In August 2023, the concept of electric motorcycles racing isn’t a new one—and that’s partly to do with the relatively young Energica Motor Company. Based in Modena, Italy, Energica made it clear from the start that it wanted to combine performance and design into an unforgettable package with its bikes.
By 2018, the company’s international profile grew as it was selected by MotoGP promoter Dorna as the one and only manufacturer to provide bikes to the entire Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) Enel MotoE World Cup, more commonly referred to as MotoE. The all-new, all-electric support series was planned to begin racing during select European stops on the MotoGP calendar during the 2019 season.
That partnership lasted through the end of the 2022 season. At the same time, like most motorcycle manufacturers, Energica was also selling its electric motorcycle lineup to everyday customers, not just race teams. Did the end of its time in MotoE mean that Energica was getting out of electric motorcycle racing? Not by a long shot.
A one-make racing series—any one-make racing series, not just an electric one—poses its own unique set of challenges. Everyone riding the same bike and receiving the same service from the manufacturer puts greater pressure on riders to show what they can do. At the same time, it’s a significant challenge for a manufacturer because they now have an entire field of bikes to tend to, not to mention reams of data to process and learn from.
In 2022, Energica was acquired by American company Ideanomics, a company focused on growing electrification across a range of vehicles. As the MotoE chapter closed, Energica opened another motorcycle racing door for 2023. This time, it would pit a single Energica Eva Ribelle against an entire field full of combustion-powered bikes in the 2023 Mission Foods Super Hooligan National Championship in the US.
The season kicked off in March 2023 at Daytona National Speedway, then continued at the Ridge, Washington in June before heading to Laguna Seca, California right after the Fourth of July holiday. After three double-header weekends, Energica racer Stefano Mesa sits in sixth place in the rider standings, out of a field of 25 riders.
The numbers are impressive on paper, sure—but if you haven’t been watching the 2023 Super Hooligan National Championship, you’re missing out on some excellent racing. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Energica’s chief technical officer Giampiero Testoni, as well as Energica Motor Company Inc. (North America) CEO Stefano Benatti about the 2023 Super Hooligans season, how the company’s racing efforts affect production bike development, and the future.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did it feel to see Stefano Mesa lead the pack at the start of Super Hooligan Race One at Laguna Seca?
Stefano Benatti: It definitely is a milestone. We are there to prove that electric is not soulless in spirit, to prove that there is a lot of passion behind it. To lead the race was like a wake-up call for everybody who attended the event. It is outstanding, and it says a lot about the full commitment that Energica has. That we make electric motorcycles.
We are fully committed to being fully electric, and it's our dream to prove exactly that electric is a full experience of motorcycle riding with no compromise against the gasoline experience we already know about.
What kinds of changes to the race bike are there, if any, as compared to the stock Eva Ribelle?
Giampiero Testoni: Mostly, we installed a kit that we used as a track kit for customers. So, it's mostly about front suspension [and] braking system, because on racetrack you need harder braking and continuous braking. So, you need consistent support of the braking system.
Then there is an ECU that gives different settings to the bike because electric is different than petrol. We have safety thresholds in the settings of the electronics that give us a little more freedom to play with on the ratio, compared to the legal bikes that have to be in a very, very strict, let's say, parameter setting, and it cannot go beyond [certain] values. And then speaking about temperatures, what are the limits, maybe limiting power due to some external heat, and so on. In that case, we have set the electronics to accept even higher values and give it a little more freedom for the user on track.
How different would you say is the experience of preparing a single machine for the Super Hooligan national championship versus running an entire fleet of bikes in the MotoE Series for several years?
Giampiero Testoni: It’s quite different, mostly because MotoE was started as, okay, you take your Ego bike, the street legal bike, you just update the brakes and we go racing. So, this was the initial request.
Then we ended up designing and modifying many of the components of the bike. After we landed from when we started to work on the bikes and when the championship started, it was a strongly modified bike. Still based on the road bike, but strongly modified. The approach was not, let's do a complete prototype, because it was not the scope of the series. But based on that, then of course when you start with we could do a little more, we could improve a little here, we could do this extra thing.
At the end we added many, many features and we work highly on doing that. And then of course during the race weekend we had to manage 18 bikes. On the grid, that is not always easy because the 18 different riders, 12 or 13 different teams all asking questions, all coming to us, all referring to us.
So, it got quite complicated. While in the Super Hooligans having one bike for the moment is a much closer environment. We have support from the company also at the races, so we send people over there to support the team.
Stefano Benatti: Consider that the Super Hooligans is a series that is designed for a street legal bike, naked bike in particular, where there is a limited selection of tooling that you can do. You need a homologated, street-legal, naked bike and then you can do some, of course, upgrades for riding on the raceway.
Maybe you change [suspension] and the braking system in order to race the bike. All the bikes on the raceway are, let's say, something that is quite familiar from the retail customers' standpoint. And this is the beauty of the series, this is why people can understand and recognize their own bike. So we are racing our street-legal bike; this is what the Super Hooligans is about.
