Most of us at some point in our lives have probably played around with a remote controlled car. My first was a bright red rear wheel drive buggy that took 8 AA batteries, took 4 hours to charge and only lasted about 20 minutes. It was fantastic! I still remember the day I slammed into a kerb and broke off the front bumper.
Fast forward about 20 years and I moved up to Nitro powered touring cars and more recently upgraded an ageing Tamiya rally car from an analogue speed controlled to the latest kit and brushless motor. I’d never raced competitively though – Nitro powered cars are, by their nature, a noise nuisance and you certainly can’t race them indoors. The rally car was always just a fun weekend toy.
So when my boss Mark invited me to come and see his latest hobby, GT12 indoor racing, I jumped at the chance. A local club, Bedfordshire Radio Controlled Model Car Club, have use of the village hall in Bromham on a Friday night giving a great venue with room for a large track and paddock area. The track itself is made up of carpet – like the kind you’d find in an office, hard wearing – and plastic box section making up the track boundaries, giving multiple combinations of layout. GT12 is the name given to the class and/or category of the type of cars raced. Think of it as a one-make series. The cars are 1/12 scale, so a little smaller than what I’m used to, and their chassis make up is governed by a series of strict rules with several of the mainstream manufacturers such as Schumacher providing their own interpretations. The cars have a minimum weight of 950g, made up with brass weights on the chassis when needed.
The cars themselves are, at first glance, quite simple. Rear wheel drive, with a de-dion tube-esque setup for suspension at the rear, with a simple diff. However the level of setup variables is really quite astounding. From the usual camber and toe setup at the front, to ride height, droop and stiffness at the rear. Plus the added variables of spur gears on the electric motors giving choices of acceleration and top speed, as well as on-the-fly controller based changes such as steering speed and angle. Needless to say, the drivers brought with them a small workshop of tools and option parts. Tyres are also a major component, but made up of foam instead of rubber to give excellent grip on the surface. Liquid additive is then added to the tyres to give even more purchase, and the use of that is also a variable – apply it right before the race? Apply it at the beginning of the evening? I’ve never known such small cars have this many setup options. No wonder some of the members I spoke to talked highly of them and their appeal to youngsters from an engineering standpoint. One of the members explained to me that next year control tyres are being introduced to level the playing field slightly. There are some arguments against them but it will serve to reduce costs as the tyres are very quickly used up on the abrasive surface.
So while I’m helping Mark get his car setup, tweaking ride height and tightening up the rear suspension, I knew nothing more when suddenly a battered club car was set down in front of me with a couple of batteries and I was invited to have a free guest session! Oh and I’m racing shortly! A quick charge of the Lipo batteries and I get some quick practice in. I say quick as the car was limited to 45% throttle. Very quickly that was increased to 80% and now we’re in business.
The racing proceeds with heats, which are effectively qualifying rounds. You aim for fastest lap time and overall pace over 5 minutes. There are 3 of these rounds, and the starting formation is staggered to start the cars every second. In my heat there were 3 other cars. I stayed out of the way, being cautious not to damage anyone’s pride and joy – some of the cars being worth upwards of £200, but I need not have been that concerned. These little things are nigh on indestructible! Contact is inevitable, scrapes on the wall are plain to see but the cars keep going. Something I quickly noticed is the lack of reverse, but marshalls are on hand to pick up your car and point it in the right direction. There were some spectacular collisions during the evening, but no one shouts or exclaims in disbelief. The cars are just flipped back onto their wheels or dug out from the barrier and off they go.
So after my first race of trying to drive it like a rally car (if in doubt, flat out), I soon adopted a more smooth approach, dropping off the throttle before the corner and powering out. Controlling slides is paramount to maintain speed. By the end of the night I can see just how addictive this can become, and I even manage 2nd place in the final! Already I can hear my bank balance crying out in alarm.
I get chatting to the other club members during the gaps between races, some of whom have raced for many years, or enjoy multiple disciplines like buggy racing or even drone racing – something I definitely have to see – and some who have introduced their children to the sport. One young lad had started at the age of 9 and his skill on the track was fantastic. The atmosphere too was very inviting. I’ve been to club events like this in the past and sometimes you find people just want to get on with their own thing or are secretive of their setup, but not here. Everyone had tips for setup, and recommendations for new members, happy to loan tools to check ride heights or adjust that really tricky to access nut.
All in all I was very impressed by the organisation, plus the skills and knowledge of all the members I spoke to. We were made to feel really welcome and I can definitely see myself heading back there again, possibly with my own car!
Bonus content – Check out a full album of shots below
Check out footage of the final race