Traxxas Finally Gets It’s Scale On…

Traxxas TRX-4 D110 1/10th 4WD Electric Scale & Trail Crawler

Words & Images: Peter Gray, Mike Worthington & Traxxas Archive

Manufacturer: Traxxas USA

UK Distributor: Logic RC UK RRP: £499.99

Specs

Ground Clearance: 80mm

Track Width: 249mm

Wheelbase: 324mm

Length: 586mm

Height: 291mm

Traxxas gave the RC car industry many firsts. The first true Ready to Run Hobby Grade RC vehicles. No building, no fuss, just add a charged battery and go run them. Then there’s the sponsorship and links for many years with Monster Jam, (I even worked at a couple of events doing the warm up with E-Revo’s and E-Maxx Monster trucks!). The iconic Grave Digger, Monster Mutt to name but two of the many licenced MJ models they released over the years.

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THe original Ken Block Replica…a Traxxas first

Then there was the original, (pre HPI) Ken Block Limited Edition Gymkhana Rally car. We all wanted one. We all bought one. Hell, I even interviewed him and shot him for a cover of RRCi back in the day. Sometimes we forget just how influential and innovative Traxxas products are. But that’s not all. They also gave us the ultimate in bashing vehicle, that was the catalyst for the global Short Course revolution, the Slash. Based on the 2 and 4WD vehicles driven by brothers Mike and Mark Jenkins in the real race series across the US, the Slash quickly became the must have bashing tool for any self-respecting RC fan.

I could go on and mention the very innovative Summit, the 103 mph X-01, the HUUUGE X-Maxx, the amazing Spartan Speedboat and many other products that have defined the company, but I don’t need to. You get my gist. The real point of this is to say that, for once, Traxxas were well behind the curve on a certain trend in RC, namely Scale and Trail Crawling.

They sat back, watched the industry, and waiting until the time was right and then “BOOM” the internet was suddenly full of images of the TRX-4, pictures leaked and speculation rife. Many of the claims were inaccurate. “It’s a 1/8th, it looks huge”, “It’s a Summit with shorter arms and a Land Rover body”, “Traxxas are too late onto the market…” yada, yada, yada.

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You have to admit, they got the look and ‘stance’ of the D110 just right…

But they had my interest straight away. Traxxas are one of those brands that hold a special place in my heart. I loved running my 2WD and 4WD Slashes, and have owned many, many Traxxas vehicles over the years. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of one that I’ve not had! The rest of the spec was finally leaked and then there was an official launch, with slick videos, a new section on their website, and an impressive list of features did it boast: –

Deep Breath…

Portal, T lock equipped axles, offering much better clearance under the axles for the diffs pumpkins. Remote locking and unlocking diffs, that could be run as both open, both locked or just front locked only.

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Remote Locking or Unlocking front and rear diffs…The Traxxas T-Lock system worked flawlessly in testing
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By far my favourite feature of the whole design. Portal Axles that again just work. They offer unparalleled under axle clearance.

A two-speed transmission, with a 21T reverse rotation motor, meaning the brushes won’t destroy themselves as the motor itself is facing forwards, not backwards as with most other scale rigs on the market.

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The two speed offers additional wheel speed when required. on 3S that can mean wheelies…NOTE: reverse direction motor alleviated the issue of damaged brushes with the forward motor position.
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The layout and natural Weight Bias is logical and well thought out. A forward mounted battery option, or weighted front wheels would just take it from a 8.5/9 to a 10 instantly.

All the electrics are also 3S compatible as standard, so wheel speed isn’t going to be an issue. Cruise control allowing you to set a speed for long sections of trail running. Shocks are 90mm and designed to be smooth and leak free in use.

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The shocks are smooth and well sealed, Just look at the depth of those seals and piston.

The whole rig was waterproof allowing you to cross streams and run in mud and wet conditions. Under arches for the Lexan (yes Lexan) “Fully Licenced” Land Rover Defender D110 bodyshell. A protective Exo-cage and roof rack.

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Proportionally its near perfect…Just those tinted windows niggle us. We want an interior.

Sticky deep treaded S1 soft compound tyres, with proper tuned inserts. Steel Hexes. 45 degrees of steering deflection and CVD’s as standard, a high torque, metal geared chassis mounted steering servo. A front weight bias and front mounted, motor position. Optimised main pack location and an easy to use reversible battery strap allowing 2 or 3S pack swaps without any hassle at all.

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The now industry benchmark 45 degree steering deflection is included as standard

Rock sliders, solid bumpers with the ability to add a real winch in place of the faux one supplied with the RTR. A very solid C-Section Steel ladder chassis and well-designed cross braces. The ESC is also programmable for Trail or Crawling modes with a “mild” or “always on full” drag brake setting an option. Lastly there’s the ability to fit LED lights and a light bar in the future. Holes are already there for this and mounting points for the LED’s.

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So far weve only run it with the Traxxas D110 shell on. but other body post options are in the box so you could in theory put any LWB shell straight on.

What It Didn’t Have Are 2 things

Windows (well it did but they were tinted), so no interior or the ability for the end user to fit one. That’s a big thing to the established scale community, but will not deter the “yet to get the bug” crowd out there. It’s an odd thing to omit, so much has gone into getting a Licenced D110, why not offer tinted window stickers that could be removed to reveal clear underneath, and the ability to retro-fit an interior (Dear Traxxas, if you read this, please amend!)

