Are you interested in starting RC racing? Does all the technical jargon confuse you? Believe me I have been there, it seems like everyone involved with racing assumes you know it all and it can almost put you off getting up to speed with what you will need. This guide is aimed at giving you the advice you need to start racing and beginning to enjoy a really fulfilling hobby. This isn’t a brief overview, it’s designed to be an in-depth guide covering all aspects of the hobby, so grab yourself a cup of tea and get stuck in. Ready?Okay then, let’s get started.
What type of racing should I try?
Firstly, have a think about the type of cars that interest you. Are you a touring car fan or are you partial to motorbike racing? Maybe F1 is more your thing? Maybe you don’t care or are unsure and just want the cheapest race series to start out.
Let’s say you decide that you want to have a go at F1 racing. Firstly we need to look at where F1 cars will be racing. Take a look on the internet under searches such as ‘rc racing clubs’ ‘rc f1 racing’ and use your local area in the search such as ‘rc clubs in essex’. It can take a lot of time finding clubs and places to race, but it is definitely worthwhile.
CentralBooking should help you in your search for suitable racing, no matter what class you are looking at taking part in.
What will I need?
The following things are essential for your first race:
Spare screws, washers, nuts etc.
These things aren’t essential but are extremely useful:
Tyre additive (if permitted at the meeting)
Transmitter neck strap
There are many, many other things you can buy that can help you as time goes by. But I will leave these for you to discover as you build up your racing experience!
Essential items breakdown
Let’s take a look at each of the items I have listed as essential and explain a little bit about them and what you need to do with them before and during the race event.
I am assuming that you have decided on the type of racing you wish to compete in and have done the research to ensure the car you have purchased will be competitive. Now before we put the car together it is important to understand what kind of specification it is, and if you will need to buy anything extra. Extras? Yes, unfortunately if you have purchased a standard kit such as a basic Tamiya kit for approximately £100 or so then there are a couple of things you will need to do to give you a good basic setup.
The number one thing with any car is to ensure it is fully ballraced. if you can buy a kit that is already ballraced then I would strongly recommend doing this. If not then you will need to purchase ballraces from a website or shop. Ballraces are ball bearings that are placed on major points of the car such as wheels, axles and gearboxes to ensure low-friction and efficient running. A car that is not ballraced and running at high speed in a race will be slower than a ballraced car and will generate friction and heat and all kinds of other problems. Do yourself a favour and fully ballrace your car – it really is essential!
Aside from this you can probably get away with running the car as it came from the box. However be sure to look at things like steering linkages or any other areas of the car that look like they are rather fragile. If they do then maybe have a search and see if there is an alloy version online which will be stronger. However, my advice is to just ballrace the car and then race. If the car breaks you will know the weak points for next time – it’s all a learning curve after all.
So let’s assume you have built your car and fully ballraced it. Make sure you have a good look over it and try to identify any areas that could cause problems. Are there wires that could be broken or snag on wheels? Try to imagine the forces that will be acting on the car and eliminate any areas you think could pose a problem. I always inspect my cars thoroughly before racing and I believe that is why I have a very good record of building reliable cars that rarely break down. Follow these tips and hopefully you will too!
The other main piece of equipment along with your car that is absolutely essential is your transmitter. There are many flavours of transmitter from simple designs costing around £35, to all-singing all-dancing computerised version costing hundreds and hundreds of pounds. Hopefully you will have chosen a basic transmitter for your first race, which will be easy to use and not have a myriad of settings that will serve to confuse.
Modern transmitters are mainly 2.4Ghz. This refers to the frequency they operate on. Think of the frequency of your radio as the invisible connection between your transmitter and your car (much like a wi-fi signal). If you are getting in to the hobby and have found yourself a 2.4Ghz system then you have bought a system that will hopefully never give you problems such as interference. Interference is something no driver wishes to deal with and has ruined many race meetings for many people over the years – myself included! Interference occurs when a rouge signal is broadcast from another device that is operating on the same frequency as your transmitter. It leads to your car behaving erratically and makes driving near-impossible.
Today 2.4Ghz has removed much of the threat of interference compared with older systems such as those I began racing with. When I began racing we had 27mhz and 40Mhz as the two choices of frequency. Within those two different levels of frequency were different bands. These bands were either designated as a colour or a number. So if you were running a 27Mhz radio system for example you would have to ensure that if you were running eg. blue frequency, that nobody else was using it. As I am sure you can imagine people often forgot to turn off transmitters after races and selfishly would turn them on in pit areas to test their cars ruining peoples races – it was very frustrating at times. You would also experience interference from other sources such as handheld radios, children’s toys and many other things.
