Joint Indian-English company Agni Motors’s claim of making quality, high efficiency and high performance electric motors gained massive credence today when it clearly bested the world’s fastest electric motocycles to win the first clean emissions (AKA electric) motorcycle Grand Prix at an average speed of 87.434 mph. It’s place in history is assured by the landmark win, but it was the team’s dominance that was most surprising.
It averaged 10 mph faster around the 37 mile course than its closest rival and established itself as the first superstar company to emerge in a fledgling giant industry. India was the most prominent nation with bikes on the podium in both classes. Just as Renault, Daimler, Ford and Honda made their name at the dawn of motorsport, we suspect we’ve seen some new and significant global brands for the first time.
In 1959, ominously 50 years ago this week, a small Japanese team of three riders entered the famous Isle of Man (IOM) Tourist Trophy (TT) races on a motorcycle previously unheard of at world championship level - Honda. Though the team all finished, with the best result a courageous sixth place to Naomi Taniguchi, the establishment greeted the newcomers with polite amusement. They did not laugh for long.
The expeditionary Japanese riders of 1959 must have wondered what they had encountered. The IOM mountain circuit is a natural road course of 37.7 miles (60.7 km), comprising over 200 corners and is the oldest racing circuit still in use, having been first raced on in 1907 when average speeds were under 40 mph.
By 1959, 50 years of development had seen speeds rise dramatically - 125 cc four-stroke motorcycles were lapping at an average speed of nearly 75 mph amidst the curbs, stone walls, and unique terrain which stretches from sea level to an altitude of over 1,300 ft (396 m). With completely different weather conditions experienced regularly on different parts of the circuit during the same lap, the IOM TT races are the most lethal motor sporting event in modern history having claimed somewhere between 175 and 200 competitors in its 100 year running. It’s not the most dangerous – that dubious honor must go the Dakar Rally which averages two competitor deaths and an unknown number of spectator deaths (thought to be more than one) per event – but the IOM runs a close second and the inexperienced Honda contingent more than upheld its honor.
ADDENDUM - As if fate needed to remind us of the TT's deadly heritage, John Crellin, who finished third in the historic TTXGP in the PRO class, died that very afternoon racing in another event. He was doing what he loved. Motorsport remains the most costly sport in terms of human life . RIP John.
Honda learned its lessons well from that first attempt. It recognized that to conquer racing at world championship level with the unique cultural, language, experience and skills necessary, it needed faster bikes and seasoned riders and went about providing both for the 1960 season.
Just twelve months later Honda had redesigned many aspects of its machinery, produced a lot more horsepower, given the bikes a lot more grunt out of corners and had hired some of the best riders in the world. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, Honda machines were beginning to take podiums in both 125 and 250 World Championship events and the Honda name was introduced to the world via the reliability and speed of its machinery at the highest level. Just two years after its debut, it won both the 125 and 250 world titles, and five years later, it swept to victory in ALL classes 50, 125, 250, 350 and 500cc. Its machines were technological masterpieces - a five cylinder 125 and a six cylinder 250 were amongst its finest engine creations.
The well-worn motto of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” proved true for Honda on an entirely new level to that enjoyed by the European marques it obliterated. In 1959 when it first announced itself to the world at the IOM TT, Honda sold 285,000 motorcycles in the entire year. By 1961, it was selling 100,000 units a month, and went on to become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer in short order.
Agni's hands-down win in this historic first races positions it extraordinarily well for the next phase - it has now comprehensively demonstrated its world-leading capabilities and millions of sales will flow directly from this win.
Congratulations to Azhar Hussain for having the vision to create the event, and the explosion of innovation which will surely follow. Brammo, Electric Motorsport and Mission Motors joined Agni as the first global brands of excellence and knowhow in a new era.
Rob Barber is the man whose name will go on the outright trophy in the first race - congratulations to Rob. Your descendants will read your name in the history books a thousand years from now.
A much bigger event took place for society with today's race. Azhar Hussain has validated clean emissions transportation as viable. A new industry was kickstarted with the running of this race and the win-on Sunday, sell-on-Monday message that propelled Honda to global dominance in the motorcycle industry was not lost on Electric Motorsport’s Chris Heath.
As Heath accepted the trophy as the winner of the OPEN class, for machines built for less than UKP30,000 he made sure the world knew where to buy a TT-winning machine capable of averaging 66 mph. “It’s a TT-winning bike, it’s a production bike, come and buy one. Electric Motorsport!” That's right folks - you can buy one.