Tamiya FF-04 EVO “Frontie”

One thing you can be confident of in on-road RC racing is that every 6 months a new class will be grabbing everyone’s attention…

The latest example is “Frontie” – front-wheel drive 10th scale touring cars. Not a new class, but one that has had a new lease of life thanks to the introduction of the XRAY T4F and the announcement that the ETS series will run it.

Often these classes don’t last – but I hope this one will. The aim is to bring a bit of fun back to the touring car class, which has gone firmly down the route of premium chassis, high grip and unrealistic bodies over the last few years. Frontie’s are something of an antidote to that – the bodies are much closer to scale, and traction is limited. They aren’t necessarily that cheap though…

The car

Since I am a bit of a Tamiya fan (which can be a painful obsession at times), I’ve decided to start my journey with one of their chassis. An FF-04 EVO Black Edition, to be precise.

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These are a few years old now, and pretty hard to find. I got lucky when a few appeared in stock at one of the larger Hong Kong RC shops. They hadn’t been there a week earlier so I can only assume they found a case of kits in the warehouse!

There is not much to say about this car that hasn’t already been said (Kentech’s excellent blog is always worth looking at), so I’ll try and keep my observations brief:

  • Very straightforward build, as usual with Tamiya
  • Only tweaks I made were to trim the front suspension ball ends to clear the caster blocks at full compression and add an o-ring on the front shocks as a bump stop
  • XV-01 gearbox/bumper combination means the motor is quite high, but also very close to the diff case for a short overhang and limited chassis rub compared to some of the other cars on the market
  • Easy to fit aftermarket gears for a high ratio (below 4.0:1 is no problem), all I did was change the motor mounting screws to a button head to give more clearance for the pinion
  • The plastic 1XD arm mounts from the TB-03D make the car very narrow out of the box (180mm on the front, 184 on the rear)
  • No provision for a shorty battery
  • Weight is about 1325g ready to run, so some way above the class weight limit
  • Weight distribution is pretty even left/right, and 65/35 front/rear

 

The body

I decided to start off with the Bittydesign Civic body. I’d heard a few good reviews of the handing, and it is also one of the easiest Frontie shells to find in the shops.

I made a few mistakes but the inspiration was the JAS Motorsport TCR show car. Simply because it doesn’t involve many colours!

This is my first Bittydesign shell and I have to say I have been impressed so far. It’s a very crisp moulding with plenty of detailing – very close to Tamiya standards in fact. It also comes with some very sticky pre-cut decals and decent window masks.

There are a couple of trim lines on the shell – I tried the lower trim line at first but prefer the more slammed look you get with the upper trim line (and there is just enough tyre clearance).

Be careful though – Bittydesign don’t provide a front grille or window frames on the sticker sheet. I strongly suggest you paint these parts black (as well as the boot lid and wing mounts). I’ve seen a few examples of this shell that look really dodgy because those parts were left body colour.

The first run

The good news is – nothing broke!

I took the car for it’s first shakedown run at Bristol Model Car Club, which is a small-ish and occasionally bumpy carpet track. This week’s layout was very fast, with one chicane and a series of fast corners.

The car overall was very good. This was my first time running the Ride 24025 pre-mounts, and I got my tyre prep wrong at first, but once I had realised my mistake, I had a very smooth and stable car – too stable, if anything. But quite a contrast to a Mini, which is always much closer to the edge.

The Bitty body survived well despite a few big impacts, most of which were with 4wd cars catching me on corner exit. That’s where the Frontie loses time. But overall, the car is very satisfying to drive.

If you are interested, my setup by the end of the night is here – FF04Evo_Bristol_19_9_19 – although there is a lot more to try.

Roll on the Frontie class at the CWIC!

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Iconic Cup 2019

My rehabilitation as an RC racer continues…

Last winter, I decided to take my RC racing a bit more seriously again. I’d had a few years of racing infrequently with ageing equipment and I wasn’t doing well. Which meant I wasn’t enjoying it enough.

Over the winter I ran Mini at the CWIC series, and came third overall after a slow start and a bad final race meeting. But I was much closer to being on the pace.

With summer approaching, I decided to have another go at the Iconic Cup.

This is a great series with an easy going atmosphere and great looking “vintage” cars. But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I find the car really difficult to deal with!

Fortunately, I made a big step forward recently in stopping the TT-01E from melting spur gears. So at least I could focus on the driving…

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This is not an example of good driving!

Pre-season

Although the chassis itself had some damage from the last time the spur gear melted, I decided not to change it as it all seemed to run smoothly. I did buy a replacement, just in case.