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Rear of the Year? Judging by reports of the first two production runs almost selling out on pre-order already…we think so!

True beadlocks wheels were absent too. The stock wheels and tyres are glued. I really don’t get this as there’s so much work gone into everything else, and the first thing most Scale rigs or crawlers have done to them is wheel weighting and improvements in weight bias. It’s a cheap and easy mod that can transform the way a rig ascends an obstacle or drives up a steep incline.

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The wheels look scale. The tyres work epic…but why oh why glue them? Beadlocks would have added that additional tuning aid that weighting wheels brings.

Again, why, oh why not let the end used decide this aspect of the rig. Offer beadlocks and show in the manual what weight biasing will do to the way the rig handles. More on this later…we have experimented and the findings are as we suspected.

Enough Waffle, Time 2 Test The TRX-4!

Traxxas and Logic RC kindly sent me one of the first rigs to hit UK shores and we did a live unveiling of it at the recent UK Recon G6. Brian Parker hadn’t even seen one up until this point and the general consensus of opinion was very, very positive. But as we had three days of event to run, and over 300 drivers in attendance, it was hidden back at my accommodation and I waited to run it properly the following week. I also enlisted the help of an impartial test driver, Mike Worthington, who’s been a part of the Scale and Crawling scene a while, and lives near me in Solihull. I wanted more than one opinion, and then could offer you the reader a slightly different perspective on the rig in use.

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The wheel wells/under arches are sublime. They add another level of detail sadly missing in many rigs on the market today. 10 out of 10 on this aspect Traxxas.

Over to Mike (and his son Maximus!)

Maximus & I…

A few of you may know me but the majority will not, you may have seen my son Maximus and I on Instagram or some other social media platform, or we may be completely new names to you, either way I will take just a moment to let you know who we are.

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Maximus…or “Little Scaler Dude” as RCCZ calls him! (PS: we love the Slimer jumper too!)

I have been enjoying the RC hobby for many years, my first RC car was a Tamiya Blitzer Beetle but my first memory of RC was chasing my Dad’s Tandy Landcruiser around the garden in the 80s as a child, my first scale crawler? I got back into the hobby while I was at college, discovering the online community and eBay, meaning I could get the Lunch boxes and Monster Beetles that I had wanted as a child. My Tamiya collecting allowed me to amass quite a few RC cars which in turn have been ‘traded’ into my current fleet of mainly scale crawlers and off-road bashers.

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Thats the look of a happy RCCZ guest reviewer/driver…(Well two, or three opinions are better than one!)

Amongst my collection I have had a few Traxxas vehicles and their out of the box readiness to be run has always been appealing to me, don’t get me wrong I love building rigs and I have built a fair few, but occasionally it is nice to open a box, charge a battery and hit the trails, so when I heard about Traxxas releasing a scale vehicle, I was keen to know more.

This article covers my expectations of the truck vs the reality of seeing it and running it for the first time with my son. I will touch on some of the features and things that are ‘different’ from other trucks currently available and talk about potential flaws or merits of the TRX-4.

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The wait was worth it, the real rig lived up to nearly all the hype!

Waiting 4 The TRX

When Traxxas announced they were releasing a scale off-roader, I instantly had some ideas as to what I wanted it to be, mainly based on my experience of owning a summit and seeing people on line converting them to scale-ish looking rigs, I hoped Traxxas had taken note and utilised some of the features from the big monster that the summit is, and well I wasn’t disappointed, they have lifted the remote locking Diff’s and the hi/low gear selector, (which Traxxas featured on the first EMaxx trucks years ago) and put them in the TRX-4 but they had also added some new features like the portal axles and the ‘cruise control’ function which I was keen to learn more about.

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Regardless of surface the tyres and lockable transmission just generated grip and traction.

Some early reports I read online were that the vehicle was larger than you would expect, which is common with Traxxas vehicles, their 1/10 vehicles are often closer to 1/8 like the E- Revo and the Summit, but this isn’t the case with TRX-4 it’s not too different in size to my Gelande2 and SCX10s with a 324mm wheelbase, it sits slightly higher (291.6mm) but that’s partly down to the officially licensed Land Rover Defender 110 body shell with its roof rack and off-road styling.

Aside from the size it’s a great looking rig, the scale details are there with the functional spare wheel on the back, the gas can and jack, the exterior roll cage, the fender flares, the replica winch (which can be replaced with a functioning one, I have seen RC4WD test fitting their range already online) and the snorkel which all add to the aggressive modified look of the vehicle, the blacked out windows don’t offend me personally but I’m sure people will cut them out to install some scale interior.

Turning the truck over, the first thing I noticed was the floor pans and wheel wells which provide a good scale appearance, but also will stop some of the muck and debris from entering the model.

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Look how well the underside is protected. The skid and side mouldings helping to work in conjunction with the wheel wells to stop dirt and debris getting inside the cab area

The other thing I was drawn to were the portal axles, Traxxas’ method of creating more ground clearance but also reducing torque twist by using the portals to put the gear reduction right at the wheels. The portal axles also improve the geometry of the chassis by allowing the links and drive shafts to run almost parallel with the centre gearbox, reducing strain on the drive shafts and links, the steering links are also higher as a result reducing the chance of getting caught up when driving off-road.