But of course it's a bike that is coming from our road legal bike. So, we didn't have to design, modify or do anything on that bike. Just bring it to the racetrack and then of course train the rider, train the team and everyone else on how an electric bike works because it's completely different compared to internal combustion.
Before he started racing with you, had Stefano Mesa ridden an electric bike before?
Stefano Benatti: For multiple reasons, the time that Stefano had with our bike on the raceway was very limited. So, he's still learning at raceway. Race event after race event, he's getting better and better. This is normal and it's great to see the progression. There is still room for learning and [to] do better in the future. So, it's exciting.
What made Energica decide to run the Eva Ribelle against an entire field of combustion bikes that first time?
Giampiero Testoni: The first point is to demonstrate that there is an alternative that is as good as the internal combustion bikes. Since this series is strictly derived from [production] bikes, you can demonstrate that it’s a serious racing bike, [but] that it can be electric.
People always say, "Oh, it's electric, it's not good enough," and so on and so on. But then we race in a weekend where there are 30 bikes and we [finish] fourth or fifth. [Then], you understand that we left behind another 25 actual bikes, so it means the result [means] much more than [if it was only] two.
It was very, very positive result. On that side, I think that the request from Stefano and from the US counterpart was to demonstrate to the normal customer that electric can be an excellent replacement for a combustion bike.
What would you say are the biggest benefits of competing against combustion bikes?
Giampiero Testoni: It's different because, of course, the combustion engine is completely different in behavior compared to an electric motor. In the electric motor, you have immediate torque off the line. As soon as you open the throttle, it's full torque.
That is a big, big advantage for two reasons. One is that at the start, you have complete torque with no issues. The second one is that you don't need to shift gears because shifting gears is a way to use the inefficiency of the combustion engine. You have the token power only at higher revs, so you shorten [and] divide it by six using six gears. It's more time that the bike takes to reach that sweet spot in the higher RPM, while in the electric you have it from one RPM. You don't need to have gears because you can use all the torque from the very, very beginning.
I would say this is the biggest benefit. People say that you need gear shifting, you need a clutch, you need noise, you need the heat, you need the smell. But all these things are the negative parts of combustion bike.
During the last hundred years, they turned it into a positive feeling [about] motorbikes, but honestly it's all the negative things of combustion. Heat is inefficiency. Smell, it means that there is combustion, that there is some pollution. Gears [are] because there's inefficiency of the motor; you have to reach that kind of revving and so on.
Also, shifting takes time, so when starting off the line, Stefano Mesa was first [Mesa got the hole shot in Laguna Seca 2023 Super Hooligans Race Two] because he exploited the full torque. He went first, and he did almost one lap in first position. I think that is the biggest advantage.
As a counterpart, you need to learn how to ride an electric bike. Yet, the technology is not developed as fuel. We can say that the density of energy of a battery is [over] 10 times less than fuel. You see how much room we have for improvement.
We are already battling with [combustion bikes, even] with the current technology. As soon as the technology and batteries [are] much closer to the energy density of petrol, I think combustion engines [will] be old and dead.
Does Energica have plans at this point to continue racing in the Super Hooligan National Championship in 2024?
Stefano Benatti: Well, work in progress, but of course we hope to keep on doing better. And again, it's still probably a little bit early to [make] a commitment, but we are interested. We are discussing [it]. Who knows, maybe we will.
It was great this year to see the progression, and we believe that after four years of spec series, we love it. What we did was great for us, an endorsement that the product was there. It was a racing product, and it was the rightthings to do at that time for our company. Right now, what's the news for Energica? We need to prove ourselves in this environment. So yes, we would like to keep on doing [this] in the next few years, but still a little bit too early to do an official announcement.
What impact would you say that Energica's racing programs have had on its production bikes?
Giampiero Testoni: Great impact, because racing is normally when we push the limits of all the technology. All the bike and all the possibilities of how much power, torque, speed you can pull out from the bike. I would say first the four years in MotoE gave us a deep knowledge of new batteries that we were testing, about new power trains that we were testing, about how to manage our bikes, even in [a] very difficult environment with very different users always at the limit. How to handle the bike on any occasion, even during crashes, even during safety procedures and so on.
The knowledge we achieved in the last four years plus this year in the Super Hooligans is something that is comparable because we take so much data from the bikes and from every single component inside the bike.
We know how much we can push the road bikes, and how much margin we still have on the road bikes because our goal is to sell bikes. We have to sell production bikes. For example, just to give you one idea is we [planned] a two-year program [and] introduced new battery packs in 2019 in our road legal bikes. It was supposed to come in 2020, but since we did so much testing on our racing bikes with the same technology, we anticipated one year in the deployment of the new battery pack for the road legal bikes.
