Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Mr Magoo's 2010 retrospective

So, that time of year has come round again. You know the one, too many pies, too many relatives and some kind of chunky knit sweater your gran thinks will look lovely. It's also that time of year we all go bleary eye'd and look back over another year. Not wanting to be one to break from tradition, here's my look back over a year in RC racing...

Mr Magoo's Event of the Year
This was a tough one, I've been to some great races this year. The stand-out for me was three days in Slough in September for the ProLine International Invitational. The track surface was amazing, I've never seen a groove develop like that on a UK track. The racing was awesome and the social element was also off the chart. Probably the most fun I've had racing, although my performance was less than stellar! I'd only raced buggy once before and so was always on the back foot, a bad engine tune and an RC8B that I just couldn't make work didn't help. This was the race that convinced me I needed a Losi 8ight EU, a decision I still stand by.

Mr Magoo's NOT the Event of the Year
Epic fail of the year has to be the SRS round 2 race at Slough. Radio gremlins meant I turned three laps all day in an event I was very much looking forward to. Given that this was probably the last time I'll ever get to run the truggy at Slough makes this especially disappointing. I won't dwell on this one, suffices to say that the fault hardware has since had a swift meeting with a wood-splitting axe and won't be causing me any more trouble!

Mr Magoo's Product of the Year
I'm going to give this one to the Alpha Plus line of engines. One of the main topics on almost every racers mind this year seems to have been the cost of racing. Lets face it 8th of road is not a cheap hobby these days and anything that can drive the price down with out sacrificing quality has got to help. I've run the Alpha S852 and F850 motors in buggy and truggy all year an found them utterly reliable, plenty powerful and very good on fuel. Both engines are deep into 4-5 gallons now and look to have plenty of life left in them. How good are they? Well, these £140 motors have relegated my £300 OS Speed Worlds engine to my spare... nuff said.

Mr Magoo's NOT Product of the Year
Sorry ProLine, but this ones gotta head your way... Over priced tyres that just don't work that well on your average UK track, and rubber compounds that just don't seem to last. You've been out front for so long that you never saw the competition coming until they were out in front. If you want to see what you should be doing, take a look at www.raceaka.com and learn a new trick or two. But mostly, can we have sensible prices please? At around £60 a set, people are going to stop racing just because they can't afford the tyres.

Mr Magoo's Why didn't I Try This Before?
Electric 2 wheel drive. Cheap kit (Ansmann X-Pro, some electrics from Hong Kong), low tech chassis and close racing has to be fun. Throw in a good club atmosphere and some great characters and a Sunday's racing at TORCH almost made it to my event of the year. I think I'll be doing a lot more of this next season, it's so much fun it'll probably be banned!

Mr Magoo's Man of the Year
Mr Neil McRae, figure-head of truggy racing in the UK, and Mr UK Truggy Pro. With almost no help and a hectic personal schedule Neil manages year after year to put on a top quality national truggy racing series against all odds. The guy's a legend, a status made even greater after a sat-nav induced 'incident' at a very wet Deerdale this year. Cheers for another year of fun event's Neil, we'll see you in 2011.

So, there you are, 2010 done and dusted. All that's left to do now is get this miserable winter out of the way, and get into 2011 ready to generate some more great memories. So you all track-side real soon!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

JVD RC Clutch review

The clutch of a nitro car is one of those things that's all too easy to take for granted, at least until it fails on you mid A final, or you need to make a change in a rush between heats. For most 8th scale off-roaders a three shoe clutch is the norm (we'll ignore Losi for just a while). These have been around for ages and most people will have worked on one at some point, and more than likely stabbed themselves whilst trying to pry the clutch springs over the clutch nut with a screwdriver. Sure, there are tools available but I tend to never be able to find mine when I'm in a rush!

In recent years several alternatives have arrived from sliding clutches to the (frankly dire) Werks Power Clutch, notorious for adjusting itself mid race. I've tried a few and never really found one I was happy with until I discovered the JVD-RC clutch system about a year back, since then I've been a convert and run one all season in my RC8T truggy. After a full year of racing and countless gallons here's the full SP.