For the test run we were using a Traxxas 5000mah 3s 11.1v iD Lipo battery which fit the chassis perfectly, as you would expect, the battery holder bar can be rotated to hold either a 23mm or a 26mm battery, I was using the 26mm option, also worth noting there is a recess in the battery compartment which allows for the use of smaller battery packs which is common in the scale world, a big thumbs up for me in this department is the fact that the battery bar is attached on a hinge and there are no body clips used.

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Yes its waterproof, very waterproof!

The ESC is an updated version of their XL5 model, it’s now called the Trail-tuned XL-5 HV which is now capable of running up to a 3s lipo, it’s still waterproof but has the added benefit of new driver profiles such as Trail Mode, to allow for smoother slow speed driving offering a drag brake in neutral, whereas Crawl mode replaces neutral with instant reverse but also offers 100% hill holding brake, which will be useful on technical courses.

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High Torque, Metal Geared, Digital and Waterproof…The servo works very well in most situations, but as ever we felt a little more torque (say 20kg total) would take it from good, to great.

The top of the chassis also provides visibility of the micro servos used for the locking Diff’s and hi/low transmission control, much the same as the Summit, but one thing different here is the use of cables as opposed to rigid metal arms. The cables allow for smoother movement and more articulation of the chassis. The other noticeable change on the chassis is the grey standard sized servo for the steering, the 2075X is mounted high between the front shock towers and appears to be an impressive component, with full metal gears, this digital servo is also fully waterproof.

Running, Climbing & Crawling

By now my son is more than ready to try the truck out, so we powered it up and put the shell back on ready to test it on the rocks at the highest point in Warwickshire. Almost immediately you notice the speed of this crawler, in hi gear it will exceed 10mph (according to vids on YouTube) thanks to the Titan 550 21t brushed motor, it reminded me of the first time I ran a Tamiya CC01 chassis with the stock 27t motor installed. Switching to low gear provides a more scale speed for the rig which I used along with both diff’s locked to negotiate the out crops of rock we were crawling over and It did well, the suspension was just soft enough to allow the tyres to maintain contact with rocks, occasionally as a result of the lightness of the wheels and axles I had to wait for the vehicle to settle before applying the throttle.

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Side hilling was affected by the heavy exo-cage and higher than expected C of G. Weighted wheels counteracted this perfectly in later testing.

The 1.9 Traxxas Canyon Trail tyres also performed well both on the rock surface, the mud and in the loose dirt we were driving on, check the video out to see them in action! The only thing I would prefer here would be bead lock wheels, allowing the option to add some much-needed weight to the wheels, without boiling or peeling the tyres off the stock rims. I am sure some people will swap out the wheels and tyres for this reason, as the only thing which created a problem and prevented me from not keeping up with the modified Vaterra Ascender and modified Axial SCX10 that were being run alongside the TRX-4 during the test, was its high centre of gravity.

One feature I didn’t test was the ‘cruise control’ option, partly because I like to maintain control of the throttle of my vehicle, but also because I feel that Traxxas are relabelling something that almost all RC vehicles have the ability to do already, so they can’t claim it’s a new feature. The cruise control is simply adjusting the trim on the throttle on the transmitter, to trick the esc into driving forward without you touching the trigger. I used to do this on my old Tamiya to help me get action shots.

I only put a single battery pack through the truck so didn’t put the chassis to the test with regards to strength and durability, but that being said, I did run it well over 1.5 hours and it feels like a well put together truck with quality parts. It has adjustable, oil filled, coil-over aluminium GTS shocks which were created specifically for the TRX-4, the steel links are large diameter and look like they will take a lot of abuse. The rigid steel ladder style frame offers multiple mounting points for the rear shock tower, allowing the option to change the wheelbase to accommodate for different bodyshells, you can choose 300mm, 312mm, 324mm or 336mm, the rock rails are also adjustable to accommodate different width bodyshells, the bumpers are also adjustable.

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Just to show the comparison against a D90 Hard body build…the size of the D110 is perfect, but lack of interior or options to add one lets it down on the true scale front.

Traxxas advertise the truck as brushless ready, which personally gives me confidence in the drivetrain, as I like brushed motors in my crawlers, my brushless rigs are for bashing and racing, but knowing that Traxxas have used steel front CVDs, hardened steel rear axles and steel gears everywhere else, means that if I was to go down the brushless route, it would take the strain that brushless set ups put on a gear box and drivetrain with ease.

In Conclusion

So how does the TRX-4 compare to my expectations? I would say it has surpassed them, it’s not perfect, but neither am I and the blacked out windows and high centre of gravity are not enough to put me off wanting to own the truck, the overall package provides a go anywhere truck which will allow people who are not into crawling to experience the slower, technical adventure that crawling adds to the hobby, but when they have had enough of balancing on rocks like a goat, they can open the diff’s and put the truck in high gear and do some donuts and jumps without concern, as the rig is ‘Traxxas tough’.

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Its a keeper…so more experimentation is imminent, as is a body swap and interior.

My son Maximus enjoyed driving the truck just as much as I did and we will add one to our fleet in the very near future.  Ask me again in a year to find out how the truck has lasted in the hands of a five-year-old but for now, I believe Traxxas have got this spot on, a great truck, at a fair price which will keep up with the best of them on the trail.

