Spring is on our doorsteps and what better way to let it in than having our own guest writer Craig Drescher give us a pre-season preview of the domestic & European scenes.

The Pre-season by Craig Drescher
Lumpy and bumpy winter time switch hitters and money movers. Some smart moves and some dumb ones I’m sure you will agree. I’ll leave that up to you to make your own assumptions.

“Some guys go for the deal whilst others go for the product”

With the dust settled on 2010, this year looks like it’s going to be a scorcher. New cars, new engines and new teams. With plenty of changes taking place during the off season it’s been an interesting watch whilst the guys try to get themselves settled in and iron out the niggles that happen with new cars, products and teams. Some of the guys will take well to the changes and others won’t. That’s just the way it is unfortunately. No matter how much testing you do to get your head straight- sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Testing through the winter has been tough because of the weather but now the next few months will be a much clearer indicator of who’s looking good and who isn’t. I’m sure when the end of the season rolls around it will look very similar to 2010 with the same contenders challenging for similar positions.
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Loyalty don’t count for crap these days and with so many choices available its hardly surprising. The bench mark is getting continually moved and the developments stretched to the absolute limit- sometimes beyond when companies try to get a bit too cute and clever for no reason. Over engineering seems to be fairly prominent these days. Then you have the pretty parts people. If bench racing is what it’s all about then a few stand out above the rest. How many parts can you get etched ? How many edges can you polish ? Function does come into it somewhere down the line but I have to say its nice to have a pimped out ride to look at and work on. Its like your real car. When its clean it always starts better, runs quieter, smoother and is faster.

People suit different products and with so many unknown’s available its even more challenging to pick and choose the right ones. Some guys go for the deal whilst others go for the product that they feel will get the job done. Its mixed up more than ever this year and the bad weather has made these decisions harder with limited testing. Its been wet and cold (pretty normal conditions in the UK) and these conditions don’t yield good test results normally because they numb the feedback you get from your car.

The UK.
Its good to see some drivers sticking by there life long sponsors and both Cragg and Bloomers are staying put for 2011. Darren stepping up his game and becoming a more involved and professional player going into 2011. Darren will be racing electric and gas wherever possible so I expect to see plenty of traveling up and down the country and throughout Europe for him. He’s reportedly looking into the option of doing 2WD electric buggy on Saturday and gas on Sunday where the (BRCA 10th & 8th) races clash. Why the races clash in the off road classes is stupid. I know this has been a contentious issue for many people and perhaps this is something I can rant about later or on another day. I digress. Darren as always will be one of the main contenders for the BRCA national championship and my hot favourite again. Generally he has a quiet winter and comes out fired up when the weather picks up. Craggy had a quiet year by his standards and is looking to get back to some former glory. With some updates expected from AE this could be what’s needed to get the three-time 1/8th champ firing on all cylinders.

Losi and AE both have good strong teams going into 2011. With very few changes these two teams seem the most solid and organized. I’d say that Losi have the slight advantage with slightly more depth at this moment in time. Both know their cars and I’m sure Losi will have some updates to come along with AE during the year.

Lee Martin and Tamiya. Lee’s settled into the team nicely and by all accounts made a good decision to put himself in a strong position once the gap opened up after Hupo’s departure from the Team. With Lee securing his first European electric titles in 2010 he consolidated his position within the team along side Reinhard and Wilck. Direct with Japan for electric and through the states for his 1/8th deal is what I heard. A weird way of structuring his deals but it works out nicely for him. I expect Lee to be dynamite in electric this year with the worlds coming up and his recent 4th position at the US Reedy Race of Champions but I don’t expect thunder in 1/8th. I’m sure he will be at the top or close still and I’d like him to surprise me but I don’t see it happening in 1/8th. Lee’s another one that’s taking his toy car career up a level and reportedly becoming a pro driver and RC professional along with Bloomfield. Lee’s recently switched to AKA from JConcepts also so its a double hitter for him. Looking more like a convict than a racer in his AKA press picture 🙂

teamdurangoBoots. With a surprise switch from Mugen. Reportedly taking a deal he couldn’t refuse. Elliott and his press manager Chris jumping on the Team Durango gravy train with what seems like the rest of the World. Its a big operation for these guys in 2011 not just in the UK but throughout the rest of the World. Some serious “wonga” getting thrown at this team and the Durango brand owned by Kingstar. They don’t have it all figured out just yet – but I wouldn’t expect it to take long with all the guys they have on the books. Pre-season testing hasn’t been the Sunday stroll the Boots family have become accustomed to whilst running the MBX6. Elliott’s certainly got the talent so I’m sure he will be on form once the start of the season rolls around. Somebody somewhere will be expecting some big results. Elliott may take a while to get warmed up this season but he will be challenging at his more familiar venues I’m certain. Brunsden will continue to run Durango again this year after starting with it late in 2010. Expect more from Durango as the season unfolds and they get the important bits figured out.

Willetts and Mugen. More of a side step than a forward or backward step for Big Red. Trading in his red jumper for a black one will be an easy change to make. Both cars run good and are easy to drive so its a good solid move in my opinion and well calculated. I’m sure Simons happy with his deal and he tested many cars throughout the winter with varying degrees of success. HoBao, XRAY, Durango and Tomy all in with a shout for a while. My choice if I ever made one would be Mugen or Kyosho. Not sure if Willetts has a tire deal secured yet but his AKA deal doesn’t look as solid now he’s switched camps.

Crompton and Mugen. After taking a year to Chilax and be a pit bitch and general dogs body for a year its great to see that Crompton will be making an appearance again in 2011. This makes me happy and I wish him all the best for 2011. After running the MBX6 sporadically throughout 2010 and having some good results I get the feeling David is quietly confident. Claiming that the MBX6 is one of the best cars he has ever driven. I think Dave could be a surprise front runner this season.