The clutch in pieces

The JVD clutch is a four shoe arrangement, looking not unlike the Team Losi 8ight clutch at first glance. The main difference with the JVD is that the clutch pins are permanently attached to the flywheel as can be seen in the image above. Each aluminium shoe is drilled to accept a clutch spring, and the set contains a full set of each of the three common spring tensions (.9mm, 1mm and 1.1mm). The spring tensions with in the clutch can be set to precisely control the engagement of the clutch to help tune for track conditions, or to work around an engine with a weak low-end response. Typically I've run 4x1mm for most conditions in the truggy running a torquey but smooth Alpha Plus engine. In very loose conditions I'd probably drop to 2x.9mm and 2x1mm to ease the bottom end slightly.

Once all four shoes are fitted to their pins the main 'basket' can be added. It's at this point the JVD comes into its own, the basket tensions the clutch springs, but in doing so also serves as it's own clutch tool. Simply drop the basket on lining up the holes with the springs. Twist counter clock wise and the ramps on the basket will smoothly tension the springs. Finally press the clutch basket into place on the clutch pins and you're ready to fit the clutch to the motor. The photo below shows JVD's own tool for fitting the basket, in all honesty you don't need one as strong fingers are fine.

Using the clutch basket fitting tool to lock the clutch springs

The photo below shows the completed clutch ready to rock. One of the joys of the system is the the clutch can be fitted and removed from the engine as a piece. This means engine and clutch swaps mid race are a snap, and if you feel the need it easy to keep spare clutches built up ready to go in case the conditions change. Try doing that with your old three-shoe set up!

All done and ready to fit to the engine of your choice

The JVD set include a collet and specific clutch nut, plus enough shims to fit the clutch to pretty much any engine and chassis combination. It also runs a standard clutch bell (unlike the Losi clutch).

The clutch shown in the photos is the same unit I've run all year, the shoes having at least three gallons running on them, and they still have a ton of life left in them. I really do think that in terms of simplicity, ease of use and shoe life the JVD has every one else licked, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's saved my butt on a number of occasions when I've need to change my clutch mid-race, with the JVD it's a snap and takes literally seconds.

So, what are the downsides? Well, it didn't fit my RC8B, the flywheel was too thick and rubbed the rear brake disk. Also, at present JVD only supply aluminium shoes and there's no UK supplier yet that I know of, so it's an internet only job. 

On the upside, the unit is the same as the US Ascendancy clutch (JVD makes those clutches as well), and they offer three flywheel weights and composite shoes so if you're happy to order from the US you really can have the best of all worlds, and probably the greatest off-road clutch available anywhere.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

2011 Starts Here!

I always find the winters hard to stomach... cold, dark, usually wet. All the things that add up to cancelled races and sitting around on the weekend watching endless re-runs on TV. It's not even like there's 1:1 racing to watch.
There are only a couple of things brightening this time of year (aside from Christmas of course); those rare racing days when the weather doesn't suck and the track isn't a swamp, and planning the 'big' race days for next year. So for all those truggy racers out there looking for something to brighten their days, the dates for next years BRCA UK Truggy Pro national series have been announced. Here's hoping for good weather, good racing and some good times in 2011!

  • R1 1st/2nd May (2 Days)
  • R2 26th June
  • R3 17th July
  • R4 14th August
  • R5 4th September
  • Reserve date 18th September
Venues will be announced later this year, but round one will be the traditional two-dayer at Herts/Ware/Westmill... which ever you want to call it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

RC Sure Start - A quick review

It'll keep you engine nice and toasty...

I guess most off-road nitro racers in the UK will have heard of, and probably seen, the RC Sure Start by now. I've had one since the early days... in fact I think mine is probably one of the first production items, I'll admit now that I'm friends with Mr Sure Start, but this is a totally unbiased review. Truth told up until recently it had sat in my pit box and only seen limited use, I could see the point but I just wasn't organised enough to get round to using it. Lame excuse I know, but anyone who's seen my (dis)organised approach to race days will know where I'm coming from! Anyway, with winter coming on and temperatures plummeting to low single digits I decided it was time to give the RC Sure Start a chance, and see if it does what it claims.

For those that haven't seen the Sure Start yet, where have you been? I'd suggest a visit to their website (rcsurestart.co.uk) to get the full story. Basically the Sure Start is an engine warmer created by John 'Lambchops' Bennett that uses a 12v power source to drive a car bulb and small fan. These are fitted into a cylinder that fit's snuggly over the head causing a steady flow of warm or hot air to be directed over these parts. There are two versions of the device available, the standard and deluxe. With the standard model two heat settings are available, controlled by wiring in one or both of the bulbs elements. The deluxe model offers the convenience of a multi-position switch. The deluxe model also has a thermal cut out giving the user an extra level of convenience, drop the heater on the engine and you can wonder off safe in the knowledge that the device will get you engine nice and warm and then switch off. I don't recommend doing that with the basic model as it can get pretty hot if left for a prolonged period of time, especially if both elements are running!