The RRCZ video from that day:

Final Words From Mr Gray

A huge thanks to Mike for his help and his opinions on the rig, and just to conclude this review here’s my findings having myself now run 5 full packs through it. First, it’s definitely a keeper! In 100% stock form it runs trails perfectly in high or low range and the ability to switch between the two on the fly is liberating. It does wheelies and can even jump pretty well if the terrain allows (on both 2 and 3S!), especially if you run on a high grip surface. I fell short of attempting a backflip, but was very, very tempted!

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One of the most capable RTR rigs we have ever run and reviewed. Its minor niggles aside, the Traxxas fulfills most of the Scale or Trail needs any end user would have.

If crawling on rocks or up steep inclines, drop offs or side hilling over say 40 degrees, the heavy Exo-cage and body does come into play. The C of G isn’t perfect for the kind of things we attempt with many of our rigs. If I was a conspiracy theorist I would say that on many of the official video’s they are running weighted wheels, but that said it did remarkably well in stock form all considered. The trick is to drive it like you would a hard-bodied rig. Let the suspension settle and the weight relax and then drive through the odd floating wheel or almost-but-not-quite tipping over incident. If you drive it like an Axial SCX-10, you will tip the rig over on some obstacles. But take your time and learn its abilities and it will reward you by actually achieving lines that at first seem pretty much impossible.

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The optional light bar and lighting kit are our next purchase…night runs R us!

Remember when testing this rig initially we ran an Axial SCX-10 and a Vaterra Ascender at the same time, in a game of cat n mouse and follow the leader. It made most of the climbs and crawls but the C of G did hamper its abilities. I added a set of weighed beadlocks and the rigs abilities improved no end. It’s the one must do modification and tuning aid that takes this rig from very competent to extremely proficient!

Benchmark Set

Compared to the SCX10.2 and the Vaterra ascender its locking and unlocking diffs are the game, set and match winner. There are times that you need to lock the diffs and climb, and others when you need a tight turn. Flicking between the two states really does make a huge difference. I was a massive sceptic at first, it’s not like using a dig where you physically lock a whole axle and drive the other to pivot around the point the locked axle sits, dragging the rear of the rig like a dog does its back end when you have guests round for tea!!! No, it’s far more sophisticated than that. Leaving the front axle locked and the rear open allowed me to move around certain rocks and turn sharply on climbs right when I needed to. Experimentation is the key here and the more wheel time you get, the better you and the rig become at attempting things.

Traxxas have created a new benchmark in this genre of product. The diffs and driveline features aside, my favourite feature is the Portal Axles. They just make climbing over certain rocks and obstacles a breeze. If I could add any feature to all of my other current rigs and builds it would be this. Traxxas we salute you. The price may seem expensive to some, especially as you also have to provide the main pack and charger yourself. But for a fully loaded vehicle, packed with cool features, a multi-channel 2.4GHZ TQi remote, the future ability to add telemetry and on the fly paremeter adjustment and different driving profiles via a Bluetooth 6511 Wireless add on module and a smartphone app, it’s very good value for money. In fact, probably cheaper than many builds out there already if you factor in the price of a kit and all the components. I’m looking onto alternative bodies for this wheelbase as I write this. I’ve also added weighted beadlocks permanently and will be removing the tyres from the wheels with Acetone to re-use them and keep the intended look.

Now all the team responsible for this product at Traxxas HQ form a tight circle, pat each other on the back hard, and then go get me a shell with clear windows…STAT!

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Real and RC…the Traxxas looks huge against our RCCZ Suzuki Jimny…

Likes

· Portal Axles & Ground Clearance

· Remote locking diffs & 2-speed

· Licenced Land Rover Shell

· Tyres Tread & Compound

· Waterproof Electric’s

· Weight Bias of Motor

· Brushless Ready

· Winch Ready

Dislikes

· Tinted Windows Negate Adding Interior

· Not Beadlock Wheels

· High C of G In Stock Form

Some huge thanks goes to Traxxas USA, Logic RC UK and Mike Worthington & Maximus for their help with this review…

Available in the US from: Traxxas USA

Available in the UK from: Logic RC

"No Mr Bradbury…I Expect You To Drive!"

rcz_tech

Behind The Scenes @ The Gadget Show

Words & Images: Peter Gray

Earlier this year I was involved with another RC related challenge on the Channel 5 TV Program; The Gadget Show. We had been bouncing RC Car ideas back and forth for a while, but then in a single phone conversation and a follow up e-mail, the shows researcher explained what the challenge they had decided upon would entail…In short: RC Cars v A Bond Stunt Driver, my smile grew exponentially!

Jason Bradbury, a man who’s no stranger to RC in any form, or pushing the technology right to it’s very limits (something he’s done on more occasions than I can list here!). His credentials as both a very ‘hands-on’ Tech Reviewer and well known TV Tech Presenter are written in the annuals of Tech history. He even chose a Tamiya RC car as one of his favourite bits of tech in a recent top 100 gadgets TV countdown…so his love of the genre goes way back to those late 70s and 80s releases. We also must not forget that Jason has also achieved two Guinness World Records using RC tech. One for distance jumped by an RC car (using a HPI Vorza 1/8th E-Buggy), and another (I actually helped facilitate) a huge RC Loop-the-loop using a brushless 1/5th scale motorbike! So he can drive, knows the kinda crazy stuff we like to provide the program, and he has no fear…no fear at all!

