Beginner’s Guide to RC – How Much Do You Really Have to Spend to Go Fast?
It’s no big secret that the touring car segment of RC isn’t doing so hot. Ask any number of people why and the answers will range from the cost of the cars, the ‘secret’ tire compounds, or even the ‘ESC of the week’ issue. I personally think it could be a combination of all three, but I also feel that if you stick with one thing and focus more on your car’s setup than what the other drivers are using for equipment, you have a very good chance of taking the win with a budget built race car.
Case in point; I do a lot of local racing. I see a lot of guys showing up with the ‘latest and greatest’ racing equipment. I see them put their $1000+ car on the track but struggle to put in good lap times. I, on the other hand, run my competitive TC with a tried-and-true electronics package. I do try to keep up to date with the latest battery packs, but at times I run packs I’ve had for about a year. And I win races. Why? While the other guys are fumbling with those high-tech gadgets to make their car go fast, I already KNOW how my electronics will work, leaving me time to perfect the car’s setup.
So I got to wondering about this; could I build a budget touring car with a budget of $500 and still be competitive against those high-dollar hotrods? Let’s take a look.
I figured the chassis was going to be the most expensive part of my project. I made a wish list of reasonable tuning features that the chassis had to have; adjustable turnbuckles, threaded shocks, multiple shock tower and camber mount locations, etc. After searching high and low for a chassis that fit my needs, I came across the 3Racing Xi Sport.
This chassis had just about everything on my wish list; adjustable turnbuckles, droop and arm mounts as well as multiple shock locations and Ackermann. The Sakura S Zero also features a very smooth belt drive system, upper and lower 2.5mm black fiberglass chassis, zero-maintenance gear diffs and enough room on the chassis to fit most electronics. It didn’t come with threaded shocks, but I can live with that. Oh, and did I mention that the 3Racing Sakura S Zero has a street price of only $110! That’s a lot of touring car for such an inexpensive price!
Total Cost Thus Far: $109.99
After finding a diamond in the rough with the Sakura S, I was confident I could round up some electronics that would be fast, reliable and inexpensive.
To handle the steering duties, I chose the Savox SC-0252MG Servo. This hunky little servo is fast and touts a 145oz-in torque rating, which is easily enough to work the front tires of the Sakura. It’s metal geared-drivetrain keeps it strong and it’s digital circuitry keeps it precise, and it sports a street price of only $37.99.
Total Cost Thus Far: $147.98
The ESC/motor is the heart of any fast touring car. The ESC needs to be programmable, smooth and able to transfer every ounce of battery power to the motor without heat buildup. Heat buildup can do two things; 1) it can cause parts to overheat, thus losing their efficiency and 2) heat is the loss of overall power; if there’s heat that lost power is not being transferred to the motor. I could have spent a little extra in this department choosing a separate brushless ESC and motor, but went with Speed Passion’s excellent Cirtix Stock Club Race combo.
I’ve actually used this combo before and found it to not only be quite powerful, but also extremely simple. It works with both sensored and sensorless motors and features 9 different driving modes, proportional ABS braking, 3 running modes and an easy one-button programming mode. It is also compatible with Speed Passion’s pocket-sized Smart ESC Programming Unit. This system comes with everything you need including the sensor wire and power wires. The best part is the price; it’s only $89.99! That’s a ROAR legal ESC and motor with a ton of features for under $90! I couldn’t pass that up.
Total Cost Thus Far: $237.97
When it comes to transmitters, I’m a bit of a snob. I like digital screens, blinky lights and clicky buttons, so I chose the Futaba 3PL .
Sure, it might be a bit overkill for this project as any non-computerized radio will do, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that you ALWAYS want to spend as much as you can on the transmitter. Why you ask? It’s pretty simple…what’s the one RC item you can use with EVERY RC car you buy? A computerized radio, especially one like the 3PL that has a 10-model memory.
In addition to the 10 model memory, the 3PL also sports standard features like 2.4GHz technology, dual rate, low battery alarm and an internal antenna. For those of you that aren’t impressed yet, what about other slick features like special mixing for 4WS (for crawlers or brake mixing), ABS and 4 useable channels with neutral trims! So, how much does a system like this cost? Surprisingly cheap for what you get; a street price of only $114.99, which is a good price considering you probably won’t have to buy another transmitter for quite a while.
Total Cost Thus Far: $352.96
When it came time to find a battery for this project, I was a little torn between picking up a NiMh pack or a new-generation LiPo pack. NiMh packs can be had for pennies, but they weigh a lot more than LiPo and just aren’t as powerful. So I decided to go with one of Reedy’s Wolfpack 3000mAh LiPo packs. At a street price of only $34.99, that will give me plenty of power while saving quite a bit of weight. Less weight can equal a faster car, so I think it’s a pretty good tradeoff.
