Since I was just 8 years old I’ve been racing Karts, Formula Ford & RC cars, I’ve spent the majority of my life being a total fanatic about racing in all shapes and sizes.
When I started RC racing around my 20th birthday I quickly got hooked on the competition that bigger events had to offer, and when I made a start in EP Off Road, it didn’t take me long to set my sights on competing at an IFMAR World Championships.
My first 2 years racing Modified Buggy classes in 2015 and 2016 we’re good enough to allow me to qualify for this years IFMAR worlds, and I’ve spent the better part of 10 months anxiously waiting and preparing for this ‘bucket list’ event.
Many long nights building, long days at the track testing and working on my driving, and large sums of money spent buying equipment to go, it all comes down to just 8 days in Xiamen, China.
It all happened so quickly, like a blur that came and went before I had a chance to properly process what was going on, but I wouldn’t do anything different, and I’m already looking forwards to the next one.
Lets break down the 2017 IFMAR EP Off Road World Championships, from the perspective of yours truly, Crash Mitchell.
The city and Venue:
The Coastal city of Xiamen, China, a few hours south of Beijing played host to this years edition of the IFMAR worlds. Although not held on Xiamen Island itself, the city and surrounds remind me of places like Bali, dusty, a little dirty, heavy traffic with lots of greenery…and the occasional odd sewage smell walking the street that invaded your nostrils before you get a chance to hold your breath.
The track, ARC International Raceway located out the front of the 3-Circles Battery Company and the Sunpadow Model S & T Experience Base. This facility is insane! It’s like a Hermann Tilke F1 facility for RC cars. 2 tracks (on road and off road) side by side, 70m by 40m each, joined by a single, level drivers stand, pit area & viewing platform. All concrete and tiled floors, beautiful access and plenty of room to boot, with a world-class sound system for announcements and music!
Behind the track were a series private & fully enclosed ‘team rooms’ which were available for rent to store equipment, or pit away from the noise and sweltering humidity of Xiamen. Next to that, a container structure consisting of a cafe/dining area, hobby shop, smoking area and upstairs buffet and The LiveRC broadcasting booth.
TV screens everywhere showing current race live timing and event info, a speaker system so incredible it put Rock concert volume to shame when Scotty Ernst got exited on the mic. This venue is the stuff of dreams.
The only letdown? Thelighting. But we will touch on that some more later on…
We stayed at the ‘official’ hotel, the ‘Xiamen Royal Seaside Resort Hotel’ located on the waterfront overlooking the bay to Xiamen Island. A little bit isolated, but the hotel and rooms were great. A 5-star hotel with marble absolutely everywhere! A hot spring spa, outdoor pool, massage parlour, Chinese restaurant, buffet, An la Carte menu and a western US themed bar! With only a short walk up the street to a local strip mall withfood, drinks, Restaurants and of course….McDonalds. The rooms were great, and the Hot Spring Spa was incredible! However the food was simply edible, and service didn’t seem too crash hot, maybe the language barrier contributed to this. The result meant lots of racers spent the evening eating at McDonalds, buying snacks from the local convenience store, and then retiring to their rooms to rest and sleep before the 6.30am bus the next morning.
A few nights, where we didn’t have racing the next day…a small group of us met at the ‘Easy Rider’ bar to enjoy a drink, play some games, sing along to our favourite songs and have a chinwag. I think the bar had a record sales week during the IFMAR worlds, and some of our Aussie and Kiwi friends have established themselves as Karaoke masters after belting out a few hits. Plenty of fun was had on the final night after the Banquet by a small group of racers and friends alike! Finishing off with a very slow day on Sunday before flying home back to reality of home life, work and planning the next adventure
Over the year building up to this event, initial stage reports said that the track surface would be ‘natural’ and so many people expected a typical pin tyre such as a JC Double Dee, PL Holeshot etc. When the control tire was announced, it didn’t seem to bad, the ‘Extreme Soft’ Yellow Compound Sweep Tendroid should hook up pretty well on a lightly grooved natural surface, but rumours started to swirl about a sugar track! Panic button in 3…2…1.