Jason would be driving three different RC cars, each with a very unique attribute or speciality. His challenge would be to go up against professional Stunt & Rally Driver Mark Higgins, doing what he does best, driving a V12 Vantage S Aston Martin very hard, fast and very sideways. Marks CV is impressive. He’s worked on Bond films like Spectre, has (and currently ‘is’) driving cars in the Fast & The Furious franchise, and is about to attempt to set a new Isle Of Man TT course record for a car in a specially ProDrive prepared, Subaru WRX Sti. He’s also three-time British Rally champion and as such set the current record for a lap of the 37.75-mile course in 2014, with a time of 19 minutes and 15 seconds, and with a staggering average speed of 117.510 mph…so he can drive too, oh my can he drive!

The 3 tests chosen for each vehicle would be:-

· A Drag Race Challenge, side by side, point to point between the chosen RC Car & the Aston Martin. The main start line to the end of the main straight being the two points

· A Drift Challenge where the RC Car must mimic the 1:1 on a 1/10th version of track, using throttle finesse and maintaining a long, sweeping and controlled drift

· A Timed Auto Test Challenge where the RC Car will compete on the same circuit to test its agility, road holding and stunt driving capabilities against the clock.

To this end we enlisted the help of 3 very different brands, and 3 very different vehicles. Each was specifically chosen to offer an attribute that would aid it to compete in each challenge and thought through well in advance of this days filming.

Point To Point @100 mph+

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Mr Wilcox Esq looking rather happy with the X-01

For the Drag Challenge I called in one of the latest generation of Traxxas X-01 (kindly supplied by Logic RC). This 1/7th scale RC Supercar is something I know well, as I reviewed one a couple of years back and had tons of fun with it. I also know a few people with them (Like RRCZ’s very own Mark Jordan). It’s a bit of a one trick pony, but what a trick! It’s capable of 0-100 in under 5 seconds and has a top speed of around 103mph. On those two performance figures alone, I knew we were in a with a shot at winning this. The latest incarnation has the TQi transmitter and Traxxas link app as standard, offering real time adjustment of basic setup parameters like trims and steering rate, right through to more complex drive effects and feedback from its telemetry sensors of Speed, RPM, Temperature, and Voltage. It also has something called a ‘Cush Drive’ built into the driveline that helps it absorb some of the immense forces encountered when you take a RC vehicle of its size and weight and take it from a standstill to over 100mph in just a few seconds. Developed specifically for the XO-1, the Cush Drive absorbs drivetrain shocks with a custom-shaped elastomer damper housed between the spur gear and the drive hub. Under extreme load (such as hard, high-traction acceleration), the elastomer flexes to dissipate shock without interrupting power flow. The result is instant acceleration with no wasted power. Its actually a very clever variation on a slipper clutch and (Hopefully) will ensure that the spur gears don’t get damaged at the point the vehicle is launched at speed. As well as the vehicle, Logic RC also supplied us Stuart Wilcox, technician extraordinaire, RC Racer and Traxxas brand ambassador here in the UK. Stuart would school Jason in the fine art of getting the X-01 between two points and fast and straight as possible (and avoiding any high speed mishaps along the way!)

Getting Sideways & J-Turn City…

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The Yokomo of Matt Tunks

The second vehicle I called in for this challenge was a 1/10th Yokomo Drift Car (and the help of our resident Drift Guru; Matthew Tunks). Matthew is sponsored by the company and regularly competes and judges National and even International RC Drift comps. He brought over a selection of his latest 2 and 4WD drifters, but decided that the shaft driven DPR would be the most suitable for this challenge. It’s not the newest model in the range and has now been replaced by the YD-4. But would hopefully (with some tuition from Matthew), be an easier option for Jason to quickly ‘get’ and attempt to master in the short time they would have to get acquainted with each other.

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The WR8 Ken Block replica…fast as (funk!)

Lastly for the times Auto Test Challenge I enlisted the help of a real Hoonigan. HPI’s Brushless WR8 Hoonigan to be exact with a replica Ken Block Ford Fiesta HFHV shell. Now this is another vehicle that we know back to front here at RRCZ. As a team we’ve reviewed both the Brushless and Nitro incarnations. Its based on the Bullet bloodline of vehicles, but has undergone a tweak here and there to lower arms and suspension. Instead of being a 1/10th Monster or Stadium Truck, its actually a 1/8th Global Rallycross car. Now if you haven’t heard of Ken Block, or seen any of his Gymkhana videos you must have been living as a hermit on a remote island somewhere…Here’s the latest (but its well worth watching them all historically right back from Gymkhana One!) :

Number 46 aside…the HPI car pretty much mimics the real thing, just without the excess tyre smoke. Its 4000kv motor on 3s LiPo power pushes out a very healthy 44,400 rpm and on stock gearing that’s around 60mph. But its not out and out acceleration we are after, the handling must be spot on, with an almost 50/50 weight balance and fast, responsive steering. Luckily HPI have all that in hand and have even added sway (anti-roll) bars front and rear and 11-spoke bright blue Speedline wheels shod with tyres that allow for grip and acceleration (especially on tarmac), but still allow the driver to feed in the power to break traction for performing do-nuts, power slides and even J-Turns.

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You gotta love the Block livery…it makes you want to drive it like you stole it (or were given it to rag around without consequence!)

