Valencia played host to the final races of a truncated MotoE World Cup this month, with two battles worthy of the drama that has characterized the series’ debut season both on and off the track.
MotoE’s literal rise from the ashes was the talk of motor racing in July, when riders finally assembled on the grid at Germany’s Sachsenring for the debut race.
After a fire had ripped through the paddock, destroying the entire fleet of bikes, the fact that they were racing at all was worthy of note.
From fire to fireworks
It was perhaps fitting that the season should end in a city famed for its pyrotechnics. The Cup was shortened to six races at four venues, and the final double header in Valencia was a good measure of the progress MotoE has made in its short life on track.
The city’s spectator-friendly Ricardo Tormo circuit offers panoramic views and over two seven lap races around its compact curves the electric bikes delivered a pair of breathless spectacles, both coming down to the final corners of their respective final lap.
Chilly temperatures were less than ideal for fans and riders alike, but plenty from the 99,212 crowd stuck around for the day’s final race. In the end, Italy’s Matteo Ferrari clinched the inaugural title, with Briton Bradley Smith taking second.
“We have achieved our main goal,” Nicolas Goubert, MotoE Executive Director told CNN. “Which was to show that it was as entertaining to watch an electric bike race as to watch a petrol engine bike one. We had races with a lot of overtaking, uncertainty, up to the last lap.
“The first positive sign came from the MotoGP riders, right after the first race,” Goubert continued. “Before going to the podium both Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales stopped to congratulate [Dorna CEO] Carmelo Ezpeleta on the MotoE race.
“We had a lot of positive comments from the paddock guys as well — and these guys know what they are talking about.”
Maria Herrera, a veteran of the petrol Moto3 class as well as the only female rider on the MotoE grid, was surprised by the speed of the bikes.
“MotoE has only had one season of competition, so it’s amazing that the bike can achieve lap times that are so close to a Moto3 bike and sometimes faster,” she told CNN.
No room for mistakes
Hector Garzo, who was relegated to fourth in the title race after a disqualification in the penultimate race, noted the frenetic nature of the contests.
“The main thing I learned this year is that you can’t make any mistakes. You have to always be at the top and make really fast decisions in really short races,” he told reporters in Valencia. “To learn how to manage a race with just a few laps is the most difficult thing.”
Herrera told CNN that sitting on the MotoE grid is a nerve-jangling experience.
“It’s a different mentality, not too much sound, no clutch, no gears. You can feel your heart on the starting grid before the traffic light switches off and this is new, you have to manage your nerves and adrenaline.”
One key issue for the race bikes is weight, according to Herrera.
“It has been a big challenge to ride fast with this bike because for me it’s heavy with my small arms,” she told CNN. “The most important thing in the bike is the weight, so if they can take some of the battery weight off, it would be better for our riding style.”
For the third race weekend, in Misano, Herrera’s team was able to adjust the handlebars of her bike, moving them closer to her.
“I couldn’t ride with the handlebars far from me,” she told CNN. “After I changed it, we improved so much my riding style and I was battling for the podium.”
Modena-based Energica, which manufactures MotoE’s bikes, is making incremental improvements for 2020 and Goubert praised their bikes’ reliability.
“Only one rider suffered mechanical issues [during the season], but that was due to a part which been damaged in a crash the previous day and that had not been changed,” he told CNN.
“For next year the bike is going to evolve with more torque, although it has got plenty, but you know the riders! It will have new tires and we will work on the front fork damping as well.”
Another major change planned for next year, Goubert explained, will be the way the bikes are charged. This season had seen the use of generators while new hyper-efficient chargers were being developed by Enel, MotoE’s energy supplier. These will come on stream next season.
“The new chargers will use a very limited amount of green energy from Enel’s grid and each will have its own batteries,” Goubert told CNN. “We will connect solar panels to these chargers to charge the batteries.”
After the final race in Valencia, newly-crowned champion Ferrari’s delight and runner-up Smith’s clear disappointment were perhaps the greatest endorsement of the new series. The riders clearly care and after just five race weekends, MotoE seems to have already won over the paddock.
The trickier task now is to win over more traditional petrol-head motorcycle racing fans, but MotoE’s first battle looks to have been emphatically won.