LiveRC Picks: Top 5 Breakout Drivers of 2014
Wednesday, Dec 31, 2014 12:01am
By Brandon Rohde
After hundreds of R/C races taking place around the world over the past 365 days, the dust of the 2014 racing season has finally settled. December brings a sense of tranquility to the R/C racing community, as very few major events take place around this time of the year. Whether it is due to the holidays being celebrated in many countries or that drivers and teams are caught up in contract negotiations, now is the time that we can take a deep breath and think about all that took place in 2014.
By Brandon Rohde
We could give you a recap of all the major race winners, but what fun would that be? After all, you probably watched the race live. Instead, let's take a look at the five biggest breakout drivers of 2014.
This is an incredibly subjective topic, so let me first define what we consider to be a break-out season. I really tried to lump a breakout season into a simple definition, but it is much too limiting to do it that way. On one hand, a driver who goes from relatively unknown to getting national or international attention with a few main event appearances and/or race wins could definitely be described as "breaking out" of his shell. However, some drivers move on from simply being a nationally or internationally known name and reach the point of being a truly elite-level racer. Dustin Evans is a great example; back in 2007, Dustin made the main event at the ROAR Nationals and followed it up with many main event appearances. This was a breakout season for Dustin that garnered him some national attention, but he was not one of the elite drivers just yet. Fast forward to 2011 when Dustin won the Reedy Race of Champions and the ROAR 2WD Modified title. This was clearly another breakout year for Dustin, as he went from being a well known and accomplished racer to one of the elite R/C drivers in the world. There are, however, some cases where a driver makes both of these leaps at once, and 2014 has produced one such driver.
Based on those definitions, here are the five biggest breakout stars of 2014:
5) Joe Bornhorst (1:10 and 1:8 Off-Road)
If you raced around the midwest United States in 2013, you have probably heard Joe's name at the top of the podium many times. You maybe even heard his name over the PA at the ROAR Nationals without giving it much thought. But in 2014, Joe went from a midwest name to a national name in the United States. To start off 2014, Joe won the 1:8 Electric Buggy class and finished only 3 seconds behind Maifield in Modified Short Course at the CRCRC Midwest Champs. While this is a major race on the electric circuit, the competition in those two classes was not as deep as, say, AMS. So then... how did Joe finish at AMS? Well, he won 1:8 E-Buggy at that race too, but this time winning both A1 and A2 convinclingly, beating the likes of Adam Drake, Ryan Lutz, Joseph Quagraine, and others. At the ROAR 1:8 Nitro Off-Road Nationals, Joe finished respectably in the semi-finals, missing the final bump spot to the final by just 4 positions. Fast forward to latter part of the year and Joe switched teams by signing with Tekno R/C. In his first big race with Tekno (The Battle of the Sikest at Fear Farm in Arizona), Joe was mixing it up with many of the top drivers in the world such as Maifield, Cavalieri, King, Savoya, Drake, Fischer, and more. Joe finished second in E-Buggy, 5th in Truggy, and after a rough A1 and A2 in Nitro Buggy, he has a solid third place finish in A3.
Joe definitely stepped up his game and broke into the national spotlight. He still has a little way to go to get on the "elite" level, but considering Joe just started racing about 4 years ago after retiring from motocross, he is on pace to make that happen. Had Joe made one of the mains at an event such as DNC or ROAR Nationals, he would likely would have been higher on this list. For 2015, if Joe can consistently make every A-Main next year along with a podium or two at major races like the DNC and ROAR Nationals, then you might see him back on this list again, but next time for breaking out to the elite level where R/C racing becomes a viable career.
4) Alex Zanchettin (1:8 Off-Road)
Alex is one of TLR's young talents from Italy. Prior to 2014, not many people outside of Italy had heard his name before, and almost surely not outside of Europe. By the end of January though, Alex had the international spotlight thrust upon him after winning the Italian Job at IBR Padova, beating out many of the worlds best drivers including the defending world champion Robert Battle. Others in the field were Savoya, Ronnefalk, Boots, Aigon, and Sartel. A few months later, Alex convincingly won the Italian national championship, thus making him the man to beat in Italy. Later on in the year the pressure was on Zanchettin to perform as his native country of Italy was hosting the IFMAR World Championships. Alex held up under the pressure, securing his spot in the final as the lone Italian driver; a clear cut crowd favorite.
Given the list of people that Alex beat this year and the fact that he main the final at the world championships, a huge argument could be made to rank Alex higher than 4th on this list. Alex clearly has the speed to compete with the best drivers in the world, but before we can consider him truly elite, he needs to repeat his 2014 finishes at some races outside of his home country. This is not meant to degrade his accomplishments in any way; Alex is clearly one of the top up and coming talents in Europe. But all of the major accomplishments listed above came from races in Italy, and he did not make the main at the Neo Race or the Euros. Once Alex can repeat his performances without "home field advantage," he will undoubtedly be back on this list as a breakout driver into the "elite" talent group.