The car tends to offer the classic lift of oversteer characteristics of most 4WD’s, but still allows you to hit a tight turn fast and tap the brakes, unsettle the handling and then feed in the power again to ‘Hoonigan’ it round. This is definitely the right vehicle to attempt a Time Attack against a real car…add to this the fact that the person bringing the car from HPI was none other than long time RRCi and RCCZ collaborator Frank McKinney, it made our trio of vehicles and technical help truly complete.

Rocking Up @ Rockingham Motor Speedway

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About to go and drift in the Aston together…and believe you me that’s a real experience

 

So on a very cold but sunny day in Spring we all met up at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire. The track was dry and the huge dedicated motor sports venue has everything from fast a banked oval circuit running around its perimeter to International Super Sportscar Circuit, National Circuit and even an infield Handling Circuit. On the banked circuit, the oval comprises four very distinct corners. The oval lap record is held by Tony Kanaan in a Champ Car, lapping in 24.719s, with a staggering average speed of 215.397mph! Obviously we wouldn’t be getting up yo anywhere near that, but the start line and first straight leading into turn one would be perfect for the drag race between the Aston martin and the X-01.

Away from the Oval, a section of the handling circuit on the infield was to be used for the 1:1 drift challenge. For the Yokomo RC Drift car, a perfect 1/10th version of the same challenge was also laid out by the Gadget production team and Matt. It was to be run on a totally smooth piece of outdoor concrete adjacent to the infield paddock and workshop areas. So smooth and shiny it was, that it looked almost tailor made for this challenge.

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The perfect surface to learn to drift an RC car on…or so we thought!

Then the ‘Talent’ arrived on set. Jason Bradbury was his usual bouncy self, and raring to get stuck in with the cars selected, after 1st he was fuelled by fresh caffeine, and 2nd he had been instructed by each company about their particular vehicles idiosyncrasies and had a good play with each. Having worked with Jason for many years now, we just get on, both with each other and with the shoot in hand. Same age, same mentality and same outlook on life…we are serious when we need to be and have fun when we don’t (guess what aspect always wins!)

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The production team of Chris and Ben mic up and Go Pro the car itself!

Mark Higgins appeared just as the first of two Vantage Aston Martin’s were delivered onto the set. He immediately fired it up and got himself acquainted with it on the main straight, and then on the infield. Considering it was a V12, but automatic (the manual V8 car would be delivered later in the day) he got it performing some very cool stunts. Huge tyre smoking power drifts around the apexes of the infield corners, a couple of very fast J-turns on the main straight and a serious of mock time trial manoeuvres around random stationary objects, other cars and traffic cones.

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Mark Higgins shows us why he’s driven cars like this V12 Vantage in films like Spectre…Its the tyres I felt sorry for (NOT!)

A Drag Race…For Pink Slips (Not!)

So we set up for challenge number one, the Drag Race. Stuart Wilcox had the X-01 charged and ready to go, its two 3S, 5000 mAh LiPo cells offering the vehicle 22.2v of power and the Castle Creations 1650kv motor 36,630 rpm. When used in conjunction with the High Speed Gearing and high downforce splitter, its a potent combination!

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Chris getting a smooth Dolly Shot of the X-01 for the cars on screen tech intro

For the first few runs the X-01 was left in its locked mode. This means that its top speed is initially limited to just 55mph via the Traxxas Link App. This would allow Jason to get a feel for the cars handling and how it accelerates from a standing start. After a few blasts up and down the main straight, Stuart used the app and his IPhone to Unlock the car and enable the Castle Creations Mamba Extreme ESC to give full power on demand, and that amazing 103mph top speed.

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Jason’s first go with the X-01…Stuart offering advice about feeding in the power

As it was so cold, getting heat into the tyres was vital as the compound is quite hard at low ambient temps. A few mock burn outs later and they felt sticky and warm, but keeping them that way was proving difficult. Stuart did a few runs to check the car was trimmed correctly and even he had to back off the power at times when the car suddenly started to drift to the left or right, losing traction even at 70mph+. Then the transmitter was passed up to Jason who was perched on the gantry high above the start and finish line, offering him a full view of the track, but sideways on. Possibly not the easiest of positions for a drag race (I always prefer to stand behind the car, so I can see it it veers off in any way and correct it). He had a few test runs and initially had the same issues as Stuart. The tyres just wouldn’t stay warm enough in the close to freezing temperatures. Jason would punch the throttle, the car would speed off, accelerating to 60mph in about 3 seconds and then 100mph in under 6. If it veered off course, he immediately would back off halting that run. When it went wrong we had a few tense moments, but he kept it off the barriers and in one piece.

When it went right it was a sight to behold. The X-01 may be over three years old now as a design, but it’s a vehicle that simply hasn’t been toppled by any other in the RC industry. Traxxas set out to design and build the worlds fastest commercially available RC car and they did just that. Seeing it, in its latest white livery streaking down the track was amazing. Having reviewed one myself I know that ‘Buzz’ and hit of adrenalin you get when you first get a 100+ run, and it would be no different for Jason.

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Stuart Wilcox in the pit lane making sure the car was trimmed and ready to go…Note the tyre marks from Mr Higgins!

Drivers Ready? Cars Ready? Go…

We had an official on hand from Rockingham to start the Drag Race standing between the two cars with a chequered flag, and as they lined up side by side for the first of 3 runs, the sheer size difference made it seem a very David and Goliath battle. Run one and two would be to practice, and then run three the actual challenge recorded for the TV show.