And we've introduced 50 percent more energy in the battery pack, making it lighter and smaller. So, it gives us a very good sprint in [terms of] development. This is just one example, but then in the software, in the motor technology [it got] even better, so we [made] many improvements during the last five years.
So, it sort of accelerates the pace at which you're able to develop?
Giampiero Testoni: Absolutely, it has. It's a huge learning curve, [it] gives you so much information in a very short period. Because during the race weekend, you have 18 test riders only for you, giving information only to you in very different situations, [with] very different ways of using the bike. So that gave us a huge amount of data.
That definitely sounds like it would be very useful for a manufacturer.
Giampiero Testoni: Yeah, and it's also difficult to interpret all this information because it's so many. Sometimes it's the rider that is taking the wrong path. You think it's the bike, but then it's the rider. It's a balance between the two, but yes, we have a huge amount of data. Very, very useful data.
Does Energica have plans at this point to compete in any other racing series?
Giampiero Testoni: For now we are happy with what Stefano and [the] US team are doing in the Super Hooligans with Tytler’s Racing. Of course, we are open to any kind of racing that can give, first of all, the message that we want to give about electrification, about our vision of electric. That [it] has to be fun, has to be sporty, has to be faster. That it can charge fast, that it gives you emotions both on track and off track in everyday use. If we find the right environment and a good organization that can support it, we are open to discussion. Right now, we are happy with proving that we can race and win against petrol engines and petrol bikes.
What do you think are the most important things for people to know about Energica as a manufacturer?
Stefano Benatti: Energica is a young company, and since day one we had a full focus on electrification, on electric mobility. This is a key advantage because we did not have a lineup of 30 gasoline bikes and then we [added] one electric. We are fully focused, with over 10 years long experience in electrification.
We learned a lot along the way because we had to build and develop parts and software, that were not available before. This is why right now, we are proud [and will] keep on doing racing because as Giampiero said, racing is the best test environment ever. We stress the bike hard, we improve our design, and it's great to do the transfer from the race to the road. So, it's perfect.
But let's be real. During these 10 years of experience in racing, we learned a lot. Right now, it's also exciting to see the application of our know-how through other verticals. With Energica Inside, our new branch of our company, we had the opportunity to apply [our] technology, the power drive, to other kinds of vehicles. I'm not talking just about motorcycles, but maybe three wheelers or four wheelers, jet skis, airplanes, tractors. It's an exciting new chapter that is possible thanks to the experience, that racing in our DNA we’ve had since day one.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about Energica or its racing program?
Giampiero Testoni: Well, let's say that first of all, as Stefano said, one of the things we are pushing strongly is Energica Inside, our new business unit. We are providing power trains and electrification for whoever wants to electrify something. The 15 years of experience in electrification we’ve had is now being applied to different sectors. We are in the marine sector, we are in the airplane sector, small airplanes or private airplanes.
We will still be producing and focusing only on motorcycles, but at the same time we will be providing the technology for other sectors. For example, for four wheelers and tractors, we are developing a battery pack for huge ones. We are developing a power train for a sport four-wheeler that [will be] racing on and off-road.
Different things are giving us a lot of satisfaction, because we are seeing that the interest is huge now in electrification. Unfortunately, there are still many companies that have zero competencies in electrification. They see in us someone that is not only producing components, but [also] has the experience of putting them together.
That is one of the most difficult things to do, having a whole view of the system. It is not easy because [someone] can buy a motor, can buy a battery, can buy a charger, [but when they] put them together, it's dead [or] it starts to have issues.
[As] you start to see, it's quite difficult. The protocol for charging, te protocol of dialogue between the charger [and] the battery, the battery management system [BMS] and so on. That is something that our experience in the last 15 years has given us. It also gave us credibility with customers. This is very important for us to bring to the market, and it's a good message that we are pushing.
Many of our customers are happy with that because of course we don't want to provide only engineering. We want to provide engineering plus the full drive train, because we believe that what we developed is a good fit for that kind of vehicle.
This is really, really important. The biggest change in the way of thinking in the evolution of automotive electrification [is that companies can make] big investments, and are able to [allocate] huge amounts of money and hire people, take their time and so on. But all the other industries don't have time to wait for the learning curve. They want to start buying something and start learning, and we are the right partner in doing this.
Makes sense. You've already put in the legwork so other people don't have to spend as much time trying and failing.
Giampiero Testoni: Exactly. Because what we have done has a learning curve, we have it already solved. So, for us now, it's normal not to do some things. If you start from scratch, you will do, fail, do, fail, do. Learn. Okay. Do, fail, learn. Okay, do, fail, learn.
The learning curve is up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down. Then, it slowly goes up. With us, it can be very, very quick. Then of course you need to settle the last 10 percent, [which] is the very difficult part. But at least we solved the 90 percent, and we can squeeze it in a very, very short timeframe compared [to] having it [take] maybe two or three years.
Maybe you say, okay, it's a project we can solve for you in eight months. Wow, eight months, yes. Why not? That's the biggest difference.