By Aaron Waldron
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m still suffering from some serious jet lag after spending nearly 36 hours traveling home from the IFMAR Large Scale World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Along with the travel time required to get to the other side of Earth, the adventure of covering international races presents its own unique challenges:
Traveling to and from the airport, track, and hotel can range from a series of “where are we?” moments to white-knuckle E-ticket rides after which you can’t believe no one ended up as roadkill.
It’s a blessing that many people around the world speak at least a little bit of English, as the barrier of common language can make communicating even the simplest messages like “where is the restroom?” and “how much for a beer?” result in a wildly hilarious game of charades. I spent hours I could’ve been sleeping in the hotel practicing the correct pronunciation of names like “Pongsa Anantavorasakul” and “Archawaroj Amranan” that had been broken down phonetically and explained to me by helpful trackside translators. Unfortunately, body language typically isn’t sufficient for post-race interviews - so those translators were incredibly invaluable.
I make no attempt to hide the fact that I’m a SoCal weather snob - stray too far from my preferred 74 degrees, <60% humidity and I tend to get a bit cranky. Manhandling a camera around for eight hours when it’s approaching triple digits and threatening to rain at any minute probably isn’t what most would consider an ideal workout regimen, but not every race can be held at OCRC.
Add the heat, jet lag, long hours at the track, complete upheaval of normal diet, and being on the constant alert for kamikaze mosquito attacks, and it can make for a pretty exhausting week at the racetrack - no matter whether you’re in Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, or Florida.
As I stared at the ceiling at 2 AM last night (after falling asleep hard around 8 PM) I thought about how last week’s IFMAR Large Scale Worlds ranks easily in the top five of my favorite races that I’ve ever attended, for a variety of reasons.
The way that the RC community embraced the last-minute addition of the Open GT was incredible. Not only did multiple world champions travel to KL on relatively short notice to compete, but the ~60 entries that wouldn’t have otherwise attended really bolstered the viability of the whole event.
Though it’s actually about a half hour outside the city, located in the suburban area of Jinjang, the Kuala Lumpur International RC Circuit was built by the city of Kuala Lumpur, who remains actively involved in its maintenance and management. The track is built in the heart of the Kepong Metropolitan Park, a popular tourist attraction that’s famous among locals for its huge fields perfect for flying kites.
There’s a large lake that’s full of fish, a playground for children, biking and walking paths, permanent restrooms, and a huge observation tower. The park covers about 135 acres in all, and from many spots the views of the Kuala Lumpur skyline are quite remarkable.
Unsurprising given its majestic setting, the KLIRCC is one of the most magnificent RC racetracks I’ve ever seen. The track surface drained off the sporadic rainstorms quickly and looked beautiful on camera, thanks to nicely painted curbs and grass infield. The drivers’ stand was absolutely massive, with a beautiful tile veneer and sturdy railings - not to mention the huge air-conditioned announcers’ office that doubled as our broadcast studio.
The Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (literally “Kuala Lumpur City Hall”) provided a fleet of drivers in fans sporting the DBKL shield to transport out-of-town visitors, including the LiveRC crew and our huge load of broadcast equipment. One of the city council’s high-ranking officials waved the flag to signal the start of both World Championship finals.
Don't let her smile fool you - security for this race was legit.
The opportunity for the city of Kuala Lumpur to host an IFMAR World Championship in Malaysia was clearly embraced by the community, but also by the racers themselves. Drivers from nearby Thailand and Singapore made up a significant portion of the non-Malaysian entry list, along with a healthy turnout of Australians (including first and second place finishers in the Large Scale division).
For most of the racers who made the trip, it was clear how much the opportunity to compete at an IFMAR Worlds event - in front of an online audience tuning in from around the world - meant to them. Many may never again get a chance to compete with such stakes on the line. That’s not to say the drivers seemed on edge, taking everything seriously and overreacting to anything negative that happened. In fact, it was the complete opposite; from the smiles I saw when we pulled up to the track every morning, everyone seemed to be enjoying and soaking in the experience.
With so many different countries represented, with racers trying their best to win, the environment in the pit area felt every bit the part of an IFMAR Worlds. The LiveRC chat room was buzzing during the finals as thousands tuned in. And yet it’s difficult to ignore how much of the RC world didn’t seem to care.
