WHERE'S WALDO: Will the 2015 IFMAR Electric Off-Road Worlds be held on astroturf?
Wednesday, Dec 3, 2014 10:00am
By Aaron Waldron
For next year's IFMAR World Championships in Electric Off-Road, the stage is set for a return to Yatabe Arena twenty years after US drivers Matt Francis and Mark Pavidis swept the 2WD and 4WD titles at the famous facility all the way back in 1995. And while the race will be the first off-road World Championship in Japan since 2007 (though 1/8-scale on-road was held in Tokyo last year), the biggest story of the race may not have anything to do with what happens on the track - but rather the track itself.
Indicative of the layouts of the time, which had sections that required the drivers to slow down rather than drive full-punch everywhere (including a tricky bump section), the Worlds track in 1995 was awesome. Here's the second A-Main from the 2WD portion in which Francis clinched the title:
Don't miss Team Associated Vice-President Cliff Lett rocking the AE/Reedy tanktop at the end!
In 2012, Yatabe Arena hosted the JMRCA Nationals on this awesome track design:
This year, Yatabe Arena hosted the JMRCA Japanese Nationals where Yokomo's Naoto Matsukura dominated, winning both 2WD and 4WD titles.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. That's not a clay track surface in the background.
Though the famous Yatabe clay is reportedly still under there somewhere, the track was covered in colored outdoor carpet. The layout was very cool, with much of the quirk of the track twenty years ago (uneven sections, tricky jumps, etc.) but with infinitely more grip.
Carpeted off-road (along with astroturf and other surfaces) has been gaining popularity in many areas of the world, especially those where outdoor racing is limited to certain months of the year. The style of racing began in Europe, and the Euro Offroad Series continues to draw greater participation from Asian and U.S. racers.
It was reported in an RCTech thread discussing the 2015 Worlds that not only has a proposal already been given to IFMAR about the possibility of the race being held on carpet, but that IFMAR's member blocs - ROAR (North America), EFRA (Europe), FEMCA (Australasia), and FAMAR (South America) - are voting on the matter, and that at least one bloc has voted in "overwhelming favor" of a change to the following rule:
5 TRACK STANDARDS
Pack able rock free dirt - preferably sifted top soil/clay compound with minimum amounts of sand. Surface should be able to be easily broken and repaired to ensure a consistent and wide racing line. Such conditions have shown to yield excellent racing due to width and consistency of the racing line. Additionally qualifying is fairer as the ability to maintain a consistent surface gives all competitors an equal track that can be enjoyed by those in heats before as well as after his own.
A change to a "turf" or artificial surface would not only be the first in IFMAR electric off-road history, but could have a profound effect on the race as well as the outcome. Undoubtedly, the change to a turf surface - much less familiar to racers in some areas of the world - could cause at least a handful of drivers to choose not to attend rather than compete on a surface that plays well into the hands of drivers who've been practicing on non-dirt for years. American drivers swept the Electric Off-Road Worlds in 2011 and 2013, but could be a significant disadvantage if the race isn't held on dirt - or they'll be forced to spend the next 6-8 months scrambling to get on pace with the European and Asian racers. Tire manufacturers won't be put out too much, as the Worlds is a spec-tire event, but we'd undoubtedly see a slew of new and prototype products from manufacturers focused on carpet/turf racing if the decision is made.
We might even see off-road cars that resemble this vehicle that "littlevette" posted in the RCTech thread:
Spoiler: He's among the RCTech users not happy about the potential rule change
Here's what I think:
The 2013 Worlds were held on dirt packed flat and coated and sugar, making it as abrasive as sandpaper. The 2014 Nitro Off-Road Worlds were held on a surface that more closely resembled plaster or drywall than it did dirt. Local racers across the U.S. and around the world have proven that they overwhelmingly favor pristinely polished clay tracks that require slicks more often than they need actual tread to hook up (either that, or the tracks have changed to favor a percentage and everyone else has just stopped racing).
High-grip tracks that have led to a huge increase in speeds have made off-road racing more expensive, harder to control, and more difficult to enter than ever. We watched it happen with on-road racing, where the limit of traction is high enough that manufacturers were able to price racers right out of the industry. If that can happen at the club level, why not do it at the Worlds? There's no better way to motivate the manufacturers to create products directly aimed at a uniquely specialized form of racing than to hold the industry's biggest race on such a track.
We've had this coming for a while. Off-road has ventured further and further away from traditional dirt tracks for years. To cry out that an astroturf track "is not off-road" in comparison to the brown asphalt on which electric off-roaders currently compete makes no sense. That's not to say that the photos from the race, with cars circulating an track built upon an artificially green surface, won't look incredibly silly in ads for the next two years.
Go ahead. Change the rule. Hold the race on carpet. Or grass. Or linoleum. Or even asphalt, for that matter. Maybe this is the bottom we have to hit before changing direction and moving back toward dirt?