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Mad Ax

1:8 Rallycross, Mendip RC Raceway

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A week ago today, I set out on a little road trip and racing weekend, beginning with a drive down to the Avalon Marshes in Somerset for a pleasant stroll in the summer sunshine, and then along to Porlock Weir for some fresh sea air, with a stop at a restaurant on the way for a light lunch.  Then I made my way back up the coast to Weston-Super-Mare, where I stopped for an hour at Uphill Beach to kick along the sand, before getting back on the road again for the 10 minute drive to Mendip RC Raceway, where I would camp for the night.  There's a really good curry house a short walk from the track, where I had a fantastic meal while I worked on the laptop.

The real fun began the following morning.  I was awake early, but the site was still empty so I had a lazy morning waiting for everyone else to arrive.  Note to self: there's enough time to head out for a walk before racing starts at 10am!

It was a mixed-media meeting, with a busy schedule of buggy and short course racing taking place on the tight little astro track, and 1:8 rallycross on the tarmac circuit.  This actually works really well, because there's two different timing systems running, so one track's racing doesn't hold up the other.  That means there's plenty of people on site, but not too much hanging around between heats.

Rallycross formula uses 1:8 buggies with 3S power, wearing semi-scale touring bodies and non-grippy control tyres.  I don't actually have one of these, but Mendip has a club car that can be hired for just £10 per day, so I figured this was a really good way of trying the formula to see how much I enjoy it before jumping in and buying a new or used car.

It was gone 9am when the club car handler arrived and signed it over to me.  It was already set up for Mendip's general conditions, so all I had to do was charge the battery and go drive.  Fortunately I'd remembered to not be a complete noob and bring my charger, transponder and tools, although I had to borrow an adapter to connect charger to battery.  With racing beginning at 10am, there wasn't enough time to get out for practice, but I took a moment to check the track layout.  The tarmac circuit is big (it was originally made for 1:8 touring), but for rallycross racing several cut-throughs and astro sections are utilised, along with some ramps, to add to the excitement.

Here's some pics of my weapon for the day.  I think this might be a Ho Bao Hyper GT, or some earlier version thereof:

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I don't know much about these cars, but they're pretty solid in construction.  Way more so than a 1:10 Tamiya, which is just as well, as things can get a bit close out on track.

Here's a few pics of some other cars in the pits:

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And a couple of shots of the track, with tyres, cones and ramps

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So, how does this rallycross racing work?  Is it just like touring, but with weird-looking cars?

Well, no.  Here's the key differences I can remember:

The Start: In their first heat, drivers choose "front or back."  There are two lines drawn across the start/finish straight, one ahead of the other.  Drivers who choose front start side-by-side on the forward line, drivers who choose back start on the rearward line.  In the next heat, the positions are reversed.  In qualifying, cars are released together - there's no second-split release.  In this respect, it feels more like a race.

Passing and Defending: in qualifiers, you are entitled to defend your line.  This is different to regular touring, where etiquette is to move over for faster cars.  Only in the finals are you obliged to pull over when being lapped.  This also adds to the feeling of racing, and leads to some great battles on track.

Joker Lap: once per race, every car must take a joker lap.  This involves driving a longer section of the track.  You can choose when to do this, leading to some interesting strategy calls.

Tyres: the tyre is a control tyre, and it's really not grippy.  Even with Sunday's high temperatures, it didn't have much grip.  Too much throttle out of the bends and the car spins around.  There is also a wet control tyre, but this is only used if race control calls a wet race - in this case, everybody must run the wet tyre.

So, how did I get on?

There weren't many rallycross entrants, so we were split into 3 heats.  As the novice driver, I was car 4 out of 4 in heat 1.

The tyres really are slippy - most of my first race was spent spinning out of bends.  Completely the opposite to 1:10 touring, where the trick is in tuning the grip out, with 1:8 rallycross the trick is tuning it in without making the car so soft it bottoms out on the jumps or astro sections.  Getting out of corners basically means getting full straight before hammering the throttle and using the 3S torque to launch the car down the track.  Turn-in under power is impossible, it's necessary to hit the brakes to load up the front before turning in, but once turning the cars are very stable.  With a lack of grip, the cars don't roll over like 1:10 touring.  This is a revelation for me.  I find 1:10 so frustrating, to have to limit how hard I can push based on how hard the car will turn before it flips over and rolls off the track.  Rallycross is the opposite - turn as hard as you like, it'll either grip and turn or it'll understeer and go wide, but it won't flip over.  The flipside is that it will spin out if I throttle too hard on the exit, but that's easier to manage, for me at least.

We were all a bit slow in round 1, but I finished out front with 9 laps and a fastest of 24.01, the fastest lap reported was 22.58 (one car had no transponder, so times may not be representative).

 

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Round 2 was much better, finishing with 10 laps and a fastest of 22.85, finishing second behind 11 laps and a fastest of 20.89.  The fastest drivers in heat 3 were in the 18s, so there's a way to improve yet.

I improved my 10-lap time in round 3 and took a heat win, with the round 2 heat winner only managing 7 laps, and in round 4 I broke the 11 lap barrier for the win, although my fastest lap was slower at 21.91.

With qualifying over, I had earned pole position in the B final, ahead of 7 other drivers.

After a close and energetic race I finished the first final in 2nd, just 3 seconds off the win, and in the 2nd final the roles were reversed, with me winning by just 3 seconds.  The overall B-group win would be settled by the final final, and I started well but lost the lead, then caught up to take it back, but then I took a tight line across the gravel and dropped a wheel into a dip.  I'd been doing this all day, but when it counted most, the chassis caught up on something and cartwheeled the car.  I landed back on my wheels and got straight into playing catch-up, but frustration got the better of my and I put down too much power coming off the ramps and span the car.  By then it was all over, I had no answer to the pace, and I had to settle for 2nd, one lap down on the leader.

But coming 2nd in the B group on my first day with an unknown car really isn't bad, especially as I don't really consider myself that fast a racer, so I was really pleased with my results.

Next step is to figure out if I want to do this more often.  I'm pretty stacked out until October, but rallycross runs throughout the winter (they even race in the snow), it's a nice drive to the track across the hills, it's closer than most other outdoor tracks, and it finishes early enough that I can go for a walk along the beach before I go home.  It's not cheap - a Hyper GT roller is over £200 and then I need some hardcase 3S LiPos and a big power system to go in it, so it could take a few months to save up for everything I need.

Still, the guys tell me these cars are indestructible and almost nothing breaks, so I guess it's a big up-front cost but a cheaper formula by day, especially as I'll spend less on fuel than my usual vintage racing, and there's always the option to camp over and have a curry if I feel like it.

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Loads more pics in this album: https://tcphotos.net/album/biTa

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Thats the sort of racing i would love to havd a go at! Doesnt look like it takes itself too seriously

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@Superluminal that's pretty much what all the racers said, nobody takes it seriously and everybody has fun.  Last winter they raced in the snow, even making a snow ramp.  With low-grip tyres it was almost impossible but everyone had fun.

Some people don't like it because the bodies aren't exactly scale - they're too short and wide - and perhaps there's fear of the unknown when entering into the 1:8 world, but as a pure smiles formula it's brilliant.  Despite the 3S power and motors the size of soup tins, it's nowhere near as fast or frenetic as boosted touring.  The scale really makes sense, especially on a larger track like Mendip.

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Great write up.  Sounds like good legit fun... something that for me at least, has been missing in a lot of racing.

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I would really like to have a go at this, but it's too far away. My local club does some 1/10 scale rally racing which is a bit difficult on a pretty bumpy track, but it's good fun 🙂

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