LiveRC was the only RC media that attended the event. Large scale racers from Europe did not travel to Malaysia, meaning that EFRA official and 2005 champion Ian Oddie was the only previous winner who made the trip (though defending champion Markus Feldmann tuned in to our broadcast for the finals, contributing wonderful insight to the chat room discussion). And although both classes produced incredibly exciting finals that rivaled any event in terms of drama, neither talent field was particularly deep - with fewer than 100 entries across both classes, the gap from first to tenth in the Open GT and Large Scale finals was rather cavernous.
Large Scale World Champion Russell Grenenger even said during his interview after the nail-biting 60 minute final that he wished the race had featured the top European drivers, and he looked forward to the chance to compete against them again in two years.
While the 48 hours after the race might not have been quite as exciting as the same time period likely will be after next month’s Electric Off-Road Worlds in Japan, ten years down the road, the IFMAR record books and Wikipedia page will treat Grenenger’s title (as well as the Open GT category win of Lim Kai Liang) the same as anyone else’s.
For example, only those who were heavily involved in the hobby at the time remember that most North Americans boycotted the 2006 Nitro Off-Road Worlds in Indonesia over security concerns. As it turned out, the race was completely safe, and the small group that did attend - including eventual champion Mark Pavidis - had a wonderful time.
In 2002, the postponed-and-rescheduled 2001 IFMAR Electric Off-Road Worlds were held in Pretoria, South Africa, under similar circumstances - with many teams only sending their top drivers amid budget woes and concerns over the impact of the host facility. Both Matt Francis and Jukka Steenari won the second titles of their careers.
Six years later, the 2009 Electric Off-Road World Championships returned to Pretoria - and North American and European teams alike boycotted. Young German racer Martin Achter swept both 2WD and 4WD divisions ahead of a field of around just 20 drivers. Achter is just one of three drivers ever to win both championships at the same event, along with Masami Hirosaka and Ryan Cavalieri (Jared Tebo won both titles eight years apart).
In 1996, Mike Swauger won the PRO 10 class title at the Ranch Pit Shop in Pomona against a star-studded A-Main lineup, yet the turnout was low enough that entries were opened to locals of all skill levels - including a kid I remember from parking lot racing who struggled to get around the track. The class was gone four years later.
Do the titles won by those drivers matter any less than others? That depends on your criteria for what makes the race important.
Is it the name of the race? If so, what makes the collection of letters that form “IFMAR Worlds” any more or less important than the dozen-or-so events in the U.S. that are called “Nationals” despite the lack of ROAR sanction?
Is it the turnout? If a Midwest series race draws 200 entries, does that make it more important than a Nitro On-Road Worlds that attracted only 80? What about The Dirt Nitro Challenge’s ~1000 entries?
Still looks busy to me!
Is it the class? Large scale racing isn’t the overwhelming favorite in many countries, but neither is 1/12-scale carpet racing - yet the Japanese hold it as dear to their hearts as anything. PRO 10, 1:8 IC Track, 1:12 Stock, and both classes of 235mm 1:10 IC Track cars have been discontinued from IFMAR competition. Those titles still matter, right?
Are you going to tell Masami that two of his 14 IFMAR titles don't count? Me neither.
Heck, my first impression of large scale racing was that the incredible machinery, scale appeal, and sheer vehicle size made it one of the coolest forms of RC competition I’ve ever seen.
Is it the caliber of the drivers who attended? If that was the only criteria, you could make the case that a weekly club race somewhere in SoCal was an IFMAR Worlds. The Open GT class last week was a provisional “World Cup,” yet KL Lim beat former World Champions Meen Vejrak, Surikarn Chaidajsuriya, and Jilles Groskamp on Saturday afternoon. Does that make his win important?
In my opinion, both KL Lim and Russell Grenenger - as well as Achter, Pavidis, Francis and Steenari - deserve every bit of the applause as any other driver to win an IFMAR title. There’s nothing in the rule book that requires a certain turnout in order to qualify as a true World Championship, just that the winner has to beat those who showed up.
Congratulations, Russell and Lim. You earned it.