My main concern was body and tyres. There had been some controversy over the winter about “touring car” body shells, and although I considered the HPI Lexus I was using to be “scale”, it seemed that others may not. The HPI shell was wrecked anyway, so I got hold of a couple of Tamiya shells.  The one that looked the fastest to my eyes was the Lexus RC F which I decided to do in box art. With over 120 stickers…

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The other issue was tyres. I had been running on leftovers from many seasons ago (Sorex 32’s from 2014), and I knew I would need some fresh rubber. I took a punt on the current BRCA control tyre, the Sweep 34.

Round 1 – Mendip

Mendip is just down the road from me, but I had only been there once before. It is a fast track, with some unforgiving boards on the sweeper at the end of the straight and the odd bump and surface change that can catch you out.

I started the day on the old Sorex tyres but the car did not have much rear grip, and then in the first round of qualifying I made a mistake with the ride height which left the car undriveable. Switching to the new Sweep tyres for the second round made a huge difference and I was much closer to the leading cars. Unfortunately the fresh tyre grip didn’t last and the car was tricky again for the rest of qualifying. Reducing steering rates helped but the car was grip rolling a lot more than other cars seemed to be.

I scraped into the A final in 9th place. After a good start I spent most of the final in the top half, but a grip roll towards the end cost me fifth place end I ended up finishing in 6th, right on the bumper of the car in front!

Cotswold club

I wasn’t at all happy with the car at Mendip and took it up to a club meeting at Cotswold to try and get some track time and work through some of the (limited) setup options available.

Cotswold is a big track with a really good surface. I was put in a heat with some modern “Frontie” cars running 21.5 and 17.5 motors and was not far off their pace on the straights, which shows that the Team Powers 17T brushed motor has a decent turn of speed.

Naturally, the car was good from the moment I put it on the track! I made a few small tweaks to the spring rates but basically I had a car with decent rear grip all day long, even with maximum steering rates.

I’d noticed at Mendip that a lot of cars were running optional wing sets, no doubt because their original one was lost or broken. I happened to lose mine during the club meeting, and fitted the Tamiya Racing Wing Set. To be honest it felt pretty similar to the small plastic kit wing.

Nevertheless, I felt like I might have made a breakthrough…

Round 3 – Stafford

As much as I would have loved to make the trip to Carlisle, it’s too far for a one-dayer. Hopefully I will return in the future, because it is a superb track. This meant my next outing was at Stafford.

Circumstances meant that I could actually attend the Saturday practice day for once. I put the car on the track with the settings that worked so well at Costwold – and the tail was sliding all over the place again! But at least I had the opportunity to try some things. Mostly I worked my way through the “box ‘o tyres” that I had at my disposal, and although a very old set of VTEC 27s showed some promise, I decided to stick with the BRCA Sweep’s. Once again, the most effective change I made was reducing the steering rates, and by the end of the day I was setting some of the best laptimes in the class.

Sunday morning came and I definitely felt the benefits. Even though the car was still on the edge in terms of grip, I was able to put together a string of top-3 qualifying runs, and lined up 3rd on the grid. I had a good start and was running 2nd, but frustratingly I made a mistake and tapped the leader towards the end of the first lap. He managed to continue in the lead, but I slipped back to the midfield. Because the whole of the A final grid was very closely matched, I finished 6th again.

Despite my blunder in the final, I was much happier with the car overall.

Round 4 – WLRC

Another one-dayer for me, and after an early start I managed to get on track with enough time for two practice runs. The car felt good, and I could run quite a lot of steering lock to get around the twisty West London infield. But then I cooked the motor. Fortunately, I had a spare V1 from the CWIC series. Dropping down a pinion for safety, I had another run, and once again was setting some of the fastest times in the class on the Sweep 34s. Things were looking good.

Round 1 was 3rd in round, and Round 2 was 6th after an error on the kerb of the last corner put me into the wall. But as the temperature increased, the car was getting worse, and again I had to resort to reducing the steering rates. For Round 3 I tried some radical changes, rebuilding the shocks to a completely different damping and length. It was worse. Round 4 I went even more radical, with a open front diff instead of my usual tight setting. Worse again. Fortunately my banker runs at the start of the day meant I retained 7th on the grid, and I returned to the original setup.

The final turned out to be one of those increasingly rare occasions where I manage to pick my way through the first lap carnage, and I found myself in third with a decent margin. Then the leaders got a bit too involved in door-handling each other and I was second! Unfortunately I just didn’t have the raw pace to stay there, and narrowly held on to 4th at the buzzer, with 5th place right on my bumper.

An enjoyable end to a challenging day.

Round 5 – Broxtowe

This is a really fun track with big elevation changes and unforgiving grass runoffs. It was also the site of my best Iconic result in the past. Going into this round, I was third in the championship (due to consistency rather than pace), but I knew I would need a really strong result to be in with a chance of staying there.