The advent of 2.4Ghz now allows you to turn on your transmitter whenever you wish without fear it will interfere with somebody else’s race. Your transmitter will be bound to your car meaning that they are locked together with a signal that – in theory – is exclusive to you and will not cause problems with anyone else. As you can imagine most RC racers are huge fans of 2.4Ghz and I personally think it has improved one area of the hobby that until it arrived was always a bit of a problem.
I can’t speak for every kit but generally the tyres provided in car kits are not going to much use for racing. Tyres in kits are normally designed to be hard-wearing and last as most people simply drive Rc cars around the garden and local park. If you are going to race then you will need to get yourself some racing tyres. Your race series should have a set of regulations that will outline the tyres you are permitted to use.
Generally there are two types of tyre compound in use in RC. These are foam and rubber. Check the regulation of your race series and choose as many different types of tyre from that list as your budget will allow. If you have a variety of tyres to select from on race day then you will have the ability to fine-tune your car better than if you were trying to work around one set of tyres that were possibly not suitable for the track.
A very important part of your equipment is your batteries. First off let’s take a look at the types of batteries that you may come across in the world of RC racing. You are most likely to come across Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium Polymer (LiPo) at a race meeting. These are the most commonly used batteries. You may however see Nicad (Ni-Cd) or Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) on occasions. Ni-Cd batteries were the main battery in use during the 80′s, 90′s and early 2000′s. They were replaced by NiMH which provided better performance. The LiFePO4 batteries are very new and are a proposed replacement for LiPo. It is unlikely you will come across these much in the next few years. But if you are reading this in ten years it may well be that LiPo batteries have been replaced by these!
Today you really have the choice of just two types of battery, Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium Polymer (LiPo). Of these two types of battery LiPo is by far the superior, very few would argue this. The two types of battery are very different beasts, and would require a detailed technical explanation to describe the differences. That isn’t really the aim of this article so I will have to reply on you doing some searching on Google. There is plenty of information out there.
There are many figures relating to batteries that can be confusing when you start out. When you purchase NiMh or LiPo battery packs you need to keep an eye out for several things. Let’s take a look to help you understand what to look for.
Cell number – When choosing an NiMh battery pack for your car you will need to purchase a 7.2v 6-cell pack. These are the most common type of NiMh battery used for racing, and anything with more cells may well not be allowed in your racing series, so make sure you check if you wish to deviate from the widely used 7.2v 6-cell standard.
Capacity – The higher the capacity of your battery pack then the more power it can store. It’s all about meeting your budget. try to select a capacity that you can afford as buying the largest capacity battery isn’t always necessary, and can actually add weight to your car. If you are running a car that doesn’t drain much power in a five minute race then why go for a high-capacity pack? It’s the same as carrying too much fuel in a full-sized racing car. Totally unecessary, and will mean you are slower.
‘C’ rating – Generally NiMh batteries are advertised without a ‘C’ rating – unlike LiPo packs.. It is possible to find an equivalent ‘C’ rating for your pack compared with a LiPo but speak to the vendor. For NiMh you really need to keep an eye on capacity and a good balance between capacity and what you need for your car, as mentioned above.
Casing – Unlike LiPo battery packs (explained in detail below) you do not have to be too concerned about casing. NiMh cells are very durable (within reason) compared to LiPo packs, and usually consist of six cells soldered together with some thin shrink-wrapping over them. This forms a very safe and durable pack for racing.
Cell number – LiPo packs come in a variety of sizes and designs. For most types of racing you will be needing a two cell 7.4v LiPo pack. Make sure you select a battery with this voltage printed on it!
Capacity – The higher the capacity of your battery then the more it can store (look for the mAh value), and of course the more it can store the larger it will be. It depends on the type of car you will be racing but if you are racing a reasonably quick 1/10 touring car for example then anything over 3500mah will be fine for a five minute race.
‘C’ rating – The ‘C’ rating on a battery refers to its discharge rate. The higher the number the quicker discharge it is capable of – in other words how much power it can provide to your speed controller in one given instance. There are many people buying ever-higher ‘C’ rated packs, but for someone beginning racing I would suggest a pack of 25C or higher. This will be all you need unless you are racing seriously modified motors. For reference I run a 20T sealed-can motor in my F1 and run at the front of the pack with a 25C LiPo battery. Some of the guys have much higher-spec batteries than me and I see no difference in the performance of their batteries compared with mine.
Casing – You must ensure that any LiPo pack you buy for an Rc car is a ‘hardcase’ version. This means that the actual LiPo cells that make up the battery are enclosed in a crash-proof case. This is essential if you are racing. if you buy regular LiPo packs such as those used in RC aircraft then the chances are if they are spotted you will not be permitted to race due to the danger they could pose if they were to split in a crash.
So from this you will have made your choice as what you wish to use. I would suggest buying at least two battery packs for a meeting. Therefore you can have one charging whilst the other is being used. The races can creep up on you very quickly so just having one pack is not a good idea, especially if you are running NiMh batteries as the charging over and over without a break will see your battery lose performance. Take it from me, give Lipo a try, it really is the best way to go.