I've used my basic model at the last two race meetings to get my Alpha Plus engines warm before qualifying and finals and it's worked flawlessly. With both elements switched on between five to eight minutes before I need the car the motor is nice and warm when I fire it up. It's noticeably easier to start the car with none of the usual issues that can be encountered, and the engine drops straight into a nice idle just as it would if it had been used for a few laps to warm it up. Plus no standing around revving a stone cold engine to get it warm. To me that has to save wear and tear on the engine, and at least makes me feel like I have some level of mechanical sympathy... at least until I get out on the track and start crashing into everything in site! If your pitting for a buddy in the heat ahead of you this is a real bonus. Switch on the Sure Start as he goes out, and as you pull him off the track your engine is already warmed up and ready to go. For the average club racer this can help take a lot of the stress out of the typically crazy turn-arounds in a crowded pit-lane.

I can also see this device coming into it's own when used during break-in of a new engine... no more faffing around with heatguns/hairdryers, and the Sure Start is also easy to use track-side, which the two previously mentioned devices most certainly aren't!

So then, the RC Sure Start - put simply it does exactly what it claims to do, no more, no less. There are other similar devices on the market and I'm sure they work too, but having watch a pair of competitors products smoking(!) away at Slough whilst connected to a fully charged leisure I know I'll be sticking with my Sure Start. I'm not the only one, with several big name drivers announced for the Sure Start team in the last couple of weeks and more signing up every day, including Lee Martin and pretty much the whole of the international Durango team.

RC Sure Start keeps going from strength to strength, and is a product I'm happy to recommend to anyone racing a nitro-engined model.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Slough Winter Series Rnd 3 - 28 November

Also known as 'The Brass Monkey' round...

It was an early start Sunday for a visit to Slough for some 1/8 buggy action in Round 3 of their winter championship. So, up and in the car at 6:30am and on the road to pick up Tony 'RC' Scott and Dave 'Dave' O'Brien and their kit. Once everything (and everyone) was packed (rammed) into the car and after a quick pit-stop at Dave's house we were on the M3 and Slough-bound. Much amusement was had by all watching the external temperature gauge nose-dive as we headed up country. A reading of -2 on leaving Southampton had become -5 on arrival track-side. Nervous glances were exchanged, and all were glad that a large number of clothing layers had been packed!

Bags of space. People still ask why I have an estate

Gazebo up, tables and cars ready breakfast was now the next priority... sadly the usual on-site catering was absent due to unforeseen circumstances so an emergency run to the local shop was made to provision for the day.

It's not exactly F1 you know...

Numbers were down on the usual Slough turn-out, but a few of the top UK drivers had turned up, Tommy Chung and his Kyosho MP9, Lee Martin now rolling the Tamiya TRF buggy and of course Jon Hazlewood and the Agama. They would be the runners to keep and eye on.

Round one qualifying took place an a frozen solid, and I mean solid track. I was running the Losi 8ight EU with Alpha 850 power, stock set-up and Proline Calibre M2 tyres. I was on a solid but unspectacular run when the car lost drive at about 2:30. Back in the pits it became obvious the engine mounts had slipped, moving the clutch out of mesh. School-boy error, but probably to be expected with a new car I guess, and easily fixed.

Round 2 was a no show for me. Having re-aligned the motor I went to fire up only to discover that the clutch nut had backed off, so no drive. Today was not going well. Tony had problems in round one, but was going much better in round 2, with Dave the opposite with a good first round and a cut in round 2. We'd leaned the the engine slightly to try and get some more bottom end on his car, but went to far. In the end a dragging clutch was the real issue.

Round 3 was much better, Dave getting a solid 6 lapper in and Tony and me getting 7 laps in with Tony about 12 seconds quicker than me.

With qualifying done the finals were posted, Dave and I were in the C final and Tony in the B. Over the forty-five minute lunch break I made a couple of tweaks to the car, the rear shocks were stood up and a little more front toe out was added. I hoped this would calm down the rear end a little and make the car more consistent. A change to lighter shock oils would probably have been a good move due to the cold conditions, but I decided not to, I'd see how my limited changes worked first.

