Location? The Triangle Leisure Centre, West Sussex.
When? 18th December 2016.
What? The last race of the season, a fun fly with iFPV league points :)
Who? The one and only Rotor-Racing!!!!
Last years Christmas Challenge was one of the best events of the year, drawing 2015 to a close with what was so much racing all in one day back then, and this year we managed to beat it I think considering we had 40 pilots attend and we started late! Despite the 10AM pilot check-in start (around an hour later than normal), it still meant a 6AM start for me as I'm around a 3 hour drive away - it's a bit of a killer and I haven't had to drive this long for an event since the summer time!
The track itself was probably one of the most fun ones of the year, it would be hard to call which was more fun between this and the UKDS track at iSeries #2 just a couple of weeks earlier on. Lee is a master when it comes to fun and tight but flowing tracks, having designed the tough track for British Nationals I was personally a little worried about how tight it would be given the small space we were restricted to, but I need not! This track was great - a fast and free-flowing track that really rewarded you for pushing on those places where it mattered, and none of those corners that destroy any flow. Hats off to Lee, he's done a fine job on this track. Some people may not have heard of Lee before, as he had only attended a few races earlier in the year, but rest assured he is going to be a big name next year when he goes to as many racing events as he can. He's super fast already, and is set to only get faster so we all need to watch out as these top groups get squashed and fighting for that top spot gets harder and harder as the playing field levels out.
In terms of quad specs, there was no 'true' limit this time - previously we'd been limited to 4" props but the fact of the matter is they're still dangerous in whatever size, so as long as you are sensible 5" is actually safer if you are used to flying that specific quad. Most of us were glad of this rule as it meant we had great amounts of grip in the corners that was needed in the sections featuring the hairpin and 180 degree gate, compared to washing out last year and trying to compensate for it.
Naturally most of us got there probably around 30 minutes to an hour before we needed to be to catch up on what's been happening recently and help set all the track and pits area up! As I say, a big part of any event is the social aspect to it, and this was no different :) To get the check-in's started we needed to remove our props and antenna so that the Rotor Racing guys could check our failsafe was working as it should (motor cut), and that our video transmitters were outputting at least something close to the 25mW the event required.
With insurance checked as well, it's a long process which hopefully we can find ways to speed up in the future (I've got some ideas for that which we'll hopefully try in the future). In Hawaii they had used one of those "genuine" stickers you tend to get on products, kind of like the "Warranty void if removed" stickers which just completely break when you try and remove them. With these stickers, and combined with a bit of nail varnish or something - we could check the VTX's a single time, and from then on check the validity of the sticker if it is the same VTX so that we don't have to spend time checking it again at another event. It may or may not improve the time it takes, but seemed like quite a nice idea, as most VTX's tend to only lower in power the more we use and abuse them, and for those that do the opposite then we'd have to stop the race to inspect what was going on anyway.
Once that process was done (it took a while longer than expected and brought is to roughly midday before the pilot briefing), we got into the RC Car Racing!!
RC Cars were a big hit at this years event, many had brought their own to razz around both the track and pits area, with and without FPV. Having come from an RC car background many years ago it means I'll be no doubt getting some (yes, more than one haha, as I already still have a couple), to get in on the fun for next time - maybe also try and get some FPV car racing on the go if we can figure out how to stabilize the camera enough!
With the quads, pilots, and the track now ready it was time to RACE! We were scheduled to have 2 rounds of practice, followed by 3 rounds of qualifying and then finals for all which would be seeded from your best 2 qualifying rounds. A simple enough format and one that we were used to - which works very nicely in a fun but also competitive environment it mixes them both very nicely together. For me, it was a little more of a serious competition due to the iFPV "unofficial official UK League" which had taken the results of all of the UK's big events and put them onto a nice table so we could easily see the results. This then got a bit more serious as more and more people used it, with people only going to events just to secure points, and with the 2016 season coming to a close, me and Brett Collis were fighting for the #1 spot with only a 2 point difference up until this event. And with a more than 30 point difference (the points for 1st place) between me and Luke Bannister in third place, it was really down to me or Brett to take that first iFPV League title for the year with nobody else able to taken it even if we got 0 points.