It took most of the practice run to get my eye back in on the track, but it wasn’t enough as I started my first qualifying run with a mistake, and then watched the car roll to a standstill after 4 minutes. I feared the worst, but fortunately I was just a loose pinion gear.

After that, I just couldn’t get a clean run together in qualifying. All completely down to me, but when you have so many fast cars around, every error is costly. There were 12 cars capable of top 10 times – and I was the worst of them, lining up 2nd in the B final.

My plan for the final was to keep it as neat as possible, and hope for a mistake from the driver on pole. Fortunately for me, it came on the third lap, and I was then able to drive my first clean race of the day to take the win, and my first trophy of the series!

Post-season

This is the setup I settled on during the course of the series:

Chassis

  • Tamiya TT-01E

Hop-ups

  • Tamiya alloy motor mount
  • Tamiya adjustable steering links
  • Tamiya aluminium propellor shaft
  • Tamiya TRF shocks
  • Tamiya aluminium wheel hexes

Electrics

  • Team Powers Cup Racer V1 motor
  • Hobbywing 1060 ESC
  • Futaba 2.4GHz radio
  • Futaba low profile servo
  • IP600 LiPo

Gear ratio

  • 25/55 – 27/55 depending on track

Tyres

  • Sweep 34 BRCA

Setup

  • Springs: Tamiya White (F) / Tamiya Blue (R)
  • Oil: 600 (F) / 500 (R)
  • Pistons: 2 hole
  • Limiter: 1x o-ring
  • Diff lubricant: Putty (F) / AW Grease (R)
  • Front toe out: 1 degree
  • Ride height: 6-7mm

I’m pretty sure I have done everything I can with the TT-01E’s setup (and made some changes many times over!). Rear end grip is a challenge, in part because the TT-01 does not have rear toe-in as standard (and the toe-in uprights are not allowed), and in part because the Sweep 34s are probably a little bit hard for this class.

If I race in the Iconic Cup again next year, I’ll probably invest in a wider range of tyres to try and get more mechanical grip. The Lexus body (which lost the front splitter and one of the wing endplates by the end of the season) will have to be retired, because there will be some new body rules as well.

So, not quite a perfect season (7th overall in the end), but plenty of good moments on and off the track.

Now it’s time to pack the TT-01E away and focus on my plans for the indoor season…

High Concept…

So in my ongoing efforts to rediscover a bit of pace in my RC racing, I’ve updated my Mini…

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Behold the Tamiya M-07 Concept!

The car has been available for over a year and lots and lots has been written about it already so I’ll keep it brief:

  • As soon as you start building it you can tell it’s a true race chassis – a massive step up from the M-05 in design and materials
  • It’s a lot easier to set up because of the flat chassis bottom
  • Only issue in the build was a bit of friction between the hubs and the wishbones
  • The only hop ups I’ve added are 5mm alloy wheel hexes and some standard length TRF dampers
  • On track, the standard driveshafts bind up at full lock so I will try the DCJs
  • I’ve seen comments about the body posts being in a different position but it’s not the case with this shell which came straight from my M-05

Pit pic taken at Forest Raceway – a permanent carpet track west of Gloucester. It’s a fairly small track, but has a very smooth surface, plenty of indoor pitting and a friendly atmosphere. Had a really productive shakedown session, and despite hitting the boards far too often, nothing broke!

Quick tip for TT-01 owners…

Drivetrain feeling rough on your TT-01/TT-01E?

Try loosening the upper screws on the gearbox covers. A quarter-turn at a time.

It’s a bit of a hack to loosen the bevel gear mesh, but it seems to work!

Got a hunch it may be related to the black gears that come up a bit larger than the old white gears.

 

The Hyundai i20 smartphone dock… so close yet so far…

After dabbling with a “future classic” (the Audi A2) for 8 months, I have moved on to a much more conventional car – the Hyundai i20.

My reasons for buying it were almost exclusively logical. It fulfils more of my needs than anything else I could afford. My passion for the Audi didn’t really work out…

One feature of the i20 is an integrated smartphone dock. This seems to be a great idea – tap into your phone’s abilities as a sat-nav and music player, without having cables dangling all over the place and not-so-sticky mounts falling off the windscreen whenever you go around a corner.

But it has more than its fair share of problems…

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The dock itself is sturdily built and clips into a special socket on the top of the dash (which you can cover with a blanking plate when not in use). Even though it sits on top of the dash, it doesn’t obstruct my view forward (although if you are shorter or have your seat low it might).

There are a couple of buttons to adjust the fit around the phone. The button on the bottom allows you to adjust the support for width, while the button on the top releases a ratchet to open the whole mount to install/remove the phone.

Two battery connectors are supported – Micro USB and Apple Lightning (I believe USB is “standard” with Apple as an option).

