On the Grapevine – Phoenix & Gran Canaria
Four years ago Red RC made its first trip to the US to report on one of many big annual Offroad races that keep the teams busy each season and I suppose the Pro drivers in a job. That event has since become my favourite annual event but having just covered the 15th edition of the race I don’t actually know why. It’s certainly not because of the well planned timetable, while in Europe a timetable is an expected standard, in the US I have found to be as rare as hens teeth. As a keeper of hens I can assure that pretty much means they don’t exist!!! Its not because of the short days, that’s if you can call a guesstimated 08:00 start time, racing actually kicked off at 09:30 after a few extra late entries were crammed in, and finishing at 01:30 the next morning a short day. It’s not because of the feeling of being outdoors in the sunshine & fresh air, eating dust all day is an acquired taste as is the kick off the nitro fumes that burn your nose and make your eyes water once darkness falls. Returning from a late coffee run on one of the finals days, driving towards the track one could be forgiven for thinking the hovering 2-stroke smoke, lit up by the track floodlights, was the cloud off some sort of nuclear explosion. Despite this The Dirt Nitro Challenge is my favourite annual event to report on and if your an offroad racer I think it’s one of the events you have to do before you die. It’s the Dakar rally of the rc world – a challenge both to man and machine!
Attracting something like a gazillion entries (final count i believe was somewhere north of 900), having tried to understand why I like the event I think one of the obvious attractions is the track and the fact that its my first fix of nitro racing after a winter of reporting on electric indoor races. The other is the level of the competition, with an increased number of Europeans each year, the racing has a really competitive feel to it only being trumped by the World Championships, which was a topic that came up quite a bit during the 5 days at the Fear Farm. The third element to the event is the men behind it, Joey Christensen and his side kick Aaron Webb. While Joey builds a great track, this year’s being a real master piece that could easily have been mistaken for a 1:1 Supercross track by motorway passers by, I feel it is Joey ‘The Dirt’ and Aaron’s character that are part of the draw of the event for me anyway.
For a sport to be interesting it needs its characters and these are two such guys that bring their own uniqueness to racing. Sure there is room, enough to three point turn an Airbus A380, for improvement on the race administration side. David Ronnefalk can vouch for that as he and his dad turned up for a 07:30 drivers briefing but finding themselves the only ones at the track. David went back to his hire car and got in an hours sleep before anything started to happen. I am probably one of the biggest critics of lack of attention to detail in our sport but in the case of the ‘The Dirt’ and the fact that all the detail goes into the track and the schedule is so bad that as my 6th event of 2014 I actually get a kick out of trying to predict if we would finish on the same day as started or take two days to run one days schedule! As he left the track after a long days qualifying Elliott Boots popped by saying ‘see you tomorrow’ to which I had to inform him ‘you mean see you later, its already tomorrow’. While half the Associated team huddled around a gas air heater to try and stay warm as they waited on the truggy final, it gets pretty cold at night, and joined by the Red RC photography department of my brother and Ricky Acciari, I could hear from our base at the Proline pits Brent Thielke asking Eoghain ‘how the heck could this be your brother’s favourite event.’
As I mentioned already the 1:8 World Championships came up in a number if conversations and unfortunately for negative reasons. Working on a project on behalf of the industry following the shambles that was the last 1:8 Worlds in Argentina, doing the rounds to give them an update on where that project is, the length of this years Worlds came up. First off everyone has welcomed the fact that there will be no warm-up. Chatting to Kyosho’s Joe Pillars warm-ups are a very costly affair and in their case (and I think for pretty much everyone else) what they learned at the Warm-up for the 2012 Worlds had little or no bearings on the conditions that greeted them for the actual Worlds. So well done IFMAR, I don’t get to say that often, for dropping the warm-up but the issue now is the proposed 10 day schedule. Ok they were long days but at the Dirt Nitro Challenge they were able to get through rough 5 times the entries that will go to Italy and they did it all in 5 days with a very worthy winner at the end of it in Ty Tessmann. For many teams a 10-day event means minimum 12 days away when you include travel time. I know many have no sympathy for the Pros, who wouldn’t like to spend 12 days in a country as beautiful as Italy, but what about the hobby driver in a modern society that’s a lot of precious time off work and that same hobby driver makes up the majority of the entry.
Having heard that JQ ‘THE asshole’ (self titled), although I prefer to refer to him as the British spread Marmite (google it) which has the tag line ‘love it or hate it’, had made a request through the Finnish Federation to EFRA to see the event reduced to the more regular week long schedule I brought up the subject with him. After managing to interrupt his rant at me about how stupid it was to have a 10 day event as if I made the proposal, we continued the conversation. If all drivers arrive at the same time and get the same amount of practice on a new track layout then it’s a level playing field and there is no need for the extra days. That was a common feeling from all the teams I spoke with but feelings are one thing. Already away from my kids enough this year I urge the manufacturers to get together as a common voice and make a collective submission to IFMAR to have the schedule reduced. Red RC will be happy for what it’s worth to support such a submission. I hereby make a request of my friend & IFMAR President Dallas Mathiesen to take up the matter and be proactive for the good of the sport and the racers who plan to travel the end of September, some whom I’m pretty sure wont be able to go should it remain a 12 day trek.
Touching down in Ireland just long enough to restock my suitcase and walk my two dogs (groundhog day feeling), it was off to Gran Canaria for the third round of the Yokomo Euro Touring Series. Travelling with the infamous Ryanair, as my regular choice of airline Aer Lingus would mean staying an extra two days on the island, it felt like I was aboard a chartered flight to an alcoholics convention but I survived and managed to stay sober despite the couple beside me continuous offering me Bacardi & coke they had smuggled onto the flight. Having resurfaced the track for the series’ third trip to Spanish holiday island, the track had an apparent lack of grip. While different opinions as to why this was were discussed and analysed it was interesting to see how drivers dealt with it. I have to say 2012 Gran Canaria winner Christopher Krapp impressed me most as did Alexander Hagberg with their attitude. ‘It is what it is and no point wasting time complaining about it’ was Christopher’s reaction with Alexander echoing a similar train of thought.
Run by one of the most hospitable families I have met in our sport, the Mateos, the resurfacing of the track was done so as to try and improve the facility and make what is for many one of the highlights of the racing calendar and even more enjoyable. Unfortunately for what ever reason, possibly something as simple as the surface being so fresh, I had to report the struggle for traction faced by racers with some being more negative about the situation than others on the issue. I know the Mateo’s had the best intentions at heart and I am pretty sure they will rectify it if they are not already in the middle of doing so, but while my report was factual for our world sometimes it not just RC racers that are the audience. The resurface was funded in part by the local government an important ally for the small 35 member club. That same government department made it possible for an island of just 800,000 population to have a track right next to a very busy sports complex where hoards of kids pass by going to football or basketball games, all of them potential RC racers. Sure the track was not what the drivers who made the trip expected but it was the same for everyone. A big congratulations to Adrian Berntsen on well deserved first ETS win, the Norwegian doing little complaining and coming away with the biggest win of his career.
Have an opinion on the topics discussed? Leave them in the comments below.
Oisin O’Briain is Red RC’s Event Editor. Traveling the world reporting on some of the biggest races in the sport he regularly chats with top drivers and key industry figures and in his new column ‘On the Grapevine’ he will try to bring readers an insight into the latest talk that is doing the rounds in the paddock along with the odd bit of trivia information that comes to light.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.