Lunchtime, and Tony RC fettles Dave's car for him

The twenty minute C final started with me in seventh, and at this stage I have to say a massive thanks once more to Alan Dell for pitting for me. I always feel a little more pressure when the long-standing England team manager is looking after me, but at least I know I have one of the best in the business! The driving standards in the final were 'interesting' and by the end of the first lap I was pretty much last. Over the next 20 minutes I just tried to be quick but consistent and make clean passes when I could. Truth told I had little idea where I was in the race, and just pushed as hard as I comfortably could. Two awesome pit-stops and 20 minutes of clean(ish) driving later netted me the win by a lap. For my first proper final with the Losi I was well chuffed, and really pleased with the set-up changes I had made. Dave had been looking comfortable in second, but sadly had radio issues with about five minutes to go and had to retire. Still, for his first real nitro race it was a stellar performance.

So, I'd bumped to the B final. A quick run-around to find a new pit man (big thanks to Mark Thomas for helping me out), and off we go for another 20 minutes of mayhem. Another steady drive from 11th on the grid saw a 10th place finish. Miscommunication in the pits caused an over long first pit-stop, meaning I finished about 3 seconds down on Tony 'RC' who was in 9th. Truth told I'd also let him through thinking he was un-lapping me after an earlier issue, a theory he had confirmed at the time... hum, something tells me I was scammed!

It was a shame I was marshalling the A final, as I get the impression it was a belter. Tommy had TQ'ed from the ever quick Jon H and Lee bringing his Tamiya to third on the grid. From what I saw Tommy was fast, but didn't look it, Jon was fast but ragged and Lee was just on fire. The final result saw Lee take the win by about 16 seconds from Tommy with Jon coming in third, around 25 seconds further back. It's always amazing to see the really fast guys up close, the standard of driving and sheer speed is breath taking.

Dave O'Brien, a slightly chilly nitro convert

All in all, a great days racing despite the cold. Dave's taken to nitro racing like a duck to water, and I'm much happier with the Losi buggy than I ever was with my old Associated. Roll on the summer!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Some tasty treats from Team C

Got home from the office today to discover a very innocent looking brown cardboard box covered in Chinese writing. Yipee, new bits from Team C to fit to the mighty Ansmann X-Pro. For those that don't know, this 1/10 2wd buggy is manufactured in China by Team C, and sold around the world as (variously) the Ansmann XPro, TQ Racing SX10, TeamC SX10 and also the Kawada something or other. All very confusing...

A mysterious delivery from the Orient...

Upon opening the box I was presented with a large bag containing a new body shell. center chassis and other components required for the new-on-the-market mid-motor conversion, plus some rather bling CNC front and rear lower arm holders. The front is particularly nice as it includes an optional screw-in brass weight to give a bit more steering if required. Based on the last outing a TORCH this will be going straight into the buggy.

As for the mid-motor conversion, I'm planning on saving that for the summer season and running rear motor over the winter. Then again it is now sat in the workshop daring me to build it up, so who knows? Either way I'll be laying some colour on the shell in the next couple of days, keep watching for an update.

Yum, tasty R/C goodness!

I'll post more on the conversion as I fit it, but a quick first glance shows it to be very 'X-Factory'-like, just check out that carbon battery brace. The new chassis is very stiff and feels like it has a very high carbon content. I may get hold of an RTR chassis later on to see if it has a little more flex in it, this would also allow me to use my existing LiPo's - the new chassis is saddle pack only.

A new rear shock tower is included as it has to be positioned slightly behind the existing location to accommodate the supplied new gearbox, this containing an extra 28 tooth (plastic) gear to make sure the rear wheels still turn the right way! This all bolts down to a new T piece which a much thicker than the original item, and looks like it could survive a nuclear bast.

Finally one of my favorite bits, the new body shell is very sleek, and looks like it should do a great job of protecting the exposed pinion spur and slipper, especially if it's velcro'ed to the chassis. It's also cool that this time round you get a full-sized rear wing, rather than the slightly cut-down item that ships with the X-Pro.

Ordered direct from Hong Kong this is an amazingly good value for money package, time will tell how well it goes on the track, all be it with a numpty like me behind the wheel!

Monday, 22 November 2010

RC Sure Start Clanfield Winter Champs Rnd 1

Sunday 21st November was a big day in the history of Clanfield RC Track with the first round of their Winter Championship (sponsored this year by RC Sure-Start), this also being the first race under the new club committee. With this in mind I decided it was time to dust off - well, rebuild it after the last race - the trusty RC8T CE and get me some truggy action. This was an especially attractive option given the poor weather that blighted the racing at Slough the previous week.

