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)
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+
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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-shiftedabout a third of the wayup the runand 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?”
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’…
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
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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
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’
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
Last time out, as a total newb to the RC hobby I was graced with a ready to run offering that required very little setup before I could get out in to the wide open spaces and play. I loved it and was well and truly hooked as I whole heartedly knew I would be. Knowing this, and also knowing I’m always looking for new things to try and new toys to play with, Pete felt I was ready for the next step toward RC enlightenment.
On a rare sunny afternoon, I met up with Phil Makeitbuildit Lawrence at his man cave / workplace / RC haven and with a smile on his face he handed me a big box. “Your next assignment” he said. I looked on the box and on it was a cool looking orange buggy. It was the new Tamiya Racing Fighter. “Cool”, I thought, I had seen an advert for this in the last edition of the RCCar.zone magazine and remembered thinking how great it looked. I was looking forward to giving this a test drive! At this point, I didn’t realise it was in bits, and opened the box to look at it, expecting to see a fully assembled buggy with a painted body shell just waiting for me to drool over. However, as I opened the box I saw a clear body shell still in the moulding, gears, more screws than B&Q, lots of plastic parts on sprues and more besides.
It was then that the full reality of the task dawned on me and if I’m honest, as well as being excited at the prospect of being able to have a go at this, I was also a little apprehensive. This was a far cry from the Lego kits I’m used to doing with my kids.
Tamiya I know is a huge name in the RC world. They have been around since I was young and always seem to be releasing new great looking kits. The opportunity to build one of these was a great one, and I knew I’d be in good hands with such a trusted manufacturer. After all, if they have been around this long they must be doing something right. The kit came with an ESC and an upgraded torque tuned motor. I did however have to add the steering servo, transmitter and receiver myself. Also, there was no battery included in the box, so this also had to go on my newly formed shopping list. I contemplated turning to ebay for the parts, thinking I could grab a bargain or two, but I wanted to make sure I not only got the right parts, but good parts too. I didn’t want to spoil the review with sub-par parts that weren’t up to the job. Luckily I had a handy alternative. I have the aforementioned friend who has a healthy interest in all things RC, and an RC hobby store just up the road from where I live. Yay.
I arranged to meet with Mr MakeitBuildit and we made our way to the store. After a brief chat with the owner I purchased a mid-range servo, controller and receiver. While these did not break the bank, they were of sufficient quality to ensure I was not going to do the Racing Fighter an injustice.
Before we left, I remembered the clear plastic body shell. Paint!! I need paint too. I toyed with the idea of copying the box, the orange body with the black tail section. It’s a very striking colour scheme and looks great. However, I imagine a lot of the appeal of building these comes from the freedom to choose whatever colours you want from the Tamiya paint range. So, after a few minutes’ deliberation I decided to exercise this freedom and go with my own colours and design. After throwing some ideas around (sometimes you can have too much choice) I decided to go with a slightly retro look. I settled on a light blue shell with a white “Cobra” stripe down the middle. How I was going to make this a reality at this point I was unsure, but nonetheless I bought some Tamiya blue and white spray paint along with the rest of my goodies. With my new parts and paints literally “in the bag” I was all set to start the build.
Onto The Assembly
When I opened the box to start the build I had forgotten just how many parts there were. Bags of parts, many, many sprues, stickers and a smattering of electrical parts and wires. This was not going to be a quick job. I couldn’t help but think “Where do I start?” as I laid out the parts in front of me.
One thing I learnt from the small setup I did on the ready to run truck was to make sure I read the instructions before doing anything. As you would expect from an established kit manufacturing giant like Tamiya, the instructions were very detailed. Each bag of parts was labelled A to D. The instructions clearly show which bag of parts you need for each part of the build. This helps no end. The parts on the sprues, I was very pleased to see, were also clearly marked. Identifying the correct parts is much simpler when they have a letter and number to identify them by.
For seasoned builders, none of this will be a big surprise but as a newcomer, I cannot tell you how helpful it was. A simple touch that makes all the difference, and this one actually allowed me to get started with minimal fuss. The diagrams were so detailed that I actually looked to match up the parts in the pictures, with those in the pack, and then double checked I had the correct numbered piece. Unfortunately, because of other commitments, there was no way I was going to get this done in one sitting, however, so once I completed the Bag A section I put the body build to one side. It was already starting to look a little bit like a car and I was pleased I’d made a decent start with nothing snapping or bursting into flames.
