In Search of Small-Scale Thrills With A Remote Control Car Club

Captain Grand Prix

The Captain Grand Prix club aims to bring Jakarta’s remote-controlled car aficionados together and draw attention to raising the hobby to a competition in Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

Jakarta. The cars surged their way down the asphalt track, filling the air with the shrill screams of their engines. The vehicles deftly negotiated the corners on their way to finish yet another lap around the racecourse. From time to time, a car would make its way to a pitstop, where mechanics were already on hand to refill the vehicle’s gas tank or change its tires.

Watching the cars come and go, the first thing that comes to mind is either the Formula One or Nascar circuits.

But this race wasn’t held at the Monaco Grand Prix or Silverstone circuit, and neither was it the Nascar Sprint Cup Series. Instead, the cars burning rubber on the track were remote-controlled vehicles from the Captain Grand Prix remote-control car club.

One of a myriad of remote-control car communities in Jakarta, the club has been meeting regularly every weekend at an asphalt race track at the Senayan sports complex, since its founding in 2005.

“The Captain Grand Prix remote-control car club is perhaps one of the most thriving in Jakarta, as it has about 30 members. It’s a far cry from other communities of its kind, which have about five to 10 members,” said Billy Atan, a Captain Grand Prix member since 2010. “I was drawn to Captain Grand Prix because it’s a mover in ‘on road’ remote control car racing on an asphalt track, as opposed to off-road remote control racing on a dirt track. The precision and speed of on road racing were what drew me to the sport, as they’re more challenging than the rough and tumble world of off road racing.”

More than just toys

At first glance, the cars seemed to be mere toys. But a closer look showed they were made for the big boys.

“The kit of the car, which includes the servos for the engine and the muffler, costs about Rp 6 million [$528]. The two-stroke, 12 cubic centiliter engine costs about the same, as it has to be imported from Italy. If it includes the wheels, muffler and other parts, like the suspension and tracks as well as the remote control, I’d spend about Rp 20 million,” said Billy, a security contractor, of his 1/10 scale model car. It didn’t take long to see it was nearly as intricate as the real thing. But Billy was quick to point out that it’s not the ultimate in its class.

“The 1/10 scale car is still in the touring class, as far as remote-controlled vehicles go, as its more leisurely and more geared for fun. On the other hand, the 1/8 scale car is used in racing,” he explained. “So the 1/10 class is used mostly for fun, while the 1/8 scale is like the F1 of remote-control racing.”

However, the 1/10 scale cars still mean business. While their 80 cc fuel tanks are dwarfed by the 42 liter tanks of their full-scale counterparts, their agility and speed of over 40,000 rpm are still mind-boggling for their size.

Much of this is due to the fuel mixture of methanol, alcohol methyl, engine oil and nitroglycerin. The first three components keep the car well balanced, while the nitroglycerin makes it run at a mind-boggling speed of 40,000 rpm, enabling the car to go 15 to 18 laps in five minutes. The setup of the remote control car’s engine, and the tricky characteristics of remote control racing, requires a mechanic with knowledge of the field.

“As the head mechanic and head of Captain Grand Prix’s racing development team, I train other mechanics and advise Billy and the other Captain Grand Prix members about their driving strategies on the track. Among the things that I do are coordinating things like pit stops or when to change the tires before they get worn out,” said Uun, a remote-control vehicle mechanic since 1994.

“I also give advice on improving their technique. These include tips to keep their cool as well as advice to try their luck in races outside of Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia, such as in Singapore or Thailand, which is a regional center for remote-control racing.

“Racing overseas does wonders in honing the drivers’ skills, as well as expanding their comfort zone.”

Uun also pointed out the significant differences between remote-control cars and their real equivalents.

“Remote-control cars derive their speed and agility from their light weight. That’s why I only fill the tank with enough fuel to last five minutes, as it will burn quicker and make the car faster.”

He added that getting behind the wheel of remote-control vehicles can be just as tricky as driving real cars.

“Like driving real cars, driving remote-control cars have to be adjusted to the person’s driving skills. A novice should start off with more basic remote control cars instead of high-performance 1/8 or 1/10 vehicles, just as novice drivers would start off with slower Kijangs instead of Ferraris,” Uun said.

Billy agreed, noting that he owes much of his skill to Uun’s sound advice.

“Among the insights that Uun showed me is that the fastest racer is the most consistent one, as they can react accordingly with timing and precision, particularly on the trickiest curves,” he said. “On the other hand, edgier racers who rely on speed alone are most likely to lose control of their cars, making them finish last.”

Challenges ahead

Billy explained that while Captain Grand Prix continues to draw prospective members, the club still has some hurdles to overcome.

“The costs of maintaining remote-control racing cars restrict [Captain Grand Prix’s] membership to more affluent people, such as corporate executives in booming sectors like banking and mining. For us, the hobby might bring us together and be a stress reliever, but for many people it still remains daunting,” he said. “For instance, the price of a single tire made of foam is about Rp 400,000. They only last for about 20 minutes, so depending on how intensively you race, it can be used up quickly.”

Billy also pointed out that remote-control racing still has a long road ahead of it, despite the efforts of Uun and other fellow mechanics in stepping up their game.

“Unlike in Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries, where remote-control racing is done by professionals, Indonesia is still lagging behind, because of the cavalier attitudes of Captain Grand Prix’s members,” he said. “The high costs of powering and maintaining remote-control cars make them accessible to a small number of people, many of whom, including myself, can’t quit their day jobs to go into remote control car racing full time. This would have been remedied if Indonesia has a remote-control car association like those of other Southeast Asian countries. But since we don’t, I don’t think remote-control car racing would be a viable profession in Indonesia for the time being.”

Fellow Captain Grand Prix member Dimas agreed. “One reason Indonesian on-road remote-control racing didn’t take off was because we’re too dependent on race marshals to pick up the cars if they fly off the track.

“In other countries, the drivers have to pick their own cars up, so they have an incentive to improve their skills” he said.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on April 7, 2014

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