Another year, another Dakar Rally in the books. And just like every running of the event, this year marked another leap in its evolution with the addition of the Dakar Future Mission 1000 category: an ambitious program to not only include electric and zero-emission vehicles, but to use them to help lead the way to an entirely low-emission future by 2030.
So, how did our electric motorcycling brethren fair in the Saudi Arabian sand? Among the three different teams, the results were a mixed bag.
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Let’s be real, without Chinese manufacturing there simply would not be an electric motorcycle market, at least nowhere near the scale that we’re seeing today. So it should come as no surprise that a Chinese motorcycle company lead the, ahem, charge for eMotos in the inaugural Mission 1000.
What is a surprise is that not only was Dakar the first major event for Arctic Leopard’s new E-XE 880 full-size enduro/MX machine, the company itself has only existed for two short years. Add to this the fact that they had the top three placing bikes, with the company’s founder Gang Jun (Jack) Cai among them, and you have one very impressive debut.
Topping the entire category was Arctic Leopard’s most experienced racer, Wenmin Su. The 45 year-old rider has spent his entire life on two wheels, competed in the regular Dakar Rally back in 2010, has won pretty much every major rally and motocross event there is to win in China, and even represented his nation at the 2006 FIM Motocross of Nations. All things considered, Su’s performance should come as no surprise, but just like every other challenger in Mission 1000, it truly was a team effort.
As Mission 1000’s main objectives are to help develop viable low and zero emission options for racing vehicles (which then trickles down to everyday-use consumer vehicles), the category used three different criteria for scoring.
Drive Mode: Just like on many eMotos, the rally recognized Sport, Normal and Eco Modes. However these modes were actually a reference to the established times for each particular stage. For example, Sport Mode meant a competitor finished at least 10 percent faster than the set time, and there for received 10 bonus points. Conversely, Eco Mode would be at least 10 percent slower than the set time, and therefore a rider would be docked 10 points.
Launch Control: Pretty simple here. Just a basic 100 meter drag race. The top time received another 10 bonus points. Count Wenmin Su for the win here!
Fan Boost: Okay, to be honest this one is a little gimmicky, but it was a fun way to encourage some fan involvement. Basically fans got to vote on their favorite entrant at two different points in the rally for an additional five bonus points to each recipient both times.
Here’s our fan boost. In fact, we might triple the points for the simple “wow” factor and immediate timeless highlight reel it created:
After a relatively successful and competitive campaign, during the penultimate stage Fran Gómez Pallas was cruising along at a decent clip on his one-off Green Power Energy electric machine when the frame snapped near the head tube. The catastrophic failure sent the bike in two different directions and threw Pallas to the ground in a heap. Fortunately Arctic Leopard’s Jack Cai was right behind him at the time and was able to attend to the fallen Spaniard immediately. So too was the medic crew and Fran was able to walk away relatively unscathed (one broken rib… child’s play for a crash like that). This was also thanks, in part, to his wearable Helite airbag system that deployed just as it was designed to do.
Not to be discouraged, Pallas’ success in the earlier stages and general enthusiasm for green initiatives we won’t surprised to see him return for another go at the world’s most famous rally race.
And what of Team Tacita? The manufacturer that helped the Mission 1000 become a reality in the first place was met by some realities of its own. While their Discanto bike was designed quite specifically for rally racing and long-distance rides, they also struggled with range and weight issues in several stages; perhaps some over-engineering on their part. In the dune sections, for example, the bikes proved to simply be too heavy (ie, too much battery weight) for the loose and unforgiving terrain.
What the Tacita crew don’t lack for is innovation and passion. With a full staff of engineers and mechanics on hand and an entirely solar-powered charging unit, dubbed the T-Station, that recharged the bikes between stages, there is no doubt Tacita will come back stronger and more competitive in 2025.
So was the first ever Dakar Future Mission 1000 a success? Add in the other hydrogen and hybrid vehicles that competed and the volumes of data and learnings that will come from spending two weeks in the Middle Eastern sun and sand that will all contribute to better vehicles in 2025 and beyond, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Perhaps next year we will see more companies and teams entering eMotos in Mission 1000. Stark Future? Honda? Kove?… Bueller? For now, we can look forward to seeing the production version of the Arctic Leopard E-XE 880, which is due out in the coming months.