Later that week, Phil called. He had another Tamiya car to build and wondered if I wanted to go round and finish my build at same time. Sounded like a good idea to me. When I got there I decided to start on the body shell first. I knew this was going to need to dry after painting so thought it was best to get it out of the way early. However, I had not appreciated just how much work goes into getting the body shells prepared and painted. The shell needed to be cut out, and once again I felt a bit nervous. This is the bit that everyone sees, the bit that people comment on firsthand to add to the pressure, it was going to be photographed to go into an online magazine! One wrong cut and it’s all over. So, slowly, with a very small pair of scissors I took to the plastic. There were a few awkward corners, but thankfully nothing I could not cope with in the end. After a few minutes I had two sections cut out, and with a sigh of relief I started to prep them for painting.
After washing out the undersides, and then covering up the windows on the inside of the shell with the stickers that are provided I moved onto covering up the Viper stripe I was looking to create. I decided to run a thin covering of masking tape down the middle of the main body shell, but went with a thicker line on the tail. This would hopefully create a nice effect once finished and add a bit more interest to it. Once happy they were straight and in position I took out my tin of blue spray paint. Phil had already advised me that long smooth passes with the spray was the order of the day, so with that in mind I went to it. The blue took three coats to get a complete covering, but thankfully they did not take too long to dry in between. Once I was happy this layer was complete, I moved onto the white stripe. I took off the tape that I had used and was gutted to find that some blue paint had still crept underneath and leaked onto what should have been the white section.
Lucky however, as the paint was now dry I was able to scrape most of this off with a scalpel, taking care not to scratch the shell itself. This tidied the lines up some way. It was not perfect, but it was good enough. With that, out came the white paint. Again, three coats were needed to make sure the white had covered the whole shell evenly. Once this was dry I was able to remove the stickers in the windows and look upon the completed shell. I was really pleased with how my first paining attempt had finished. The blue was just the right shade I was after, and it had the stripe I wanted down the middle. In the end I was pleased that I had not simply opted for a single colour. I wanted to challenge myself to an extent, without giving myself an impossible task. As such, I had a shell that I thought pretty good. Yay me!! Phil then handed me another tin of spray paint. “Smoke for the Windows” he said. “Brilliant” I replied. A quick spray later and I had some smoky, half blacked out windows too.
Leaving the shell to settle I went back to the main body build. One of the most satisfying things I found from doing the build was finding out how things worked. Putting the “diffs” together and sealing them in their casing is something I have never done before. It was fascinating to see the simplicity of them, while understanding what a crucial role they play, not only in RC cars, but in their big brothers that we drive every day. There were many other areas of the build I enjoyed too. Setting up the gears that worked with the motor, and then onto the drive shaft. Putting together the quality oil filled front and rear shock absorbers. All the time, gaining an understanding into what makes this car tick. Although at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated it, I was gaining an in-depth knowledge into how the Racing Fighter works, which bit does what, where it is meant to go and what it is meant to do. Of course, this knowledge will in time transfer itself to other builds and models too, which can only be a good thing.
There was however one part of the build I did not enjoy as much as the rest. Getting the tyres onto the wheels. This is especially true for the rear tyres. I understand why they are tight. I don’t want a tyre ripping itself away from the wheel because it was too loose, but wow are they a pain to get on. It was a struggle of epic proportions, with grunting many of the Wimbledon tennis players would have been proud of before I finally had them all on.
With the wheels finally completed, and attached, the main build was complete. I had of course followed the instructions to place all of the electronics in the correct place and connect them up to each other. So with that the car was in essence ready to run. However, the build had taken me around 4 hours to complete and it was midnight at Phil’s. I thought it best to leave him to his cocoa and being honest I was pretty tired myself. The test run would have to be another day.
Before I could take the Racing Fighter out there was one more job I had to do to finish things off. The livery stickers that come included in the set. These would finish the shell off to give it the polished look. For this job I enlisted the help of my partner Wendy. She cut out the stickers and I stuck them on. The partnership worked wonders and we were done in a little over 20 minutes. And looking down at my completed shell I was chuffed with how it looked. It’s amazing how much some quality stickers can lift a paint job. While I was pleased with the body shell before, once finished I was not only pleased, but also proud. Proud of the whole thing. The sense of accomplishment at building this was something I was not expecting. I couldn’t stop looking it, thinking “Wow…I did that”. I’m sure even the most veteran of builders out there can remember their first build and how they felt when it was done. It’s a great feeling.
