Heading into the first-ever round of the eSkootr Championship, the big question is who will come out on top? What is more important: throttle control or balance? Race craft or bravery? These are the unknowns that will only be answered following two days of thrilling racing at the challenging Printworks London street track in the heart of the capital.
Thirty riders from a diverse range of backgrounds and sporting endeavours will race wheel-to-wheel on state-of-the-art S1-Xs. These battery-operated machines are each powered by two 6kW electric motors, capable of speeds over 60mph.
Everyone is starting this championship from a fresh perspective. No one has prior experience of racing an electric scooter
While the first round of the championship on 13-14 May will herald a new journey in the world of sustainable racing, not all of the riders are derived from a typical motorsports background. Nearly half of the competitors are professional freestyle scooter riders, while other athletes come from sports as diverse as snowboarding, speed-skating, skiing and even field hockey. Then there are those who have experience of competing on two-wheels, be it motorbike racing, MotoX — or even BMX racing.
Vinit Patel, head of technical at eSC, has overseen the development of the S1-X competition escooter as well as attending all pre-season testing and development sessions. He has been able to gauge how each rider has been able to adapt their sporting prowess and athleticism when riding the S1-X.
“We’re in a unique position because everyone is starting this championship from a fresh perspective. No one has prior experience of racing an electric scooter,” says Patel. “In many ways this championship is more akin to board sports rather than a traditional motor racing competition. Riders need that extra special ability when it comes to balance, poise and control. We have a series of fast and furious heats with races completed in five minutes. It’s going to require the utmost concentration, athleticism and skill from the riders.”
The key principle of motorsport is the delicate control of the throttle. For the eSC, riders who have a background in bike racing or MotoX will be comfortable with twisting the handlebar to control the power output with their right hand. This will deliver the necessary forward momentum through the two electric motors that operate each wheel.
With courses laid out in city streets measuring between 400-600 metres, the art of accelerating, changing mapping settings, braking and piloting the ideal racing line will be second nature. It’s in these areas where the circuit-racing motorbike riders such as Indian racer Anish Shetty, aka ‘Asia’s Fittest Man’, and Spaniards Marc Luna, Sara Sanchez and Maria Bellot could have an advantage.
MotoX racers such as Dutch star Nancy van de Ven and Britain’s Chelsea Gowland have also shown proficiency in pre-season trials, but as dirt bike and Monster Jam truck driver Ami Houde admits, just being able to manage a throttle, doesn’t automatically translate to the precise control required for threading through a narrow street track.
“I came into the eSkootr Championship thinking: ‘I’ve raced MotoX and Monster Trucks my whole life: I’ve got this.’ But as I soon found out – absolutely not!’ It feels much more like MotoGP with the style of riding and precision. I come from sports where you’re just going to slam into the corner. That’s a more aggressive style of driving compared to a more clinical one in eSC.”
Being comfortable with delivering power to the wheels on the track is one thing, but where the freestyle scooter riders appear to have an advantage in pre-season tests has been body positioning and balance. The stance on the footplate and being able to shift weight has been a key factor in cornering speeds.
“I was struggling on the first test day as my stance was awkward,” says dirt bike racer Ami Houde. “I started with a separated foot stance, then I wasalternating my feet but it wasn’t working for me. So I tried to put my feet into a neutral stance, and I felt more comfortable. I then was able to progress from there.”
As part of the development of the S1-X one of the earliest decisions was on geometry and position of the handlebars. The finalised height was roughly 100cm off the ground which mirrors the freestyle stunt scooters rather than the typical electric scooter found on city streets. For these racing machines, the emphasis is on control, over comfort. But with lean angles of up to 55 degrees and rapid changes of direction, athletes have needed to work on their core muscles to be able to sustain so many heats in one day. The riders have been collectively working with ex-Formula 1 Performance Director Martin Poole to help with fitness.
“For the guys who do a lot of motorbike racing, all of their weight is sat on the saddle, so they don’t need to control much with their lower legs,” says snowboard Olympian Billy Morgan. “The MotoX guys stand up a little more, but with board sports it’s all done through your core, lower body and hips. And that really translates into scooter racing by being able to shift the weight a lot, rather than just leaning on your upper body.”
As an acrobat as a child, Morgan is one rider to look out for. His riding style in pre-season has caught the attention of onlookers, as he’s adopted a unique poise, sticking his leg out over the inside of the apex of the corner, which his rivals have dubbed his ‘stanky’ leg.
Morgan comes from a background of extreme sports and other riders such as Swiss racers Jamiel Guerchadi and Matis Neyroud are also self-confessed adrenaline junkies. Guerchadi cliff jumps in his spare time and has even performed a triple backflip off a bridge. In practicing tricks, the freestyle scooter athletes are comfortable with falling off their scooters – they are fearless, despite the threat of serious injury.
“I broke my ACL, some ribs, my fibular and also damaged cartilage in the knee, too,” says French rider Alexis Letellier. “I’ve spent a lot of time in rehab from crashing on my scooter. But I’m not worried about it.”
The competition will be electric and I can’t wait to get racing
It might be that the bravest competitors on-track are the ones who find the limit first – which could give them the competitive advantage – but while they might be quick over a single lap, would they be able to sustain the pressure of racing for victory? This is where the BMX and bike riders are not afraid to get their elbows out when it comes to outfoxing a competitor on-track
“It’s a really interesting mix of riders,” says eSC tech boss Vinit Patel. “The freestyle scooter guys might be quick over one lap, but are not adept at racing. The other thing is that some tracks we visit might be bumpy, so it will be harder for those racers who are less versatile. Plus I do think the mindset of not wanting to crash could trump the typical motorsport mindset.
“Then there will be controlling mapping and the art of strategy using boost power and tyre usage. All in all it will be fascinating to see who can combine all these aspects when we head to our first race in London.”
Ultimately, the most successful rider will be the one who is able to combine a little bit of everything. Bravery, balance, control, racecraft, strategy – and ultimately the desire to win. “Everyone is an athlete at heart,” says Winnipeg’s Ami Houde. “Even the Olympians who come from a non-motorsport background and who aren’t used to throttle control have a professional sporting mindset. Ultimately, everyone will have a burning desire and determination to triumph. The competition will be electric and I can’t wait to get racing.”