Remote controlled car racing is gathering momentum as a recent event on the outskirts of the city has proved. Prince Frederick meets the people behind it

The cars vroom on a straight stretch of a dirt track raising swirls of dust; they trundle over a series of rumblers, setting the teeth on edge; and they fly high over an obstacle of piled-up mud, sending photographers into a flurry of clicks. Under a colourful canopy of cloth, a flock of spectators — who have travelled over 110 km from Chennai for this adrenaline rush — looks on open-mouthed, their eyes travelling now and then to a single-storey wooden watchtower, from where the drivers feverishly work the controls of radio transmitters to direct the racing machines.

It's a remote-controlled car racing event on a sultry Sunday — with participants from Chennai, Bangalore and Puducherry — organised by Rotor Sport and the Indian Radio Control Racers' Association (IRCRA) at the Radio Control Pilots Association's (RCPA) facility at Minal Chitamoor (15 km from Melmaruvathur), synonymous with model-aircraft flying.

The newly-laid 140 feet by 100 feet off-road race track — only a stone's throw away from the RCPA runway — is a result of the RCPA's magnanimity and IRCRA's determination to popularise RC racing.

“Besides putting Chennai on the national RC-car racing map, the new track is drawing people in and around Chennai to the hobby,” says Murali Kannadhason, founder-member of IRCRA.

This event is an eye-opener for many, especially for a gang of SRM students who are struck by the similarities between these races and the ones involving big machines with oodles of power. ‘Drivers' of RC cars negotiate fast corners the way drivers locked into open-wheeled single-seater race cars do. RC cars running on nitromethanol halt at a pit stop every five minutes for refuelling and repair. Before every race, participants work on their machines with unswerving concentration. Tuning the tiny internal combustion engines of these cars — roughly ranging from 3.5 cc to 4.6 cc in displacement — is important. “A nitro RC car with a well-tuned engine will require refuelling only every six minutes,” says Murali.

“These cars are not toys,” says Ajo Joseph, another IRCRA founder-member. “All the parts of an RC car — built with performance in mind — can be replaced. There are suppliers for each of them.

Believe it or not, a whole industry thrives on providing performance parts for RC racing cars. In many parts of the world, RC-car racing is a big pastime. We are trying to get there.”

Despite all the brow-knitting effort that goes into preparing their machines for the races, the participants display a strong sense of fraternity. “We help each other set up our machines,” says Murali.

“The excitement of racing brings us together, not the ambition of winning and proving a point.” Biju Jose, a prime member of the RC car racers' club in Bangalore, does not protest when he is told not to use the reverse gear, during a drivers' briefing. In a mock pleading tone, he asks, ‘Can I use it just one time, please?” Ajo, who is handing out the instructions to the drivers, smiles and says, “Okay. Use it as sparingly as you can.”

Ritam, a Frenchman from Puducherry, is disappointed that his car has developed a major snag, but is not frustrated about having to drop out. He chats and jokes with the rest and, at one moment, even helps out the organisers.

With sportsmanship and camaraderie ruling the event, it is a day of great fun for everyone.

Car categories

Buggy: Nitromethanol-run RC cars patterned on road-hugging open-wheeled race cars.

Truggy: Nitromethanol-run RC cars with greater ground clearance and, therefore, seen more as a truck than a car.

Monster: As the name suggests, these are nitromethanol-run RC cars with greater dimensions.

Electric: RC cars with electric motors powered by lithium polymer batteries.

Petrol-run RC cars were absent because the track was too small for them. “Powered by 20cc petrol engines, these cars can be two-and-a-half feet long and one foot wide. Cars of such sizes require a minimum track-width of 17 feet to race around,” explains Murali Kannadhason, founder-member, Indian Radio Control Racers' Association (IRCRA).

IRCRA and its plans

Indian Radio Control Racers' Association (IRCRA) is an open forum — with a presence on Facebook — for radio-controlled car race enthusiasts. Besides providing knowledge about the hobby to entrants and helping members with all information about these cars, IRCRA works towards creating a circuit of national-level races.

The Association persuades RC car enthusiasts with big parcels of land to develop tracks where such races can be conducted. “Since IRCRA has drivers from around the country as members, it can easily conduct racing events. At present, we plan to have year-round races that will involve tracks at Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Coimbatore. In June, we are likely to have a race at Coimbatore,” says Murali Kannadhason, founder-member, IRCRA. “The revenue generated by every race goes to the race track owner. We believe this model will encourage more people to build RC car race tracks.”

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