Sure enough, it was a sugar track, you could smell it 50m away, but it didn’t smell like pure sugar tracks from my experience. Rumours going around said the surface treatment was a mixture of Molasses and Glue, leaving many of us wondering about the grip level and track longevity during the 6 days of racing.
The layout was tough….real tough. Thankfully the organisers didn’t make the track to take up the full 70m x 40m area, but even then at approx 55m x 35m, the track was BIG, and was going to require good eyesight, faith and a lot of horsepower to get around fast.
Typical dirt tracks at the worlds aren’t able to be drastically changed between the 2WD and 4WD events, and this track was no exception…so the track was built with the intention of being run both ways; Anticlockwise for 2WD, and Clockwise for 4WD. This means the jumps had to go both ways, either that or the term ‘downslope’ doesn’t translate terribly well into Mandarin.
To be honest, the track was fun, until you hit the top left hand corner, at which point it became a lottery of sorts. Do I go for the double-double-double-double? Or do I back out and Single the corner jump like a squid just to save the 5 second of marshalling…or worse, a broken car. This track is the hardest track I’ve driven in my life…and I don’t just say that for effect. When you stand on the sidelines to watch the World Championship A Finals, and the worlds best can’t even make clean laps, you know it’s tough out there.
The track was smooth mostly, except for the front straight which had a series of different bumps, ruts and holes in it, catching everybody out. And it was pretty hungry on tires, demanding a new set every 1-2 runs depending on car setup and how heavy your trigger finger is. Many people went for a new set every run, the result? A $700AUD tire bill for the week, but what’s $700 after spending thousands to be there in the first placeright?
In 2WD, front tire choice was a hot topic early on, with many drivers opting to use the Sweep Tendroid 2WD front tire in Yellow or Silver compound, in order to keep a nice balance front to rear on their cars. But a quick look around the pits and I saw people running everything, from the Sweep Tire, to soft or Medium Rib tires, to ‘X’ compound scrubs, and even some locals using Astroturf tires on the front! It was crazy. Eventually a pattern emerged, with more and more drivers choosing a soft bar tire up front, or the Sweep tire (if you could get your hands on some).
The 4WD track seemed to flow better for most, and many more drivers were capable of doing the corner-double (myself included after I figured it out on the final day of 4WD)
The grip level was high at first, but slowly dropped as the days went on, and the surface became polished in some areas, and dusty in others. As if the layout wasn’t hard enough, finding grip made it even more fun.
Then the lights came on….
Sunset is pretty early in the day in Xiamen at this time of year, around 5.30pm. So the organisers thought the ‘bright’ idea would be to turn on the tracks Lighting system…which did not help matter much at all.
Track lighting is great, in fact I race almost every Friday night at my local track – West Coast Model RC, under lights, and I love it! But for night racing to work, the lighting has to be effective, which it was not.
There were no lights high enough off the ground to angle downwards properly, so standing on the drivers stand, I was blinded by a series of high power LEDs at practically eye level (and I’m short as!). None of which were pointed at the middle of the huge racing area…where most of the track was.
The result was what racing in what seemed like a ‘wheres waldo’ game. One second you have everything under control, a split second of total blindness, and then you’re being marshalled. Those drivers talented enough to navigate the track in the dark were rewarded immensely in qualifying with good points hauls as the majority struggled. Especially when a qualifying round started under daylight and finished under lights, imagine that happening in Australia? As a race director I can hear theriot chants already…
Safe to say I didn’t like the night running, but some did! And to those people, I envy your good eyesight. That said, I had all my DNF’s due to breakages during the daylight (nothing a trip to the on site hobby shop couldn’t fix), I actually set my better 4WD seeding time during the night, so maybe I’m a hypocrite…
It wouldn’t be an outdoor race without a little inclement weather, and we certainly got that. Much to my delight on Day 2 if 2WD when my travelling partner and roommate; Jarrod Smith’s phone decided it’s alarms wouldn’t work, we bolted out of the hotel at 8.30am having missed the 6.30am bus, to discover it was raining. The track crew did a stellar job, and made sure the track was covered so no rain washed the track away, a few hours of letting the sun and wind do its job, and the helping hands of a few blowtorches and we were back underway on Sunday afternoon to resume the 2WD event! This threw the program out of order, so we ran very late into the night that day, but nobody minded, at least we got to run!
