RCGP Round 7 & 8 at Thunder Alley R/C Raceway
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
Due to the uniqueness and potential importance of this event I want to split my blog post into two sections. The first will be my impressions of the RCGP event and it's potential validity moving forward. The latter will be my personal results and findings of my racing weekend. For those uninitiated to the RCGP series it's aim is a true world series for R/C car racing. The series consisted of 4 venues with two events at each venue over each weekend. This was the first and only USA round and the final round of the season for the inaugural year of the series. With mixed participation at the first 3 events the USA round shaped up to be the biggest and had the most interest going into it.
This final round was held at a pretty famous venue being Thunder Alley R/C Raceway in Beaumont, California. The track took on a true supercross form with approximately 11 seconds of airtime on a 34 second a lap track. So nearly 1/3 of the time was spent in the air on the very busy layout. The layout also made for some great racing as there was variable line choices and a few jumps that were just hard to nail a perfect line on every time. Also utilized for the RCGP (Pro) class was a 2 tiered gate starting system which was set-up pretty cool but presented it's own challenges.
So let's start with the series itself. The RCGP bills itself as being all about the media end of it and it's aim is to take R/C to the next level and be able to produce an appreciable content that can be of interest to larger outside sponsors. From what I have read from comments on Facebook many people loved the coverage and believe it to be a step up in the right direction for R/C racing visibility. My current concern with it is where to be able to find the results easily. The website we were told to use for scoring didn't work on half the peoples phones at the race and so being able to see where we were in the program was sometimes difficult. Also not being able to just jump on your phone to see your lap times was inconvenient. We were relegated to only being able to look at the posted heat sheets. While most of that doesn't matter to a potential larger audience it's something I know can be improved for those at the event and stat heads at home.
Let's talk about the racing now. The event is split into two separate days for the RCGP class. Saturday has 4 qualifiers and two 15min mains. Sunday has 4 more qualifiers and an hour long Main. This Thunder Alley event was the first of the four to utilize a gate starting system. I went into the event overall in favor of the gate start but left being against it. I feel like the comments I have read and people I have talked to have been equally split as being for and against the gate start. Seeing as though there is no human in the cockpit of these vehicles the injury instinct is not there. Thus carnage almost always ensues. Those for the gate say it makes the starts exciting but the risk is to do all that qualifying and get pummeled and broken or damaged on the start and your race can be over. Or say as the case was this past weekend in the hour long final, you have arguably your top two drivers and one gets away clean on the start and the other gets blasted by a car not tracking straight off the gate and has to start from way behind. That is not going to allow nearly as good of racing as if those top two could have been battling from the beginning from their 'earned' starting spots.
To back track just a little let's also think about this. The feeling I got amongst the other RCGP drivers was that the gate starts made qualifying almost useless. I was told the winner of each qualifier got a point or something towards the season series total but beyond that there was little motivation in each qualifier to do anything but try new set-ups or tires for the mains. It just felt like it was more practice rounds in preparation for the main events. It was a crap shoot on the starts and if you got out in the holeshot you had a good shot at staying at or near the front. If you got pummeled you simply didn't have a whole lot of time to make up any difference. This would have been even more pronounced if there was 12 drivers of all very similar skill level.
If you have a moment check out the start of the one hour long final here. Watch the car in the 4th grid spot (4th over from the left). On the drop they go immediately to their right and crash into the 3rd car sending that car into the 2 and 1 position cars. This gave the 5 and 6 position cars clear track to take off and be gone. What value was qualifying for that to happen less than a second after the gate drops to those 1-3 position drivers on the grid? Anyways I just feel that an F1 style or Reedy Race style start is more appropriate for R/C car racing unless we are at a special type of venue that had the room and dirt available to make a much larger gate area with a much larger section for drivers to get sorted.
Ok let's move beyond the gate now and talk about validity of the series. As mentioned the feedback from those who watched the coverage seemed to be overall very positive. People seemed to really enjoy it and I believe it is absolutely a step in the right direction as far as making R/C more professional. The question now becomes does R/C want to become more professional, or is the majority involved simply content to keep doing things as they have always been done? Does RCGP still have things they can improve upon? Absolutely! But I believe one of their biggest examples they are trying to emulate is the Neo race that was held in England. The Neo race that became widely known as the "Indoor Worlds" generally became regarded as a must attend yearly event. It needs to be remembered that it didn't start out that way and it took a number of years to get established and gain that reputation. RCGP is I believe trying to take that concept globally and make a true World Series for the top teams and drivers in the World. I believe they probably put on the best first year of anyone who has ever tried to really create something new in this industry. No more gathering the best together just once every two years, but now crowning a true champion every year on more than just one track.
