By Aaron Waldron
The big topic of discussion across social media this week has been the reaction of on-road racers to new 1/12-scale rules instituted by IFMAR - and how they could affect the class. Part of the community is interested in making a change, part of the people talking about it think the new rules will kill the category, and everyone has something to say about it.
For those unaware of the changes - IFMAR wants to transition the class from 1-cell to 2-cell LiPo packs and institute a 5.5-turn motor limit. You can get more information, and view a video of multi-time national champion Josh Cyrul showing how unrealistically fast a car built to the new specs can be, here: http://www.liverc.com/news/announcements/13417-Will_IFMAR%27s_new_rules_make_112-scale_modified_too_fast_for_competiton%3F_%5BVIDEO%5D/
The discussion about the video on Facebook has been crazy. Basically, here are the arguments:
- The cars are already too fast, and going to 2S batteries with a 5.5-turn motor will make them even faster. Faster cars are too hard to drive, will make for poor racing and could create a dangerous environment for turn marshals and spectators
- However, EFRA’s current rule (1S packs with 6.5-turn motors) is too slow and makes for a spec class-type racing where everyone is punched.
See the problem?
The formula for 1/12-scale racing hasn’t changed since, well, ever - the cars are roughly the same size as they were in 1982, when the first world championship was held, and they’re significantly lighter - the weight limit is currently 150 grams (about 5.3 ounces) under what the old 6-cell cars used to be; with plenty of racers saying that making the cars too heavy will ruin the razor-sharp handling that is a hallmark of the class. At the same time, the grip of the tires has improved dramatically, bodies are designed to provide greater downforce and better balance (at the expense of scale appearance), and, even though the typical 1/12-scale chassis is relatively simple when compared to any other class of RC racing, the cars are light years better than they used to be.
Thirty years ago, drivers had to set up their vehicles and drive conservatively to have enough battery power to race to the finish line of an 8-minute competition using Nickel-based cells as small as 1000mAh. In contrast, Trinity just introduced a new LiPo Factory 1-cell pack for 1/12-scale racers with 7000mAh of capacity that costs just $33 - even the hottest modified motors struggle to suck that much juice. Back in the day, racers fitted their cars with a small additional battery to help power the on-board electronics - now we have voltage boosters and a handful of manufacturers making speed controls that are only used by this very small population of racers. How is any of this supposed to be sustainable?
For what it’s worth, Cyrul’s video has sparked intelligent and productive discussion about how to slow the cars down, make the class easier for racers to enter, and promote a feasible category structure that will last. My favorite idea was proposed by another long-time on-road racing veteran, Rick Hohwart, who suggested lowering the overall charge voltage to limit power and reintroduce the concept of run-time strategy.
What makes this problem plaguing 1/12-scale modified racing unique to other classes that have struggled to stay relevant in RC, like 1/8-scale nitro on-road or even 1/10-scale electric touring cars, is that budget concerns aren’t the issue. Kits cost less than $300 - roughly half the price of a touring car. A pair of pre-mounted tires is less than $10. Instead, it’s because the cars have - through a combination of evolving technology and progression pushed by diehard racers and manufacturers continually pushing the envelope to find an advantage - started to exceed what’s possible for human eyes and hands to control. And that racer spirit is still alive in the squabble over trying to preserve the "modified" class as "open," rather than making it a faster "spec" category.
Unfortunately, this industry doesn’t have a very good success rate in turning back the clock on new technology - look no further for proof than the few years it took to spoil the low-cost, slow-action charm of categories like short course trucks and nitro GT cars. Are the new IFMAR rules the answer? Maybe not. But the class has been going in this direction for years, and I don’t think it’s ever going to get fixed. The best we can do from here is to learn from the mistakes that killed open 1/12-scale racing and try to stop it from destroying everything else.