Fortunately today you have the choice of a wide-array of chargers at very reasonable prices. As with anything you have your expensive and cheap options. I personally have never bothered with expensive chargers. Of course being able to charge multiple packs at the same time and things like that can be great, but it’s up to you if you want to spend this money.
My advice when you start is to buy a cheap charger that is going to serve you well in the future. That means ensuring it can charge higher capacity cells than the ones you currently have. Even if you are using NiMh cells, you will want to make sure you have a charger than can work with LiPo cells as well. The vast majority of people will be using LiPo in the coming years and when you make the switch you will have the correct charger and not have to buy a new one. Currently (early 2012) I use the Turnigy Accucel 6 which I would recommend. It is a great little charger with a wealth of features for a very small price.
Some LiPo chargers can limit the size of cells that they will charge as well as not supporting a wide variety. You should definitely make sure that the charger supports LiPo packs up to four cells and can charge to at least four amps (however I would say five really). However there are chargers available on the internet that cost as little as £35 that will charge huge LiPo packs up to six cells and very high capacities, and I see no reason to not buy one of these.
A WORD OF WARNING
Never, ever consider charging a LiPo pack on your NiCAD or NiMh battery charger. This is extremely dangerous. ALWAYS use a charger specifically designed for LiPo packs. Likewise always ensure that when you charge a LiPo pack you have selected the LiPo setting on the charger. If you do not follow this advice then there is a good chance you will experience a LiPo fire. An example of what a LiPo can do if charged incorrectly is shown on the embedded video.
This video shows the results of incorrect charging and demonstrates the ferocity of a fire that can occur by not observing correct charging procedures when dealing with LiPo battery packs. This video suggest using a LiPo sack when charging your batteries. I too would recommend using one of these as you may get loads of smoke, but at least the flames are contained.
I have spoken to a few people who are terrified of LiPo packs and do not use them due to the potential dangers. This is unjustified in my opinion as so long as you are careful and sensible with them there is no reason why you should ever experience a LiPo fire. Treat them with respect and you will be fine.
Your first race meeting
The day has finally arrived, it’s your first race meeting. It’s normal to feel nervous, but try to remain calm and don’t let things get on top of you – it’s supposed to be fun after all!
The day will normally begin with booking in. Assuming that you are racing in a full Sunday meeting then you will most likely book in at around 8-9am. Booking in usually involves visiting race control and giving them your name so they can tick you off the list (assuming your entry has been pre-booked). If you are racing at a club meeting or an ‘arrive and drive’ event then you will also need to pay for your entry, as well as giving them some additional information such as frequency you will be running or if you have 2.4Ghz. There may well be some additional information required such as your BRCA number as well.
Once booking-in is complete there will be a drivers briefing. This normally involves the race organisers speaking to all the drivers about rules for the day and other important issues regarding use of the track. Often this will involve the drivers standing on track near the podium whilst the organisers stand on the podium. Once the drivers briefing is over race control will post the heat order on the noticeboard which will usually be located near race control. It will be your responsibility to ensure your car is ready for the heat you are listed in and that you have the correct car number displayed (if required by the club).
Almost all clubs will have some sort of P.A. system that will announce the start of each heat and final. However, you should have your car ready way before you hear this. Make sure you keep an eye on the heats as they run so you will know when you should have your car ready by. I usually make sure my car is ready as the heat before mine takes to the track. I then have time to walk to race control and wait by the area in which I will place my car down on the track when it is time for me to race. This is also the time in which you will need to pick up your transponder if you don’t have your own mounted in the car. A transponder is a small plastic box that can be clipped to your bodyshell that gives your car a unique I’D. when it is racing. This allows the timing equipment to track it. Without a transponder you will have no data and will be placed last – so it’s pretty important!
Once the heat before yours is finished the drivers will bring their cars into a certain area by you and park. You can then place your car at the side of the track and then make your way up to the drivers podium. If the drivers from the previous race are still coming down from the podium then please let them go first and then you can make your way up.
Once you are on the podium you can make your way out on to the circuit and get in a couple of warm-up laps. There should be an announcement over the P.A. system along the lines of ’30 seconds until race start’ which should give you enough time to make your way to the start line. For the heats the start is staggered. This means that your car number will be called and this is the cue for you to start racing. For the finals this is different, as you will all start together from a grid layout – exactly the same as a real F1 start.
Once your heat or final is finished you will find the results posted on the circuit noticeboard for you to take a look at. This provides useful information such as your current position, fastest lap and a full list of laptimes from your entire race.
Well that’s pretty much it. It’s been a long article but have tried to go in to as much detail as possible so you know what to expect when you start in this hobby. if you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them below and I will answer them. Look forward to seeing you at the track!