If the R/C industry wants it's chance to be seen on TV. If we want R/C to not just be seen as a hobby but also a sport then what RCGP has created needs to be embraced. In talking with some RCGP representatives they are going to create a package from this years events to be able to present that professionalism to potential outside sponsors. Hopefully something can come of it and if you are reading this and you are in a position at any such potential sponsor or have a family member who is then please reach out. We realize that a lot of the deals that make this kind of thing possible are from someone who knows someone type of thing. Hopefully something can come of what RCGP has been able to present this year and more involvement can happen for next year.
The feedback from those who attended this event has also been mostly positive from what I have seen. The RC2 class is basically a stand alone race at each of the rounds and is a way for locals and those who want to attend said event to be able to participate. Such drivers get a ton of track time and can focus on one car. Also they run on a controlled tire to really create a more level playing field. They can attend a set-up question session with some RCGP drivers and have the opportunity to walk about the RCGP pit area and ask questions and check out the cars there as well. Not to mention those who perform well in the RC2 class are being able to present themselves in front of multiple manufacturers and could very well earn themselves a sponsorship deal or an improved deal. There is no denying the framework has been put up and it's now up to the manufacturers if they wish to present R/C more professionally.
Congratulations to RCGP for completing the first season which is always the hardest, and creating content which has been engaging and enjoyable for those who have watched. Hopefully those who have the ability will join in on the series and it can continue. Just think, if what they were able to do this year and present for us was all on such a shoestring budget, what could possibly be accomplished with a bit more participation and support from the industry. And of course hopefully some outside industry support can be accomplished as well!
My results from the Weekend:
I arrived a bit early on Thursday very early morning and got to the track around 1am and was able to find Billy and his new Nemo Racing USA trailer! I got right to bed and upon getting up in the morning we got our supplies for the weekend and then went to Revelation Raceway to get some practice laps in and so I could finish breaking in my new Bullitt B-223 Engine. The winds had been really blowing at Thunder Alley but fortunately they weren't so bad at Revelation. However when we got back to TA later in the day we saw a lot of firetrucks moving in and heard a possibility they may have to make us all leave due to fires that had started in the area and the part TA is in happens to be a fire response staging area. As we slept overnight we heard throughout the night more fire equipment being moved into the park but fortunately upon waking up we learned we would still be able to have our race!
The winds were still blowing a sustained 20-30mph all day long on Friday and right at the drivers stand. Fortunately because the angle of the track and the banners along the back wall the wind wasn't really effecting the cars at all, just the drivers and their eyes. We were able to get in 4 practice runs, two being open and two for seeding. In the first controlled practice Ongaro and I swapped top times for two fastest consecutive laps and he eeked me out by less than a tenth. I wasn't able to improve in controlled practice 2 but no one else beat my time so I seeded 2nd.
Saturday would come about and the winds finally started to abate. The Beach RC team of Evan Vail and I were finally able to set up our pit area. We had 4 qualifiers on tap but not starting until a little after noon. So the morning was spent rebuilding and getting tires glued up. For the RCGP class we were to arrive to the drivers stand 10 minutes before our run for any media interviews they were choosing to do. Seeing as though this was my first time at an RCGP event I didn't know exactly how it all worked and so I didn't spend the time to tune my engine prior to me running my Q1. This would cost me as I would flame out just before the start because my idle was too low and I had to start from pit lane and start half a lap back. I would still work my way into about 8th by the end.
The second round went a lot better. Due to my bottom 6 finishing position in Q1 I started front row and I chose the outside position. On the drop I got off and the field crashed trying to funnel to the inside and I just went around them all. I got the Holeshot and held onto a lead and in my first ever accurately stated qualifier in RCGP I was able to take a victory. In Q3 I would be put onto the starting gate and moments after they told pit guys to back away I saw my rear wheels not moving and only the front diffing out. The car had moved back on the gate and was up against the bar. This caused my car to load up and die on the start. At the end of the race I went to the gate to see what it was all about. There is a small built in block on the gate to keep the cars from moving backwards towards the connecting bar. Well the Agama has a kicked up rear chassis and when you gas the throttle the suspension kind of raises the chassis and with the kickup to the chassis it slid back and over that block and into the bar and caused the stall. Anyways for the rest of the weekend we used a foam block to keep the car forward and not allow it to move back again. After the 4 rounds were over I would qualify 4th overall and thus get 4th pick of gate spot for the two 15 minute mains.