For me, I personally knew that Brett was already going to beat me (but of course whether he did or didn't you'll just have to find out..!) - the past couple of months he's managed to put in a lot of time and effort into increasing his race speed and is now very much getting up to the Luke and Gary territory, leaving the rest of us behind. There's always the chance that he would crash if we both made it into the same finals, but the same can be said for me, so I decided to take a different approach to it and just enjoy the event for what it was - a fun-fly event. With all of the goings on throughout the year it was a great chance to get some fun racing in and wind down for the Christmas break before pushing hard into the 2017 season.
With that being said, we got into the first practice round where I'd managed to complete half of the course before have near complete video loss, sliding out into the netting (and disarming as I knew I had no chance to try and fly through it). I've always felt a little hit and miss with my "Quadversity" setup - I'm not really sure why as when it's performed it's performed amazing, I'm just a little dubious of it sometimes as there was one event where it was far worse than other setups. Sadly I took that stance this time, and assumed it was my receiver setup that had the issue.
Onto the second round my video was still pretty awful but seemed maybe slightly better using the provided ground-stations. It didn't completely breakup at least, and I managed to get 5 laps in which was an ok performance to set me off at around 6th place in the grid. I was still pretty disappointed with video at this point, we spent a bit of time watching Brett's FPV Monitor setup and that video quality was just perfect, I just assumed there was a lot of noise on my channel and that I really just had to put up with it.
Moving into qualifying I was relatively happy (as let's face it the event was epic fun) - slightly annoying to get one less flight than I had hoped for to learn the track compared to most of the others - but that's just one of those things that happens. I'm looking forward to when we do eventually go to full HD racing, because after getting a glimpse of how simple it was during UKDS it will remove many of the issues we face today.
With that being said, Luke was using his HD setup and did have an issue during one of his races where the picture just went to black - causing him to crash. We're not sure what happened but he updated the firmware on his Connex system and it appears that everything was fine after that. So while video issues are not fully eliminated, we at least remove most of the user-issues which cause 80% of the issues at a race anyway and will mean we can probably get at least another round of racing in for everyone.
One of the highlights of the racing was the giant smash from Tom Greer, he doesn't fly often so set himself a pretty tough challenge of making it round the course. He actually did great considering how little he gets to fly, and provided a bit of entertainment for everyone else too, as well as scaring Lee after a smash into the bench that was holding the net down.
Sadly for me I still had my own issues! One of my rounds was wasted again due to further video issues that had plagued me earlier on. I was really confused at this point as to what was going on.
In the next two qualifying rounds I bagged two more 5-lap runs that I'd done in qualifying sitting me within the top 10 at current, which was not bad considering the issues I'd had! During one of the qualifying rounds Terry had noticed that my VTX was basically outputting no power - I'd had to restart the quad a couple of times before for the power to go up properly but this time it hadn't worked. With everyone waiting on the line I brought out my backup quad which now served as my main quad (and sods law flew 90% of the races). Without a transponder or my camera settings changed from UKDS I flew what I could and still managed to get 5 laps in, despite looking at a very tinted orange picture.
I've also moved to using two lipo packs throughout a whole event if I can, constantly cycling them on the charger as soon as I am finished with them. It should help with costs as during a race we tend to over discharge them during that final push in the last lap if we need to, and not killing a whole set of new packs in one event is always a bonus! It was probably not going to be the case here due to the size of the hall, but practice makes perfect!?
For my last qualifying round, now that I had known what my issues were, and I'd banked some OK 5 lap scores, I knew I had to push to get into that A final race. Many were doing 6 laps and I knew I had more to give on the track so for me this was the race I needed to push. As soon as that starting sound went we were all off like rockets, being in the groups with Gary and Luke etc meant we all had super fast starts and didn't worry too much for collisions. Around the first flag on the corner went fine but sadly setting myself up for the 90 degree gate just further down I'd managed to balloon up and hit the gate right at the top, sending me to the ground - upside down too! For me that was it! I just had to hope that what I had done previously was enough - with the current 3 qualifying rounds I was in 6th position, however the worst round was not dropped so it was likely that even if others had not improved on their current rounds that I would drop a place or two.
