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+
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-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?”
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
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