Isle of Man minister blasts TT organisers over TTXGP split

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A senior Isle of Man government minister has slammed TT organisers for 'misleading' the island's chief minister into splitting with TTXGP, the body which organised and promoted last year's electric TT.

John Shimmin, the minister whose vision of the island as a hub of environmentally-friendly race technology drove the partnership between the government and TTXGP, is privately said to be considering his position.

He told MCN: “I share many people’s surprise and disappointment that the relationship between the IOM and TTXGP has been broken after only one year. I believe the opportunity for the IOM, TTXGP and the FIM to all embrace this embryonic type of racing has been wasted and to the detriment of all concerned."

Shimmin contrasts the behaviour of TTXGP boss Azhar Hussain – a man whom he says "has acted honestly and honourably throughout" – with the Island's "cynics and critics who seem to revel in doing their best to make it fail." He concludes: "I believe that TTXGP has been the essential catalyst to develop electric motorbike racing worldwide. I hope that in the near future all parties realise that the success and speed of development and growth will be so much more satisfying if we collaborate rather than fight. However the current decision makers obviously don’t yet agree.”

The comments were prompted by a statement issued on behalf of the government and an interview given by TT spokesman Simon Crellin in which blame for the breakdown in relations between the TT and TTXGP was placed with Hussain, who says he feels "betrayed and disappointed" by the turn of events.

In fact Crellin's interview was just the latest in a series of public and private briefings given by members of the TT's inner sanctum – The Department of Transport & Leisure (DTL) and its quango the TT Festival and Motorsports Arrangements Group (TTFMAG) – which Shimmin believes constitute a deliberate attempt to smear Hussain and obscure a deep-seated resistance to the event.

Journalist Mary Donovan says she was briefed by island sources that the reason TTXGP had fallen from favour was because Hussain was a racist, following deliberately misconstrued comments he made promoting the TTXGP's wiki-based rules in 2011. Little did the informant realise, Donovan had also worked as a PR consultant for TTXGP. It's a campaign which – at least as far as the IoM's government is concerned – appears to have succeeded.

It was chief minister Tony Brown who finally closed the door on TTXGP – issuing an email to Hussain at 12.34am on 28 January (two weeks after the government statement claimed work had begun on TT Zero) in which in the previously pro-TTXGP politician explained that after a meeting with the head of the DTL Martyn Quayle he had decided the 'window of opportunity to be involved in the event has now closed'. 

The government statement – issued "Following speculation and unsubstantiated claims regarding the Isle of Man government's decision to run their own clear emissions event" – cites an irreconcilable difference over timings, with Hussain organising an event in Paris which "effectively prevented TTXGP from participating in the allotted schedule in 2010." Hussain says that at the time he organsised the Paris event – an electric race bike parade promoting the sport and where the following week's TT race would have enjoyed substantial, televised promotion – the expectation was that the electric race would be held on the same day – Friday – as in 2009. When the race was actually scheduled for the Wednesday – a move which again prompted TT organisers to issue a statement, this time to deny it was a downgrade – Hussain says he offered to cancel the Paris event and that by the time the split was made public, TT organisers had privately acknowledged Paris was no longer an issue. So was it money? TT kingpin and TTFMAG member Paul Phillips says not: "All the reasons were in the statement, which I thought was surprisingly frank".  

Then what was the reason for the split? Crellin hints darkly at a conflict of interests in his interview with journalist Mark Gardiner: "There's been questions raised in the media about governing bodies and manufacturers; it's really complicated. This way it's much clearer.... If you want to take part you can know the TT will respect your confidentiality".

It's a slight against Hussain familiar from TTXGP's similarly unexpected split with the FIM. The implication is that as boss of turnkey electric race bike manufacturer Mavizen – producer of the KTM RC8-based TTX02 and stillborn TTX02 Snaefell variant – Hussain was in a position to steal technical ideas from other TTXGP entrants. The suggestion is disingenous at best: both the FIM and the TT knew Mavizen had undertaken never to enter a factory team and that the TTX02 bikes were simply there to make it easier for teams to participate, rather than each having to build their own bikes. They also knew what lengths Hussain had gone to behind the scenes to ensure no such intellectual property theft could take place. He appointed the Insititute of Engineering & Technology (IET) – one of the world's leading independent bodies of professional engineers – to oversee the rule-making, technical consultation and scrutineering of electric race teams. A panel of six IET members formed, each of whom signed legally-binding Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) which included non-disclosure to TTXGP itself. All data and correspondence relating to teams entering TTXGP is held in a secure intranet in a major UK university accessible only by the IET panel. 