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The gantry overlooking the start line and side on to the track offered Jason a full view of the entire straight

Run One: The flag dropped and Mark floored the accelerator of the Aston, even being a Automatic, he had the option of putting it into a sports mode, and as Q says in Spectre “It’ll do 0-62 in 3.2 seconds…”. He had also switched off traction control and launch aids, wanting to be in as much control over the delivery of power from the V12 to the tyres as possible. That was pretty evident by both the speed of the launch and the amount of tyre smoke he produced too! From the RC side Jason gave the X-01 a good squeeze of the throttle and both cars sped away from the start line like rockets. It was neck and neck until about half way up the straight and then Jason saw the Traxxas starting to drift towards the Aston and backed off. Having done previous RC challenges where the RC vehicle ended up being run over by the full sized one, he learnt from that and wanted it to survive the challenge.

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Side-by-side…both drivers nervously awaiting their chance to pin the throttle

Run Two: This time it was Mark who actually backed off, correction, the Aston did! It seemed that on its full throttle launch from the start line, the Aston sounded like it miss-shifted about a third of the way up the run and went from a tyre spinning rocket ship, to a Sunday afternoon plodder…Jason and the X-01 sped away and passed the finish markers (Cones) at what looked like nearly maximum speed. I could see the grin from Jason right from my vantage point on the other side of the track!

“Best Of Three?”

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It was time to see who had the fastest car…and nerves of steel

This was what Jason jokingly shouted to mark as the cars lined up again for the final run. This was it, the real deal. The flag dropped, the cars both launch perfectly and sped away into the distance. For the first 3rd of the run it was completely neck and neck. If you were a betting man (or Woman) it would be a hard thing to put odds on. But then spurred on by the fact the tyres were starting to consistently give grip, Jason pinned the throttle and the X-01 gradually moved ahead of the Aston, passing the finish line a good 1:1 car length ahead. We all shouted and screamed, RC had won its first victory over the real thing. Jason was jumping up and down on the gantry and Mark showed his feelings by spinning the Aston round and power sliding it back up the straight and performing a handbrake turn top finish back perfectly on the start line again. We then moved onto the Drift challenge…

But First Mark Took Me 2 laps Of The Circuit – ‘Sideways’…

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What gets me is that he’s so calm while driving like this…lighting up the rubber at every opportunity

The infield circuit location wasn’t too far away but carrying a heavy camera case and lenses I had my hands full. Then Mark shouted over for me to jump in the Aston with him. I needed no encouragement. He then took me for two laps of the handling circuit, clutching my camera case between my feet and most of it completely sideways, smoke billowing out from the rear tyres. Now remember this is an Automatic and occasionally the electronics tried to cut back in and offer traction control and bring the Vantage S back onto the straight a narrow. It actually did it mid drift once, and you went from being pushed into the corner of the seat and pulling a few G, to it snapping back to normality and cleanly taking the apex pointed perfectly in the right direction. I know which I preferred and I would show you the video I shot on my phone but I may have uttered a few expletives in my excitement! Mark truly is a master of his art and to him driving like this, in full control is simply another day in the office.

Aston Challenge Two: Mark Takes Jason Drifting

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Mark made the Drift Challenge look easy…as long as the traction control didn’t cut in mid-corner!

Cones were laid out between two parts of the track, and two apex’s were earmarked for Mark to drift the Aston around. With Jason in the passenger seat he did just that, executed three runs, all perfectly sideways, transitioning between both drifts and offering just enough throttle to control the drift, while still smoking those poor tyres…It was effortless, and with only one minor hiccup (again when the traction control cut in mid-corner). Marks runs were a master-class in car control and his abilities as a driver. The benchmark was set, and the benchmark was very high.

RC Car Challenge Two: Jason Takes The Yokomo Drifting

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Its was harder that Jason anticipated, and really shows the skill required to ‘properly’ drift a RC car

With some expert guidance from Matt Tunks, Jason got started on the Drift Challenge. Just like the Aston, first initiating and then maintaining a drift is all about breaking traction, throttle control or Finesse, Counter Steering and knowing that point at which to balance all these factors. With Matt demonstrating it looked effortless and if this was a challenge between Mark and Matt it would be one that would be hard to separate the two. But it wasn’t. This was between mark and Jason, and what Jason soon found out was that real RC drifting is much harder than top drivers like Matt make it seem.

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Jason tried time after time to get the right finesse on the throttle and lines…but to no avail

The initial learning curve can feel quite steep, and I have to admit, even after years of practice, it always takes me a few laps to get that ‘feel’ again and to be able to seamlessly thread a car through a series of apex’s in one fluid movement. Jason is a self confessed RC nut. He gives everything 110% and this was no exception, but try as he might he just couldn’t match Marks drift prowess. At the end of this Drift Challenge it was firmly: RC 1 – Aston 1.

With everything still to play for, it was a nice way to go into the final Challenge after a break for lunch: The RC v Aston Auto Test.

