Have you ever been to a track practice on your own and wished you had been able to time your laps? Or have you been to a car park etc to race friends and wished you could time yourselves. Well the new lap monitor timing system from LapMonitor enables you to do this. A small compact counting system, used in conjunction with a smartphone/tablet, and a transponder with variable numbers allows single racer Lap timing or multi-racers. Interested? Well read on.
I first came across LapMonitor on a Facebook post in a group I am a member of. My initial introduction was from a crowd funding page and I am ashamed to say I paid little attention, Then recently I saw it on another Facebook page where a racer was using it. I made some enquiries and soon had one in my sweaty paws to test.
On opening the package you are presented with a plastic corrugated box and neatly packaged inside is the base unit, which captures laps, two AAA batteries, two mini tripods, extension leads, a transponder, some servo extension cables and some Velcro. I opted for an optional transponder to enable me to race my team-mate and compare times while testing.
In Use – Bind N Race
The LapMonitor attaches to a little holder which then screws onto the tripods. The two tripods included are a small one with flexible legs and a larger one with stiff telescopic legs. You can choose which one enables you to get the monitor mounted in the perfect position. A small battery cover on the back allows the insertion of the two batteries. The unit does auto switch off but you are recommended to remove at least one battery to prevent any drainage.
Once powered up you need a mobile phone or tablet that runs Android or Apple IOS and the LapMonitor App which can be downloaded from the App or iTunes Store. Once the app is loaded onto your device simply switch on your Lap Monitor and bind it through your Bluetooth settings. Select practice or race, how long for the session duration, minimum lap time, start sound, speech and lap time announcements.
There are also lots of other settings to choose and alter how the system works. When you click the drivers tab you can enter a drivers name and assign them a transponder number. This number is marked on each individual transponder and you can run up to (at the moment of typing this) 96 on one LapMonitor, although that would be one very busy track. LapMonitor have thought about different types of vehicle and powering the PT externally. Two types of transponder are available one with a normal Futaba type receiver lead which plugs into your receiver to power the PT or one with a connector which attaches to small light pro batteries such as found in small quads etc so the PT can be remotely mounted without connection to anything.
It would be possible to run a race meeting using the Lap counting system but you would need to manually sort all the information and racers.
How Does It Work?
The transponder works off an infrared beam so does need to be able to see via line of sight It will work through clear lexan so it is easy enough to mount where it can see through the window of your car. You do need to bear in mind that the infrared has a considerable range so don’t pick a corner where it may double count, by that I mean if the car passes the monitor the same way twice it is possible for it to pick up a short Lap. This is easily rectified by increasing the minimum lap time or carefully selecting where you place the Lap counter so it only sees the car once.
The Bluetooth module used to connect to the Smartphone or tablet is high quality and has a range of 80m in open field, Although I recommend in real life, at say a track with variables such as people, buildings, vehicles and other signals being bounced about a safe working range of up to 40 m.
And dont worry if the signal is interrupted for ant reason, automatic reconnection is already there on IOS, and will come on Android soon.
Once the car is ready with the transponder mounted and the LapMonitor is trackside you simply press start on your app, countdown will be given and when you pass the monitor your time will be recorded.
Clear announcements are made at the start countdown and start tone and each time you pass the monitor it will say your PT name so as an example mine says “Mark 17.12”. If other people are present or you’re using a noisy IC car by adding earphones to the phones headphone socket it will talk in your ear. I found this extremely useful at a 5th scale national on road meeting with qualifying runs over 10 minutes.
I altered my practice times to 10 minutes when I was ready to set off round the track I pressed start and every lap was spoken to me in my ear so I could see whether that lap was faster or slower and more importantly by trying a different line I knew whether it was costing or saving me time.
The Lap announcements also countdown the time so you know how long you have left in your run. Having not done 10 minute qualifying runs before I found this extremely useful as a training aid as I got used to running for 10 minutes with no external help. Oddly on qualifying day I missed having the Lap announcements in my ear. Also during practice day I set off the PT in my friend’s car and we had a 10 minute race. The system coped perfectly and announced each Lap position and who was where.
Once you’ve done your testing run you can go back to your pits open the app and the runtime and laps will be displayed with a total laps, total time, last lap time, and the best lap time for each racer.
By clicking any of the times the app will then display all the individual lap times. You can also click the three dots on the top right of the app and then click share event and share the event to numerous other apps such as Google drive, email, WhatsApp and Microsoft One Note. Other apps are being added as the designers find them suitable.
I have to say the LapMonitor is so simple in design and operation yet so versatile and useful it really is a must for any car park through to pro racer. It is worth every penny and is a superb bit of equipment.
I asked owner and designer Franck Geay who is from France some questions, Franck has been extremely helpful and given me lots of advice and is also still busy working on further features for the apps.
Mark: Hi Franck how did you get the idea of the LapMonitor?
Franck:“I use to drive on a parking place around scooter wheels and hosepipes and on also our on local club track which has no permanent lap timer and no electricity. As I am a racing fan and I wanted a portable lap timer to compete with my friends when training I started to develop the first prototype at the beginning of 2016…”
Mark: how did you set up production of LapMonitor?
Franck: “the first production batch has been manufactured by crowd funding, we were please to get supported by world class drivers: among them Ryan Lutz, Ryan Maifield ! Once it was working fine, and after we tested it on many scales indoor and outdoor we decided to make it a real product. We launched LapMonitor sales last year in December…”
Mark: are you happy with how it’s become a production version?
Franck:“It was very exciting and it is still, we get a lot of feedback from drivers who love their LapMonitor because it is fast and simple to use and does not require a computer to use it…”
Currently you need to buy direct from LapMonitor, prices are in Euros but while we are still in the EU there is no VAT or import duties. LapMonitor are looking and negotiating to get them distributed within the UK and as soon as that is possible details will be on their website. You can buy the main unit and one transponder then buy extra transponders to add to your main unit at a later date which makes this infinitely expandable.
Bluetooth 4.0. Range: up to 80 m
Power supply: 2xAAA batteries (not included)
IR range: 5-10 meters depending on weather conditions
Power supply: 3.7-8.4v (JR receiver or Molex connector)
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.
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.
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: –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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!
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!
· 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
· 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…