliminary tests at Palmer Motorsports Park, a road-racing track in Massachusetts.

Like all teams, MIT’s EVT has entered the race with expectations of winning the Electric Bike class. Beyond that the team will monitor the energy use of the bike and rider behavior during the race with an onboard telemetry system.

MIT Electric Vehicle Team students modify a Zero FXS electric sports bike to race at 2016 Pikes Peak.

MIT Electric Vehicle Team students modify a Zero FXS electric sports bike to race at 2016 Pikes Peak.

Lennon Rodgers, now a researcher at the MIT International Design Center, was the force behind the Isle of Man TT race, and has rekindled his influence on the team.

“The Isle of Man project showed me the impact these design-build-race projects can have on engineering students. They attract a student that is not satisfied just solving textbook problems,” Rodgers said. “The projects are so real and unforgiving that there is no room for fluff or bad engineering decisions. Through these projects, students learn to be great designers and manage risk,”

The Mountain

Popularly called “The Race to the Clouds,” the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the country’s second-oldest race, behind the Indianapolis 500. It began as a promotion in 1916 to publicize the then-new highway to the top of 14,115-foot mountain and featured popular drivers Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker.

Racers will attempt to reach 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak in the "Race to the Clouds."

Racers will attempt to reach 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak in the “Race to the Clouds.”

The race is run on a now fully paved breathtaking 12.42-mile course that begins at 9,390 feet, has 156 turns and finishes at the top.

Vehicles in different classes from fast-looking prototype vehicles, to semi tractors, motorcycles and ATVs, will precariously slide around sharp curves without the protection of guardrails.

The competition is not only a race to the top; it is also a playground for engineers to develop new technologies that at some point may be used in everyone’s car or motorcycle.

Most interestingly, electric vehicles have grabbed the spotlight, with history being made at last year’s race.

Two battery-electric powered race cars dominated the mountain, with Rhys Millen clocking a time of 9:07.222 to take the overall win in his electric Drive eO PP03 — the first ever all-electric winner of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The time also established a record for electric cars.

This year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb starts with practice sessions on Tuesday June 21, culminating with the timed runs on Sunday June 26.