Come In Number 43, Your Time is Up…

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No that’s not a Russian leader with Jason, that’s a very cold American…the one and only Frank M

After a healthy lunch in the track-side restaurant, and a coffee re-charge it was time for Mark to drive the manual Aston Martin Vantage V8 and Jason the HPI WR8 Ken Block replica. A large car park adjacent to the pit workshops had been allocated as the venue and a variety of challenges awaited both drivers. Cones were used to mark out a start line, multiple islands to drift around, sections to weave in and out of, then drive into and then reverse back out of, J-turn 180 degrees and then sprint for the finish line.

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Note the Go-Pro’s attached to Marks Aston…I’m sure one fell off during filming and gave its life for the cause

What you must remember here is that the WR8 is (on the correct gearing) capable of a top speed of over 65mph with the 3S pack Frank McKinney had fitted. But this wasn’t about top speed. It was about acceleration, manoeuvrability and handling. Without waxing too lyrical its was also about man and vehicle in harmony, using each cars abilities to negotiate the course in as fast a time as possible. This was a very hard one to call as the course was designed to accommodate the Aston and yet the WR8 would have to cover exactly the same distance, and negotiate all the same 1:1 obstacles. Both drivers were allowed a couple of practice runs, they both watched each other safely from a vantage point on the roof of the buildings adjacent to the challenge.

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OK, so admittedly its an older version of the Block livery, but it’s still Uber cool

It took both drivers a couple of attempts to get around the course cleanly, one J Turn that mark attempted didn’t swing the full 180 degrees and meant a time sapping correction before the sprint to the line. Jason took out one of the cones at speed and popped of a steering linkage and sheared off a body mount, but that was quickly repaired. Time wise you couldn’t call it between the two, and it would all come down to how composed they were during the challenge itself.

An Aston Attacks The Course

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“Eyes right…” oh and wheels counter steering into the drift!

Mark went first and after being counted down by Jason, accelerated away from the line and made short work of the entire course. The Aston drifted perfectly, pirouetting around each Cone Island, it weaved perfectly around each chicane section, combining out and out tyre smoking power, with deft use of the handbrake and cars own weight and momentum. He then drove the car expertly into the cone parking bay that had been setup at the far end of the course, stopped fore just a Millisecond and then reversed the car at speed, wheels spinning and then performed a picture perfect J turn before sprinted to, and then over the line, stopping the Aston perfectly between both white lines and asking for his time from Jason. 36.30 seconds. That was fast, very fast…

‘Mr Bradbury’ Is Possessed By ‘Mr Block’

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“Concentrate Jason, just not too hard…” words of encouragement from Mark or an attempt to unsettle Mr B?

Jason was very fired up for this and after warming up the tyres with a few impromptu donuts he then put the WR8 on the start line and waited for the signal to go. Mark was perched this time on the roof next to him, Jason’s view was again side-on to the whole area in question and with a “Three, Two, One!” from Mark, he was off!

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The faces say it all…close was an understatement. The cars perfectly matched

The WR8 sped away as if possessed by Ken Block himself. It rocketed around both the cone islands (this thing corners like its on rails) and the tighter more technical parts of the course. Seeing a vehicle so small being driven at well over 50mph most of the time, even 60mph+ on the longer sections brought a smile just as big as Jason was showing to most of those faces (including mine) looking on. The last third of the course involved driving into that Cone Parking Bay and then after stopping, going full speed in reverse and J Turning the RC car before sprinting at over 60mph over the line.

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Little n large…it’s all about perspective!

The pre-J-Turn would be Jason’s downfall. Even after performing two flawlessly in practice, as he pulled into the parking area, he got the angle wrong and hesitated. The WR8 needed to be corrected for its angle and then the J-Turn could happen. He then simply punched it and aimed for the line. Even with the pause and correction, Jason still managed a very fast transition, but that single aspect lost him valuable seconds and wasn’t the smooth, flowing all-in-one movement the Aston Martin had managed…The WR8 shot over the line and Jason stopped perfectly between the white lines. All eyes turned to Mark as he first showed Jason the time…then the cameraman. ”Nooooooo” came the shout from Jason, and Mark’s smile said it all…The Bond Stunt Driver had won!

Just 2 Seconds Slower!

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It just wasn’t to be…2 seconds slower on the run and just half a second on a re-run…but man was it fun!

It was a very close fought thing. The RC car had passed the line in 38.43 seconds, and we were all convinced that without the pre-J-Turn mistake it would have been neck and neck. To prove this point, Mark let Jason try the course again. 36.50 seconds later he crossed the line. Close, but not close enough. Jason’s a good sport and said his first time must stand, and that’s the run that the program aired on TV. The day ended there. We all said our goodbyes, the crew packed up everything, Mark sped away in a very cool looking BMW M3, Jason disappeared in a Taxi to get his train back to London and Stuart Wilcox, Matt Tunks and Frank McKinney lines all the vehicles up for a final parting show for the mag before themselves packing away and departing Rockingham Raceway…it’s a wrap!

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The amazing tunnel that goes under the track…yes we may have ragged the WR8 down it!

A huge thanks for as ever to The Gadget Show having faith in both myself and the RC industry to help them make some very interesting and hopefully inspiring television. RC Tech, and presenter challenges have been a part of the program for many, many years and they always get a very positive response from the shows millions of viewers. I hope you enjoyed this little behind the scenes insight into the making of an episode and roll on the next one!

For more about The Gadget Show & View Whole Episode click: HERE

For more about the Traxxas X-01 click: HERE

For more about Yokomo Drift cars click: HERE

For more about the HPI WR8 Ken Block click: HERE