And sadly as I suspected, that was indeed the case. I'd been demoted down to 9th place after the worst rounds were dropped and was placed in the B finals with some other great pilots such as Warren Jeffs and Leo Whitfield, regardless of which final I'd made it was going to be fun racing. At this point we knew Brett had already won the league as I couldn't finish higher up than he could due to the way that Finals for All works the best position I can now finish in is 7th, aka 1st in B finals.
For the next few races we took a break from the competition and moved to the comedy side of things - the Christmas race! This year we'd had record numbers compared to last year enter, featuring 12 dolled up quads with various amounts of decorations and time spent on them.
This one stole the show however, winning both the prize at the end but also was hilarious to watch going around the track and attempting to do gates and power loops! It was crazy how much of a pendulum effect it created on the quad, quite tough to manoeuvre I would imagine!
Here's all of the Christmas Quads lined up, we had 2 races with the winner being the first to do 3 laps, though it just turned into being a hilarious race seeing who could actually make the 3 laps for the most part! For me it was fun just flying the track and watching the others go around, and annoyingly the DVR didn't record so I missed footage of following the "bush" around.
After the break of the chilled out racing we went back to the final races of the day - finals for all! Everyone was put into groups of similar skill based on their lap times on the qualifying runs, and with everyone having learnt the track throughout the day it was set to be a fun race for all.
Here's my final race, some sketchy first laps but I finally started to get into the flow of the track without any real video issues, still not as good as I'm used to, but I should have gone back to my own groundstation, nevermind :)
So for me that was the ending race of the year, I'd taken second place in my finals just behind Leo - which is absolutely fine - he's flown great all year and has really developed his race speed and is now one of the top pilots in the UK, I can't wait for more battles with him next year, as we'd had many this year already at iSeries, Formula FPV and a few other events!
The A finals had much of it's own drama too; right from the get go the guys were like guided missiles flowing through the course in attempt to grab that first place for the last event. There was a fair bit of craziness in the racing such as Luke crashing out into the netting before even making his final lap along the back straight, and Brett clipped one of the flags in the center of the course which shot him straight up into the air. He went so high in fact, he flew OVER one of the air vents, and came out the other side. As he'd already disarmed he tumbled down, smashing onto the ground where his battery was ejected from the force of his 'landing'! With Luke and Brett now out there was some good competition still left in the race - Gary, Harry, Lee and Phil! A few more laps later and Gary shot through the finish and took that last win of the season, though sadly not with enough points to take any of those iFPV podium spots, but let's face it he's been kicking our butts all season!
Reflecting back on this race, the season, and the whole iFPV league (as well as the other events which didn't make it in), what a year it has been. Who knew that FPV racing would have developed this far in only a year, but more impressively how far technology has been pushed due to the demand of the racers. We've seen numbers revisions of speed controllers going from SimonK and BLHeli to BLHeli_S, MultiShot, DShot and all of the other 32-bit flavours that now occupy a very focused and driven market. Hardware has got smaller, more robust, more powerful and more efficient, that allows crazy power to weight ratios even on smaller 3" quads. We're starting to venture outside of the realms of 4S lipos, when last year many of us started on 3S in an effort to try and claw back some of the efficiencies we require due to the insane speeds we're now racing at.
Focusing on a more local aspect, I really just want to thank everyone at Rotor-Racing for the amount of time, dedication, but also money, that they have put into this years racing. They have done it for us, the racers - not anyone else, or themselves - us. For that I'm grateful that there are such selfless people out there that could provide and develop the UK's drone racers out there - because I think a lot of the reason we breed some of the fastest out there are partly to do with the tight and technical tracks we are now flying, but also the speed at which race control can get through the races to get that track time. Nobody likes going to an event and flying 2 or 3 packs, and with Rotor Racing that is never the case. That goes without saying thanking every single member of Rotor-Racing - Eric, Craig, Chi, Terry, Phil, Francis, NIALL SHEFFIELD (and anyone else I've forgot if I have forgotten anyone!!!), all of their partners who put up with them for doing this, and of course Liam :D. I can imagine the racing this year has really been quite a strain for these guys, doing both their own events and providing the race control at big public displays, so I really hope they continue to do what they do next year as well.
This year has been epic; there's been racing ups and downs but we've never failed to have fun. The FPV community is great, and next year is gonna be too...