In the first main I had a cautious ok start and came across the line in 6th at the start I was able to move up to 3rd by the halfway point but my post pit lap had a mistake and I would fall to 5th and that is where I would remain. In the second final I had a pretty good first couple corners but got tangled a couple times and would run in the 6-7 position for a number of laps. Eventually I would move up to 5th which is again where I would finish. My car felt pretty decent in this main as I ran SS AKA Gridiron 2's. I remember telling Billy in warmup that if I could get a good start I would have a good run but I just got hit by the same guy twice costing me any shot.
Sunday would see the best weather we had seen. Around 90 and sunshine during the day and dipping to 65* for the 60 minute final. As mentioned above the qualifiers at this point just felt more like practice rounds in preparation for the long final. So I tried different tires but we had pretty much settled on SSLW or softer even with the heat as we wanted as much traction as we could get especially on the shorter qualifiers. I would basically try SS Double downs or Zip downs all day long but when it came to the final main I opted for SSLW Gridirons. The reason I did this was because looking at my regular SS Grids from Saturday's shorter mains I noticed they were tearing a little along the glue seem. So for an hour I didn't trust it to hold up to my hard driving. So I opted for the SSLW and perhaps they lacked just a touch of traction that I could have used but overall I felt they were pretty good for me. I had a terrible start though as detailed above as I was the car in the 1 position on the grid which got blasted early and then the second row came down to finish me off. I think I did about 3-4 donuts near the start due to just getting hit over and over.
On the first lap I would come around in 11th and there was a lot of work to do already. I was trying to run clean but it just wasn't meant to be. I would take a couple steps forward and then just make mistakes and get knocked back. It took a good 25 laps or so for me to establish myself into 6th and from there until the end of the race it was basically just Cavalieri and myself who would find each other and battle here and there throughout the remainder of the race depending on pit stops. In the end after Ronnefalk's receiver failure I was promoted up to 5th and that is where I would finish. So I ended up taking 5th in all 3 of the finals that I raced in.
The next day we spent another 7 hours or so practicing some more and wanting to really see where I could have improved over the weekend. Firstly I tried universals all around to see if that would help me get through the bumps better. It helped a very little bit but it wasn't as big of a difference as I was expecting. Throughout the weekend Billy was telling me his shocks were so good but the problem was he didn't know what was in them oil wise. He ended up letting Lee run them and they guessed on oil and I think he liked them. They were 5x1.5 xv3 VRP pistons which I also had and tried on Sunday during qualifying. They had some good characteristics for me but I ended up changing the rear to 8x1.3 because I felt like I needed more support in the rear. Well it turns out all of that was due to the front spring I was running. We have a prototype blue spring that is stiffer than the current pink spring. Well even when I tried the 5.5 pistons I was still running blue front and pink rear spring. Billy on the other hand and Lee who was using his shocks both were using pink front and rear. I kept saying I needed the blue up front because I felt like it was still collapsing on the front to much. Well here is where it gets interesting. So I throw on the set of shocks from Billy and voila, my buggy is so much better everywhere! It was way better though the bumps and was much more predictable on the front and the back right sweepers. I also had more steering which is something else I felt I was lacking.
So my concerns the whole time with swapping out the front blue spring were that I already felt undersupported in the front. But turns out I was having to use to much wheel input in those corners which was thus making it seem like a lack of support. I was also transferring to much weight to the rear which was overloading it and making it feel undersupported as well. When I went to the pink front spring I didn't need the same amount of wheel input for instance in the back right and it actually felt better supported on the front and the rear stayed behind the buggy better too. Also I now had better steering and because I wasn't overloading the rear of the buggy it all went through the bumps much better too! Oh man I just wish I would have learned this lesson earlier but that's why they often say it takes a good year to really get a grasp on a car's set-up and what it likes. I also learned the Agama is very sensitive to Camber changes and perhaps that will end up becoming one of my more key set-up adjustments in the future! So much to learn and every car is so different!
Well thank you for reading and I hope I was able to share some knowledge and also hopefully paint the RCGP in a positive light as I really do hope it can be successful. But I think it really is going to require some outside support and hope what they are able to present from this season can help get some bigger companies on board!