The University of Michigan’s SPARK Electric Racing Team is on a mission. Comprised of university engineering students, it's been hard at work experimenting with and building electric racing motorcycles since 2013. To close out summer, 2022, SPARK took home second and third place in AHRMA’s Formula Lightning race in New Jersey, USA—in only the team’s second racing competition ever.
By 2024, SPARK aims to compete at the Isle of Man TT—so never let it be said that the team lacks ambition. In fact, if you visit SPARK’s official webpage in late November, 2022, you’ll see the ‘24 IOMTT listed as its planned next race. While the team may not have some of the resources that larger, full-time racing outlets do, it also likely deals with completely different kinds of pressure, which could be a plus.
2022 marked SPARK’s first time competing in Formula Lightning. It took its third and most recently developed machine to New Jersey, the Atlas. It features a custom steel trellis frame, a zero-to-60 mph speed of three seconds, and a top speed of 160 mph. It produces a claimed 125 bhp, alongside 88 pound-feet of torque. Total curb weight is 127 kilograms (280 pounds).
For things like brakes, suspension, and tyres, SPARK relied on established component manufacturers, including Galfer, Brembo, and Öhlins. That allowed the engineers to focus their attentions on the bespoke frame and battery builds, in addition to development of their onboard telemetry systems.
“We’re creating our own templates from the ground up,” SPARK electrical lead Aashish Harikrishnan told U of M’s Electrical & Computer Engineering department.
“That challenge was one of the most attractive things about the team to me. Some of these bigger teams have a lot of regulations and specifications they have to meet – for our bike, we just need to make it safe, make it work, and make it run fast,” he added.
The team hired motorcycle racer David McPherson to put the Atlas through its paces. The resulting trophies were nice, of course, but the data was also invaluable for the development of a project like this. SPARK’s goal is a two-year development cycle on each of its projects, with one year spent on development, and the second year spent on building and testing their latest developments.
From the successes of the Atlas, SPARK’s next project is something that it’s simply calling FBS, which stands for “the future racing bike of SPARK.” This is the machine that the team intends to take to the Isle of Man in 2024. Goals it hopes to hit include a 185-mph top speed, a zero-to-60 time of three seconds, 225 bhp, and 150 pound-feet of torque. Goal weight is under 204 kg (450 lbs), and a sustained 125 mph average lap speed is also on the vision board.
Congratulations and good luck to the SPARK team, and we look forward to seeing future developments as they’re built and put to the test!