The rain wasn’t done with us yet, as rained again for the final day of 4WD, forcing the day to start late, and the eventual cancellation of the Q5 round. Yet we had the time to run ANOTHER round of practice before starting finals, many people’s last chance of putting in a good run were dashed in the loss of Q5, oh well, that’s racing! (As they say)
It rained again during some of the finals, turning a fast and considerably grippy racing surface into something resembling a puppy dog on an ice rink, don’t believe me? Watch the F and then E Finals of 4WD here on LiveRC.com (shameless plug for you to watch my final).
Being a worlds, we had a well stacked fields of the best drivers in attendance representing their home country. That became very evident to me for the first time when I walked down the stand after having a mistake free run in Q3 of 4WD, thinking to myself ‘yes that will be a sweet points haul!’ Only to look up and see that I’m an entire lap off the pace, and 3 seconds off the fast lap, putting me 43rd in that round! Nothing more humbling than realising your best is slower than someone else’s average… but that’s what a worlds can do for ya!
The times were close, and on such a tough track it was important to try and keep it on the wheels and turn clean laps, even if that meant backing down 20% and driving around slowly…you could still go faster overall by doing it.
The best racing as always came from the top drivers, 4 different drivers taking a round TQ in 5 rounds of 2WD Qualifying, and a tie for 10th place in qualifying between Australia’s own Kyle McBride and the 2014 1/8Nitro Off Road IFMAR World Champion; Ty Tessmann!?
Maifield was the class of the field in 2WD, keeping his cool under pressure and driving almost every lap of the mains by going single-single in the top left corner of the track! But even he got lucky in A1, a crash on the final lap and getting marshalled to stay in the lead and give him the first of 2 wins needed to clench his first WC trophy.
4WD was next level craziness, I’ve never seen 3 A-mains happen so wildly, especially the A3 main. Not even the A3 from the 2013 IFMAR Worlds in Chico can compare to this! Do yourself a favour, if you haven’t watched them yet…disconnect the phone, take a comfy seat and strap yourself in for some crazy racing! But nothing beats being able to watch it live from the top of the drivers stand, that’s one for the memory books for sure!
The people & downtime:
We travelled all the way to Xiamen, to spend 8 days at an RC track for a total of 2 hours driving time. So it’s equally important to the memories that i had a good time hanging out with my fellow Aussie mates, while catching up with old friends and making new ones. A world titles brings people together who would have never met otherwise! And at the end of the day…friendships, family and comradery are what really matters, and I’m glad to be a part of it! Shaking hands, telling stories and sharing a drink with RC friends alike is what makes these events so special no matter if their local and abroad, I hope to attend more events like this and meet more new faces, while catching up with old ones.
The 2017 IFMAR Worlds were a blast, and I’m already planning to attend the next edition in Reims, France 2019. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of these events as a racer or spectator, I strongly encourage you to embrace it, you will not regret your choice!
The organisers did a stellar job, and the event ran relatively smoothly even with the weather delays. China definitely puts an interesting spin on things, but it only excites me to think of what Australia can pull together for next years 2018 IFMAR 1:8 IC Off Road World Championships right here in Perth
Lastly a BIG thank you to everyone who makes these events possible. From friends, family, RC sponsors, random strangers on the internet and more… see you at the next one!