Sunday dawned dry, bright, cold and actually not to early. Clanfield is my local track, and so only a quick 45 minute run along the M27/A3 was required. Before I was even really awake I was track side with Tony 'RC' Scott and Mark 'Byrners' Byrne discussing the much improved track environs. The club committee and members had put in a huge effort in the preceding weeks to tidy up the area around the track, particularly the area around race control. This make a huge difference and the track now looks less like a pikey dump and more like a serious race venue! The track it's self was rougher than hoped, the club had a roller for the weekend but the rain the previous week meant the track was too wet for it to be used to full effect.

Gazebo up, coffee brewed (thanks Nora!) and engine nicely pre-warmed (thanks RC Sure-Start!) it was out for a few laps practice. The track was wet but obviously drying so a set of M2 Revolvers went on and off we go. Half a tank was enough to prove that everything was a-OK, and that the track was driving very nicely - an added bonus was the car coming in pretty clean, proof that the track was drying up really quickly.

Drivers briefing was a chance for the committee to be announced to the racers, and a reminder of the rules and regs. After a short computer induced delay, suitably rectified by the erstwhile  Mr Fribbens as always, we were off into round 1 of qualifying. The Revolvers stayed on and were a pretty solid choice, maybe a little edgy, and giving up some grip. M3's would have been ideal but there were none in the big ol' box-o-tyres. A solid if unspectacular run saw a quick 7 lapper and third place. It also confirmed an engine running well on the rich side of ideal. The Alpha needed a quick tweak of the needles to really hit it's stride for round 2.

Round 2 saw a change of tyres to LRP Harakiris in soft compound, historically my 'go to' truggy tyre at Clan. Not today though, the track had dried out between rounds and a few cars on it had rolled it right out. The Harakiris proved way to edgy and resulted in a very sideways run to a slower 7 lapper, but still good enough for another third place.  on the upside the Alpha was singing, and the Sure-Start was proving invaluable in the freezing conditions.

Round 3 and a move to medium compound J Concpets Cross Hairs produce a run just one second off eight laps. Far more constant and good enough for second place behind Jimbo Tatlow's Losi.

Round 4 was more of the same, running to third behind Byrners and Jimbo and taking a third overall in qualifying. The tyres were working well, but again the compound was just that bit to hard. The cold weather had also caused my shocks to firm up, but with little time between rounds I decided to run as it was.

The finals were run over thirty minutes, and so off we set in formation, TQ man Byrners dropping behind a flying Jimbo and me running third. After about five minutes Byrners veered in to the pit lane with an obviously sick car, later diagnosed as a blown front diff. The race settled down to Jimbo up from me by half a lap and Adam Bailey another half lap down with his Alpha power Hyper ST. The race calmed down with everyone running steadily until the 20 minute mark, at which point the sound of a screaming OS Speed announced a blown front diff for Mr T as well. Truth told it sounded rough before he went out, so I'd suspected it wouldn't last the distance. He soldiered on with 2wd and a screaming engine for two more laps, being rapidly reeled in until he decided it was time to call it a day.

His retirement, combined with mass failures from all of the other truggies left just Adam running second and me in first with a lap in hand. After my final stop at 24 minutes I figured it was in the bag so backed right off, hovering before the line on my last lap to cross just after the buzzer (and give Fribbers in race control a panic when he though I'd handed it to Adam B!).

Truggy Podium (L-R): Adam Bailey, John Clarke, James Tatlow

The following buggy final looked an awesome affair with the XRay 808 trio of James Kerr, Bren Ralls and Jon Wolfe battling it out for honers. JK got the win in the end, with some storming driving and lap times to be proud of. I'd love to say more, but between marshalling and shivering it was hard to keep tabs on the action!

All in all a top day. The atmosphere was great, the weather was good an the track is rapidly getting back to it's best thanks to the efforts of the committee and hard working club members. Top work all of you!

On a personal level I'd like to give a big shout to (in no particular order) - Nora for keeping me coffee fueled all day, Bryan for pitting for me in the final, Mr Alan Dell for helping out in the pits during practice, Chris S-S for running race control and finally Tony and Byrners for the banter.

Looking forward to round 2 on the 12 December. Be there, if Sunday is anything to go by it's going to be good one.