This University of Michigan team races with the pros

Members of SPARK pose with Atlas, including project manager Peter Jaskoski (center, hugging the bike) and president Leo Lavigne (left), who spoke with A4. (SPARK Electric Racing)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan has seemingly countless student clubs and teams, and Michigan Engineering is no exception. From concrete canoes and human-powered submarines to blacksmithing and steel bridges, there seems to be a group for everyone.

But did you know that U-M has an electric racing team?

Known as SPARK, the team builds competition-worthy, electric motorcycles at the Wilson Center on North Campus and they don’t stop there. They race them against some of the world’s biggest manufacturers like Ducati and Zero Motorcycles.

SPARK has roughly 100 student members who work together to design, build, market and race the record-breaking bikes. The team’s latest prototype, Atlas, was completed in June.

SPARK's third electric motorcycle prototype, Atlas, was completed in June 2022 and exceeds 150 mph. (SPARK Electric Racing)

“That bike was our most ambitious thing ever,” said the team’s project manager Peter Jaskoski, a senior studying mechanical engineering. “Instead of taking an old street bike and converting it, we decided to do everything from the ground up. Everything from the wheels and the brakes to making own battery from scratch.”

Jaskoski said the team raced Atlas at the New Jersey Motorsports Park and in South Haven.

“We were really happy with the performance,” he said. “We got second place in New Jersey against production motorcycles and people who have a lot of industry behind them.”

Racing against professionals is not typical for college teams, said Jaskoski.

Members of SPARK Electric Racing at the University of Michigan built prototype Atlas from the ground up in 2022. (SPARK Electric Racing)

Approximately 50 students were involved in designing and building Atlas, which exceeds 150 mph.

“We basically have people from all around campus, and a large majority are engineers,” said SPARK President and graduate student Leo Lavigne. “We take people from business, chemistry and all different types of engineering (backgrounds).

“We (are) a professional racing team but we are also trying to develop skills of young engineers, balancing high innovation and learning as we go. It’s a great place for young engineers to come and get experience for the real world.”

Business and art and design majors power the team’s marketing efforts, which are critical to the self-funded program.

“We get support from the university, but it’s all grants we have to apply for it,” said Jaskoski. “It’s not just handed over to us. We have to work with a lot of corporate sponsors, where we get the majority of our parts and funding. We have to act like a business.”

The team hires professional racer David McPherson to race their bikes at competitions. (SPARK Electric Racing)

Just how much does a prototype cost? Atlas cost around $55,000, the team reps said. And the next project will be nearly double that. The team also hires a professional racer from Florida to race their motorcycles.

As for what the future holds, they have their eyes set on their first international race -- the Isle of Man TT. The world famous race takes place on the small island between England and Ireland, and it has an electric class.

Jaskoski and Lavigne said it will be a game changer for SPARK.

To learn more about the team, you can visit its website.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.