Indeed so far from a problem was the promoter/manufacturer issue that in early 2009 the Isle of Man offered Hussain grants to entice him to establish the TTX02 manufacturing base on the island. So close were the links to be that on 3 March 2009, after visiting a possible site for the facility, Hussain registered the domain for the bike building operation that has since become Mavizen.

If the circumstances of the split bear more than a passing resemblance to that between TTXGP and bike racing's ruling body the FIM – another enthusiastic partner turned competitor – perhaps that shouldn't surprise. In an internal December 2009 document revealed by journalist Ivar Kvadsheim the FIM disclosed naked self-interest was its primary reason for its involvement in electric racing: "With a new area of motorcycling and motorcycle sports in progress, we see initiatives for green riding where no ownership has yet been established. If FIM should let this happen without offering partnership and support, we could risk that the future of motorcycling no longer would be associated with FIM".

Meanwhile the TT – at odds with the FIM for years over the latter's refusal to sanction real roads racing despite the TT's huge leaps in safety and medical response times – smelled new grounds for friendship in their shared opposition to TTXGP. On the day the Isle of Man split from TTXGP the DTL's Nick Black wrote this email to the FIM's Paul Duparc: "I would like to thank you for the helpful emails on this subject. You and your committee may be interested to know that we have had a slight change of direction in respect of electric motorcycle racing and that we will now promote the race ourselves with the support of the ACU and the regulations they have worked on with yourselves. The attached press release explains that TTXGP will no longer be working with us. [...] I would be pleased to work with you on any aspect of road racing, electric or otherwise."

The FIM was indeed interested to know – Duparc gleefully forwarding the mail his colleagues: "You will be interested to read this info..." And why might the FIM be interested? Because in a desperate attempt to reclaim the initiative in zero carbon racing they had launched 'e-Power' – a rival series in which the FIM held all the rights, and (they thought) sufficient expertise in the form of the rules they 'borrowed' from former partners TTXGP. 

It's a pattern repeated by the TTFMAG/DTL. But will they be able to run electric racing any better than the FIM, last seen canvassing the World Endurance paddock touting free entry and other assistance for any team willing to cobble an electric race bike for e-Power? Paul Phillips says: "We've got over 100 years' experience of organising the TT, it will be easier having the zero emissions race integrated into the TT." And they have one advantage in the form of the ACU's Paul King, Chief Technical Officer of the TT and the seventh member of the panel formed by the IET, focused on chassis (rather than power) regulations. He alone did not sign an NDA relating to the rules and scrutineering processes established by the panel, and he will be overseeing the technical side of TT Zero.

Last year it it took the seven-member IET panel "Three months' work and two exhausting weeks on the island" to oversee the compliance and safety of the electric race bikes, according to its head Simon Madison. Each was stationed with police at points around the course in 2009 to offer expert incident management should it be needed. Does King have such a hoard of expert man-hours on hand? He won't say whose they are if he does. "I'm not sure they've thought about it." says Madison. Scepticism is rife on the island surrounding TTFMAG's ability to run anything so specialised. Juan Turner is a member of the island's legislative council and until recently worked in the DTL: "TTFMAG will be the death of motorsport on the island. It exists purely to create problems only it can solve – and justify the existence of jobs for its highly-paid members" he says. But perhaps the island's sorest lack is for Hussain's startling power to break down barriers and simply make things happen. Another senior government official, who didn't wish to be named, said: "I would bet my mortgage TT Zero will not happen at all."

Happen or not – and at least one American team is close to confirming – critics fear the event's integrity has slid already. TT Zero's rules are getting more conservative where TTXGP's are getting freer, to accommodate and hasten advances in technology. Madison says: "They've made some significant changes to aerodynamics, including banning foot-forward designs. In a class that's all about energy consumption, to limit work in the area where most of the losses are is regrettable." The cutting of the expected second lap has held back innovation in hot-swappable batteries and rapid charging. Fossil-fuel-powered generators will render the electric paddock as polluting as any other. 

So why all the stress of going it alone for the TT? Spokesman Crellin said: "The Isle of Man government is a huge supporter of the event – it allows them to demonstrate the Isle of Man is innovative, entrepreneurial and ground-breaking." In its statement, the government said it needed to "protect a significant investment it made in the TTXGP in 2009". Never mind that the idea wasn't its own, nor any of the promotion, that John Shimmin was the only minister with a vision for the event that went beyond circuit rental, and that its own investment and risk was dwarfed by that of the presently loss-making TTXGP. That's the Isle of Man government's line and it's sticking to it.

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Guy Procter

By Guy Procter