And this is the first problem:

  • There is no support for USB-C

The holder will accept a phone up to 145mm in height. And this is the second problem:

  • Most modern phones are too big to fit

The i20 came out in late 2014, and the holder was obviously built for the flagship phones of that era – the only ones explicitly supported are the Samsung Galaxy S2/S3/S4/S5 and the Apple iPhone 5 & 6 (but not the 6 Plus).

My Moto G4 does not fit (far too big). Nor does my daughter’s Moto C (USB socket in wrong place).

Nevertheless I was keen to see if I could find a “cheap” way to use the integrated smartphone holder. I don’t like the Samsung phones in general, and even the old Galaxys are far from cheap, so I looked elsewhere, and bought the Google/LG Nexus 5 – a 2013 flagship.

It doesn’t fit either! (The USB socket is upside down).

I was going to leave my experiment at that, but then I got an eBay reminder for a Moto X (2014) that was going VERY cheap – so I put a silly low bid on it that had no chance of winning.

A few days later I received the Moto X in the post.

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The Moto X fits! (kind of). The USB socket won’t connect if the plug on the holder is inserted fully, however if you only push the USB in half-way, it will. Once you have got it in the right place, it does seem to stay connected when you drive around.

But… this is where the third (and perhaps most critical) problem appears:

  • The charge rate is really low

I’d say it is 0.5A at most. Which is understandable, as that is the original standard for a USB cable, and would be safe for anything.

The problem is, standards have moved on, and charging the Moto X at 0.5A isn’t enough to stop the battery from running out…

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Here is a shot of the Moto X “just running” with the screen on. It is using 848mA of current in this state.

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And here is a shot the the Moto X plugged in. See how the battery is coloured green but still has a status of discharging? The net mA flow is -365mA – basically, the extra 500mA coming from the USB port isn’t enough to offset what the phone needs to “just run”.

Even if you have a phone that fits the dock, the chances are that the battery will be flat before the end of a long journey anyway.

This makes it impossible to recommend – which is a real shame.

If Hyundai are reading this – I would normally make an appeal to you to support USB-C, and revise the mount to accept larger phones. But since the limited charge rate is almost certainly hard-coded into the car itself, there wouldn’t be any point…

(I’ll probably keep hold of the Moto X though… it’s a nice phone!)

Sit up and beg… the Humpert Ergotec High Charisma stem

Apologies if I have mentioned this before, but I suffer from a bit of a bad back.

Fortunately it is not very serious, but sometimes it seems like half of my waking hours are spent trying to get comfortable.

On my bike, I favour a more upright riding position. The standard geometry on my Giant Roam is OK – because I am tall-ish for the frame, the bars end up about level with the saddle, and have a bit of reach to them. Good for enthusiastic riding; not too uncomfortable around town; but not quite perfect…

My first change was to try swept-back handlebars instead of the fairly straight risers that came with the bike. I picked up some cheap Chinese bars from eBay, which were delivered very quickly and turned out to be pretty substantial. What I gained with the backward sweep was partially lost by the decreased height (because the bars need to be angled down). Definitely more comfortable – but I needed to get them higher.

There are a lot of “high rise” stems available but the one that really caught my eye was the Humpert Ergotec High Charisma – because it is the only one that I have seen that is actually shaped to flow smoothly into the top of the stem itself. I was baulking at the price until I noticed that Amazon were doing them at a serious discount – I paid just over £16!

The shots above should give an idea of how it compares to the standard Giant stem. The Giant stem is marked as 100mm and 15 degrees; the Ergotec is 90mm and an unknown angle (but no less than 45 degrees in my opinion). They also offer a 110mm version.

I wasn’t sure how the 90mm would be measured, but it is the distance of the centre of the handlebar from the centre of the steerer, measured along the centreline of the stem tube (rather than being the horizontal offset).

Although the relatively shallow angle of the Giant stem means the horizontal offset is still close to 100mm, the Ergotec stem’s horizontal offset is much, much less.

Because of the extreme angle, the Ergotec stem has a horizontal offset of only 70mm or so, and a rise from the base of the stem of about 95mm. Compare this with the Giant’s rise of 40mm. In old money, the Ergotec stem brings the bars an inch closer and lifts them two inches higher!

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Giant Roam – slow commute edition!

Fitting was straightforward – the closed top of the stem means you can’t adjust the height using spacers (I had to use the same spacing as the standard stem in its highest setting). No concerns with the quality either – there is a neat rubber seal to protect the top bolt.

Looking at the bike, I was a bit worried that this extra rise might be a bit too much… thankfully, it isn’t. A quick ride around the park has confirmed that I now have the “dutch bike” seating position I was searching for. Should make the commute a lot more comfortable!

All I need now is for it to stop being so cold and wet…