Total Cost Thus Far: $387.95
For those of you that don’t know, tires are about 75% of a car’s setup. You can have a perfectly set up car but if your tires are junk, your car will be junk on the track. Since I do a lot of local racing I know that the Solaris Pre-Mounted tires work good on both the carpet and asphalt (better on the asphalt) tracks. Being pre-mounted, there was nothing to do but bolt them on to the Sakura S Zero. Price: $27.99 for a set of 4. Not a bad deal.
Total Cost Thus Far: $415.94
The body controls the aerodynamics of any car and can greatly affect the handling on the track. I knew I needed something that worked both on the carpet and asphalt so I chose Protoform’s R9-R body.
This body was designed to work on both carpet and asphalt and features a low CG (even with its ROAR legal height), a large rear wing to help with loose surfaces and fenders that have been molded with enough clearance for standard rubber touring car tires. Even though the body was only $23.00, I knew I still had to have it painted which can be a pretty expensive endeavor. Instead of paint, I opted for a less conventional method and used one of XXX-Main’s Touring Car Wraps. The Ignite X-Wrapz is an easy peel and stick setup that makes decorating your ride extremely easy. A few minutes of work (and $19.99) and I had a custom TC that looked like a winner!
Total Cost Thus Far: $458.93
The final step in this build was the charger. Since I went with the LiPo pack, I knew I would have to get a LiPo-compatible charger. I chose the DuraTrax Onyx 230 Advanced AC/DC Charger. This charger allows you to charge any NiCd, NiMh or LiPo pack up to 7amps and features an auto-trickle function. It also features a built in AC power supply, cooling fans and a 10-battery memory for configuring different battery charging setups. It’s small size also helps keep your pit area clutter to a minimum. With a street price of $79.99, it’s a great deal for the amount of charging functionality you get.
Total Cost Thus Far: $538.92
I gathered up the Sakura S Zero and all my racing goodies and headed down to TQ Raceway in Chino California. After unpacking, charging and doing last minute setup check, I put the Zero down for its maiden run. The car felt pretty good and I was putting down some 12.5 and 12.6 second laps, but this was nowhere near the 11.9 second laps the fast guys were doing. I knew that it would take a couple packs to burn the tires in (since they were brand new) and tweak the suspension some, but I had complete confidence that I could get to that magical 11.9 second lap time. Every time back out on the track, the lap times were falling; 12.5, 12.3, 12.1, 12.1…but that 11.9 second lap was just not happening.
Finally, on my last pack, I made a drastic change to the front and rear shocks by laying them down quite a bit and saucing ¾ of the front tire (instead of the ½ I’d been saucing). After the first couple of warm up laps (which felt pretty good), I buried the throttle and went for it.
I was consistently hitting 12.0 lap after lap until about lap 7 when the computer rang off an 11.8 second lap. I thought that was the hero lap until the next lap announced an 11.7! The next 3 laps in a row were a 11.8, 11.9 and 11.9 consecutively! Had the track finally grooved up that night? Had my tires finally wore in or did I find that killer setup for the Sakura S Zero? Maybe it was a combination of them all, but I knew that if I could pull off an 11.7 in practice, hitting 11.9’s in racing should be obtainable.
As you can see, my project cost a total of $538.92. Yes, that’s about $40 over my budget, but if I didn’t need to purchase a new charger (say, I already owned one), that would put me UNDER my budget by about $40; that’s another battery pack! I should also note that I did have to tweak the setup quite a bit to hit some fast laps but did not use anything other than what was included in the kit’s box. If I did have that extra $40, I would probably purchase a set of front and rear anti-roll bars and a full shock spring set. I honestly feel like this car could go a couple tenths faster with some more tuning!
In the end, it’s not always about the best equipment but more about the RIGHT equipment. When building any vehicle from scratch, take your time and do your homework! I built a fast, competitive car at a fraction of what it cost of some of those ultra-racers out there.
EDITORS NOTE: Please be aware that even though this project was done within a limited budget, this does not mean it will work for everyone. Some car setup knowledge will be beneficial to tune your ride to obtain maximum performance.
Sakura S Zero – #2628
SC-0252MG Servo, #SAV-SC-0252MG
Stock Club Race and 17.5T Brushless Motor Combo Set, #12280175
3PL Computerized Radio, #FUTK1300
Wolfpack 3000mAh LiPo, #730
Premium SP30 Pre-mounts, #STS30GM4W
R9-R Regular Weight Body, #1498-00
Ignite Touring Red, #W008R
Onyx 230 Advanced AC/DC Charger, #DTXP4230
WORDS: Tony Phalen PHOTOS: Tony Phalen PAINT: Tony Phalen