3) Spencer Rivkin (1:10 Off-Road)
Hailing from Surprise, AZ in the USA, Spencer is the youngest driver in our list of breakthrough drivers of 2014. Prior to 2014, there is a good chance that you either never had heard his name, or if you did you didn't think much of it. Spencer came out swinging and won the 4WD Open class at the Reedy Race of Champions in January. While this is a great accomplishment, the true test comes the following year when the open class winner gets to compete in the Invitational class. Spencer didn't want to leave people waiting though, so he promptly backed up his finish at the next major race on the 1:10 electric off-road circuit - the Cactus Classic. Spencer put in some stellar qualifier runs and made the A-Main in 2WD Modified Buggy, arguably the most prestigious class at this event. At the ROAR Nationals, Spencer again made one of the A-Mains, this time in 4WD Modified. Throughout the year, Spencer consistently made mains at every race he went to and at each race he got closer and closer to the speed of the elite drivers.
Although Spencer did not have a defining win against elite drivers like some of the previously mentioned drivers did, he went from virtually unknown to a household name in the USA. His consistency and progressive increase in speed throughout the year is what landed him third on our list. By the end of the year, Spencer was hanging neck and neck with many of the nation's elite 1:10 drivers. Like all the other drivers listed above, Spencer needs to get a defining win before he can be considered elite. What really locks Spencer in at number three on this list is that his 2014 season seems eerily similar to a season we saw back in 2011. In 2011, there was a driver with a similar driving style who was consistently fast in 1:10 off-road and made almost all the mains at major races, but he just needed that extra little bit to become one of the top talents in the world. That driver was Dakotah Phend. And any time you are being compared to Dakotah, well, that's a good thing.
2) Carson Wernimont (1:10 and 1:8 Off-Road)
Assuming you are not new to the hobby within the last 90 days and that you don't live under a rock, you probably already know who Carson Wernimont is. Carson has made some mains at major events in the past, but in 2014 he upped his game big time. To start the year off, Carson won 4WD Modified and Short Course Modified at Motorama. Then he made the mains in Pro Nitro Buggy, Pro E-Buggy, and Pro Truggy at the DNC. Then he made 4WD Modified and Short Course Modified mains at the Cactus, and BQ'd 2WD Modified. Then he had top 5 finishes in Pro Nitro Buggy, Pro E-Buggy, and Pro Truggy classes at Silver State. Then for good measure, Carson decided to try his hand on astroturf, so he made the trip to Europe for an EOS race - and proceeded to TQ the highly competitive 2WD Modified class. And if all this wasn't enough, Carson saved his best finish for last: third place at the IFMAR Nitro Buggy World Championships.
There is no question that Carson already had the national attention prior to 2014. His breakout year into that category would have to be 2012, when winning the 2WD Open class at the Reedy Race launched Carson into the spotlight. This season was the year in which Carson took that next step, earning his place among the fastest drivers in the world. Congratulations, Mr. Wernimont, on breaking out to the elite level of R/C racers.
1) Bruno Coehlo (Everything...literally, everything)
Prior to 2014, the only thing we really knew about Portuguese driver Bruno Coehlo was that he finished 9th at the 2013 1:10 EP Track Euros which were hosted in Portugal. While ninth is a respectable finish, it is easy to overlook when it comes on a driver's home turf - we automatically assume the driver has a home field advantage and more laps on the track than anyone else. Bruno certainly made everyone take notice in 2014. Aside competing at a Worlds- level in 1:8 Nitro Buggies, 200mm Nitro Sedan, and 1:8 Nitro On-Road, Bruno flat out beat the best drivers in the world this year in his premier class, 1:10 Electric Sedan. Bruno started off the year by finishing second at the 1:10 Electric Sedan Euros, banging wheels with Ronald Völker in a class that Ronald has been dominating in recent years. Then, to prove his Euros performance was no fluke, Bruno came to the USA just a week after competing at the 1:8 Nitro Buggy Worlds in Italy and finished 2nd place at the IFMAR ISTC (1:10 Electric Sedan) Worlds.
Bruno is a clear cut winner as our number one breakout driver of 2014. While some people may have known his name prior to this year, I think it is fair to say that Bruno surprised the R/C world this year. Bruno is one of the rare drivers doesn't need two breakout seasons. Bruno has gone from relatively unknown to a clear-cut elite driver in just one short season. Congratulations Bruno, you are LiveRC's 2014 Breakout Driver of the Year!
What do you think about our list above? Do you agree or disagree? Who do you think should have made the cut and why? Leave your comments below!