The Driving Experience
The first time out with my new car was just into the back garden with my son. I didn’t really know what to expect. I half expected it to explode in comedy Simpsons style, hurtling into the flower beds. Anyone who knows me would probably expect the same. But no. With my 2S battery inside, it raced around the garden and, looked great as it did so. It jumped off the decking and onto the grass with ease, taking the landing in its stride before racing off once more. I upped the ante a little and pulled out the skateboard ramp. Again, the Racing Fighter handled it, and both me and my boy loved seeing it fly though the air. It felt really well balanced. Every jump and turn was easily controlled by the oil filled dampeners and we were loving racing it around the garden. Then after 15mins something happened. The car stopped. The motor was revving, but the wheels were not turning. Now, if this had happened with the ready to run truck I used, I would have panicked. I had no idea how that was put together and would not have known where to start in finding any internal faults that were not obvious.
However, that was not the case with the Racing Fighter. I had screwed every screw and greased every gear. I knew how this car worked. Looking at it, I could see everything was connected to where they should be and the drive shafts where exactly where they were meant to be too. Which left one option. The gears in the motor housing. I figured something must have come loose in there, and therefore no power is getting to the drive shaft. With the confidence that only comes from knowing exactly what to expect, I removed the cover to expose the gears inside. Sure enough, the gear that attaches directly to the motor was not aligned to the other gears. As it turned out, I had not sufficiently tightened up the grub screw that fixes it in place. A simple fix. After correcting my mistake, and putting the cover back on a quick test showed that this was indeed the problem. The motor was turning the wheels once more! This fix was only possible due to the fact I did the build. Already I was seeing the benefits this approach can bring.
I have since taken the Racing Fighter out a couple of times. The car is a lot of fun. It is fast, nimble and very responsive. As it is rear drive, skids and donuts are very easy to achieve and very satisfying. It handled every terrain I could find to throw it at with ease, from grass fields, to stony car parks and pretty much everything in-between. It looks great too. The sleek body shell offset by the big rear wheels and thinner front ones gives it a great classic buggy look. It sits close to the floor and seems to hug the ground as it races off. I quickly felt very comfortable with it, and was confidently throwing it into corners, skids and jumps. Of course, not everything you try goes to plan and I was pleasantly surprised by how resilient it is. It has already taken its fair share of tumbles, flips and bumps, but the Racing Fighter has taken these on the chin with little fuss. There is hardly a scratch on the shell or the plastic bumpers keeping it looking its best. I have even had some people comment on the paint work, bringing with it that pang of pride again. Something you don’t get with a body shell pre-painted.
When I was first given the Tamiya box and told to build my next car, I didn’t really get why people would do this. Looking at all the parts in the box my first thought was “isn’t it easier to buy one ready-made?” And of course, yes, it is. But that, I now know, is not the full story. Building your car from scratch, piece by piece, is very fulfilling. I learnt so much about how RC cars work during the build that I now feel much more confident when taking off the lids. If something were to go wrong in the future I have no doubt I would not only know what the issue is, but also how to fix it. Something that cannot be said for a pre-built machine. I literally know this car inside and out.
Something I have already mentioned is the freedom to paint your shell as you want it. It’s is great to have the choice and even better to see your design, your paint job racing around for others to see.
The Racing Fighter itself is great! As I’ve already mentioned it’s fast, easy to get the hang of and very well behaved. Because of how stable it is, it is easy to get it up to full speed (at least in a 2S battery) and still feel in total control. It is very nimble and is aided by a very small turning circle. For the price, I don’t think you can go wrong. The Tamiya write up says this kit is aimed at less experienced builders, offering hassle free assembly and the opportunity to get to grips with RC car composition and construction. Tamiya have hit the mark on all of these points and they deliver a tough car that is a lot of fun and is sure to be a favourite of anybody who builds it. It’s certainly a firm favourite of mine!
Easy to build and understand
Great ‘Training’ for future builds
2WD is a true drivers car
Off Road Basher or stock club racer
Painting and cutting out shell difficult for a newb