Hollywood Electrics Racing had an incredibly eventful weekend at Willow Springs for AHRMA eMotoRacing’s first West Coast races of 2016. Gene Sigal piloted the Hollywood Electrics customized Zero SR and Bobby Loo rode his Hollywood Electrics Zero FX Supermoto. Other racers that participated were Pete Nicolosi, Bob Berbeco, and Murray Haynes, all riding Brammo Empulse R Electric Motorcycles. As a team Hollywood Electrics Racing braved some ups and downs, but ultimately learned a lot and returned from the track victorious.
Friday, was a practice day that allowed our racers to become better accustomed to their machines and the track. Although this was neither racer’s first lap on “Big Willow,” this was their first time spinning the wheels aboard these particular bikes on this track. Bobby Loo had many hours on various tracks in the SoCal region and decided that this would be the weekend he finally got his racing license, thus he spent most of Friday in racing school. Although Gene Sigal has decades of racing experience, both in cars and on motorcycles, this would mark his debut race on an Electric Motorcycle. The wind was our biggest adversary on Friday. Due to these adverse conditions we were unable to meet our laptime goals and left the track hoping for better circumstances the following day.
The next morning we arrived to the track, set up our pit, but decided to skip the morning practice session to let the bikes charge and stay cool for the race. Racing began with the Le Mans start of the blisteringly fast CB160s. This race was followed closely by the sidecar race which is always fun to watch, because who doesn’t like seeing monkeys hanging off of motorcycles? Plenty of other exciting races led up to number 6, the race in which the Electric Motorcyclists competed. Our racers started their attack in the second wave, and as we watched them take off Pete quickly took the lead followed by Bob, Murray, Bobby, but it immediately became clear that something was amiss with Gene’s bike as he slowly launched off the line. As the race progressed Pete maintained his solid lead while Gene floundered in the back. After several increasingly slower laps he pulled off the track at the top of the omega and then as the coast cleared made one last round before retiring early from the race. As Gene pushed his way back to the pits with a total loss of power our minds raced as to what may have caused this catastrophic failure. After downloading the bike’s logs we quickly packed up the van and began our diagnosis as we headed back to Hollywood Electrics headquarters in West Hollywood. All the while we steeled ourselves mentally for the potentially time-consuming repairs that we may have had to do for the following day’s race. By the time we arrived at HQ we were pretty confident that our race map was literally too hot and had cooked the magnets in our motor. We rushed to unload the bike, get it on the lift, and begin repairs. As Bobby worked to remove the motor from the bike, I scrambled to locate replacement parts to rebuild it. Although the parts I had on hand were not as good as the originals, they sufficed to get the bike race worthy for the following day.
Sunday morning dawned with Hollywood Electrics Racing primed to seek its redemption. This time, rather than skip the morning’s practice we took the bikes out to confirm their readiness, then returned to the pits to charge them, and awaited our impending final race of the weekend. The weather turned optimal in the afternoon, the racers readied themselves at the starting line. Would our repairs hold? Would they serve as competition for the other riders? With insufficient testing time, we could not answer these questions with certainty. As spectators, yet ones with skin, blood, and sweat in the game, we waited with bated breath. The warm up lap commenced. The racers felt out the track. They returned to the starting line with hot tires and we held our breaths before the green flag dropped. The first wave of ICE racers roared into turn one. Seconds later wave two, the electric racers twisted their throttles and Gene Sigal on the Zero SR took the hole shot to the front of the pack with instant acceleration while Pete and Bobby struggled to pass an ICE rider who had stalled his bike in front of them. Gene confidently maintained and extended his lead throughout the rest of the race to win it. Despite Pete’s brave efforts to close the distance, Gene’s riding and the Zero’s performance carried the day. Sunday ended with Gene taking first, Pete second, and Bob third on the podium.
Racing Motorcycles is never about taking the easy route or playing within the established parameters of your machine’s capabilities. It is about pushing the boundaries of what is possible, stressing both humans and technology to their maximum potential and sometimes finding out what lies beyond. Although we may not have appreciated it at the time, in retrospect Saturday’s race was ultimately a surmountable learning experience. We now look forward to another competitive day of racing Electric Motorcycles on Thursday through Friday (April 28-29) at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Hopefully it will not be such a dramatic learning experience.