Excitement hotting up down under!
19th April 2011
James Buckfield catches up with Jon Eggenhizen, team boss of Catavolt, on his technology, race ambitions and the all new TTXGP Australia Championship 2011 in conjunction with eFXC and the Australian FX Superbike Championship.
What a difference a couple of years make. Ever since TTGXP exploded into life in 2009, the level of interest and participation in electric motorcycle racing has not abated. And it shows no sign of doing so. Successful campaigns in the US, Europe and the UK have paved the way for the Aussies to show their hand. TTXGP Australia is go in 2011!
First to enter the arena from Down Under is team Catavolt. The Newcastle, New South Wales-based team led by Jon Eggenhuizen, a member of the committee of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, currently hold the Australian land speed record for an electric motorcycle at over 110mph. Though they still have their sights firmly set on topping the magic 200mph mark, Catavolt has been itching to get involved in TTXGP since its inception to show they have what it takes in the corners as well as in a straight line.
The mission to break the world land speed record for electric bikes shows the team's ambition and they are already causing a stir by entering a machine with never-before-seen technology in TTXGP. Catavolt will be running a hub motor, developed by its American-based sponsor EnerTrac, which has a list of firsts on its CV: first racing hub motor, first active force air cooled hub motor and the first hub motor to use a through-bolt mounting system for direct axle compatibility. The technology basically uses fewer components compared to the motors that are widely used and will allow rider Jason Morris to push the Catavolt machine closer to the limit.
"The EnerTrac hub motor is a three-phase motor with no brushes to wear or overheat as with many of the current DC motors being used. The added advantage is that the winding is stationary and the magnet spins so there are no centrifugal forces on the winding. Since the winding is not spinning it is easier to cool," said Eggenhuizen.
"EnerTrac developed a unique axle design that is large enough to allow cooling tube to enter the motor: this is a first for in-wheel technology. Heat is the killer of any motor that is pushed to its maximum performance level and to be able to force air into the motor combined with a stationary winding is a huge advantage in keeping the motor as light and powerful as possible. In the future you will see EnerTrac motors with liquid cooling also."
The upshot is a fundamental increase in efficiency, "the main reason we chose to use this technology" according to Eggenhuizen. There are numerous problems with using traditional, large electric motors such as having to position the batteries higher up, when they need to be as low as possible, and heating issues. This results in designers having to make a number of compromises such as water-cooling but for Eggenhuizen, less is most certainly more in performance terms.
"My attitude that removing the motor, the heat source, in the first place makes the overall design simpler and more reliable. Also, by removing all the rotating components such as the chain and sprockets, the design is further simplified. Chains are incredibly efficient as long as they are new but as soon as a chain gets dirty you could lose up to 10% of the system's efficiency. Most race bikes have a new chain fitted every race - it's wasteful, expensive and not very green to be throwing out a chain every time. There is no reason to maintain a chain, it's a legacy component."
Eggenhuizen has another gun to wield out that should have his competitors wiping the sweat from their brows yet he is not underestimating his opposite numbers until the talking is done out on the tarmac.
"The EnerTrac hub motor and Kelly controller is set up so we can run at full power for a whole race. But we do have some smart cookies here in Australia and New Zealand tinkering in their sheds so you can't be too sure until you get to the track."
Catavolt have seemingly left no stone unturned in finding the optimum solution for the key aspects of the bike. One area in which the team has invested much effort in terms of research is battery management.
"One of the critical issues in high performance electric vehicles is battery management. Optimising the charging and controlling the discharging so that batteries remain within set parameters is critical for both safety and the protection of the expensive battery packs."
Catavolt is utilising an advanced cell level battery management system developed by Australian start-up company Batrium Technologies. The system provides voltage and current over-charge and over-discharge protection in addition to battery temperature monitoring and logging, which ensures the safety of the batteries and provides logs of electrical performance. By maximising the charge power, charging times are reduced and ensuring that all batteries remain within predefined temperature parameters delivers maximum performance and longer battery life.
A further collaboration, this time with Applied Measurements, means Catavolt will also have the advantage of the Video Vbox 2 camera system which logs valuable data such as rpm, current draw, speed, lap time, track position, g-force, braking and throttle position. There are also two bullet-style video cameras with a custom-designed graphic overlay recorded in DVD quality. The system will enable the team to analyse this data after each race to better configure the bike for each track and Catavolt hopes to give this on-board footage to the media.
The only chink in the armour of a bike that is very technologically advanced is the limited amount of testing Eggenhuizen and his team have been able to do. With just low speed running and work on their dynamometer under their belt so far, Catavolt are grateful for the test at Wakefield Park Raceway over the weekend of 29 April-1 May before the start of the season.
Nevertheless, there is an air of quiet confidence exhuming from Eggenhuizen, who has been working on electric motors for over a decade, and he hopes the team's overall experience and the quality of their rider in Jason Morris will stand them in good stead for the coming season.
"I have been building and riding electric motorcycles for over 10 years now so I hope to bring that experience to the track. Also, Jason is no stranger to the podium on the Australian race circuits and holding the lap record on one of those is no bad thing. Knowing the tracks will allow Jason to focus on developing his electric riding style with the new bike. We always have something up our sleeve if needed and I have a reputation of pushing things to their limits."
TTXGP Australia 2011 gets underway the weekend of 1-3 July at Eastern Creek Raceway followed by Winton Raceway on 2-4 September before wrapping up at Wakefield Park on 8-9 October.