Hot Bodies, Sloppy (Graham Alsop) looks like he will be heading up the squad again in the UK and flying the flag high for HB. One of very few people running this car in Europe let alone the UK. He always says how much he likes his D8 and you can’t deny its performance after watching the Worlds. One of a handful of guys thats had a busy winter program, running at many of the winter race series in the midlands and up north. He knows his car, he knows his game and he likes what he drives which always helps. Sloppy always seems to be in good shape at the tracks on the national series and puts in a huge amount of time, plays his cards close to his chest and is a competitive guy. John Holmes has also been looking good with the HB car as does Bruce Thompson who I believe will be running it this year. Slops record in the national series is exceptional so expect him to be in the hunt once again.

KyoshoKyosho’s team has dwindled for 2011 and will feature the class of ‘69. Chung, Craddock and Wilcox. Surprising after the success of the MP9 at the worlds in Pattaya. I thought more people would be into it. I’m sure the class of ‘69 can show the young guns how its done. If experience is anything to go by then these guys should win everything. More than the rest of the competitors put together. Still a championship class car but lacking a front runner to make the podium.

Agama seem to be the HOT ticket at the moment. Running strong at the recent Montpellier season opener and reportedly looking exceptionally good in both Sartel and Vegas’ hands. Back in the UK the team is slightly skinnier. Hazlewood with much on his plate establishing the business and plenty of new brands and products will be limited to his track time. If he does manage to practice then he will be fast and competitive I’m sure. (Brennan) Ralls as always is a great team player and will help the brand and products out no end. A new company thats actively searching for something better and make continual improvements and updates. With time the team will grow and get stronger. Initial teething problems with the car have been resolved so what you get right now is a good place to start. They are making moves and thats promising for a new product, brand and company.

JQ. Got to say I’ve not seen many positives with this yet. I know how hard they are working and how frustrating it can be to have failures. They don’t have any depth in the team in the UK and its going to take time to get the brand established and make forward moves. With all the kit problems they are experiencing it’s going to be a slow, slow catch a spider situation for these guys I’m afraid.

XRAY. Again seem to be quiet and has a smallish team going into 2011. Sawyer been the most notable driver and a driver thats more than capable of making it happen. Reece is and can be very fast and he’s been quietly going about his business throughout the winter and putting in plenty of time. I see from the show this year that they have some new parts for the car this year and I’m sure the mad Slovak scientists at Hudy have managed to work something out for 2011. The car in Sawyers, Sartels and Leino’s last year looked really good at times but consistency was the biggest problem. The UK nationals that Sartel did were very impressive.

HoBao. Small team and a loose following but the new car has looked good at the races I’ve attended. Jon Howels has been running this car for CML throughout the winter and has been brilliant. Beating and competing with the best guys in the country. The team is very small and if they can get a few guys running the car it looks very competitive.

The UK has some brilliant drivers and for me its a shame that we never really show well at the big European races we attend. We have the occasional win but nothing consistent and threatening. I’m not sure why this is. In electric we always dominated at European events and still can but when it comes to 1/8th we struggle. Perhaps its the the track surfaces we race on, the lack of venues, the level of competition, lack of factory teams and local manufacturers. It could be the lack of practice we get at events because we spend all day getting the car right rather than racing flat out. Most other countries incorporate a good level of practice prior to a event. Personally I don’t think this is the reason because most people take a trip to the track before the event anyway. Its going to be a busy year keeping up with all the changes, cars and drivers that are taking place.

The Europeans. Whats changing.

One of the biggest changers and most positive moves is Robert Batlle’s switch to Mugen. I think this is a very positive move for him and once he gets up to speed will take some beating on the European stage. Watching Robert over the past few years has given me a clear picture of what he is all about. Plain and simple he wants to win and has the talent and raw ability to do so. A very serious racer who’s dedicated to the tenth degree- not necessarily the most loved of racers but a guy with plenty of passion and somebody who knows what he wants. I expect big things from Robert this year and he will be winning…

Sartel switched from Xray to Agama and is already looking good. Joining the Nemo team to help operations in France has catapulted Sartel forward and put him centre stage. More involved it would seem than ever before and taking to the challenge early on.

Savoya to Durango from Mugen. I don’t see this move myself. I feel it’s more financial than performance based. I could be wrong. I always find this hard to believe because the old school kind of chap that I am. I was always about performance and not financial so when I see all these deals today and people jumping at them to run different products every year it makes me squirm. As they always say- “we all have different reasons” I think Reno will struggle more than he did with Mugen. 3rd at the Monpellier GP is a good start for him – he didn’t look strong at this race last year running the Mugen so perhaps this is a whole new start for him after a disappointing Worlds when so much was expected.

Miguel to JQ. I wait with interest to see what this one brings. Switching from GS to Losi (’09-’10) was a positive move and to switch again to an unproven product for 2011 puts him right back where he was. I can feel it slipping away again for Miguel perhaps until he gets to grips with everything which could well be later on in the year. Better to finish on a high and work your way up than vice versa right. Its a long old season and it hasn’t even started yet.

Neumann – Durango, LRP, Durango, LRP, Durango. It feel like he switches every 6 months. Its normally him and Hupo that trade deals but now we have both of them on the same team for 2011. Neumann is one of the original Durango runners and has worked with the guys for years now so I expect this to be a good partnership. No doubt Neumann has the ability and was outstanding at the Worlds. Proving he can beat anybody on his day but I felt he looked really good with the LRP set-up. Obviously there was something he wasn’t happy with and again its most probably something that can be dealt with by that stuff you put in your back pocket 🙂 Cashing in on his worlds deal. No surprise to me that he switched back to be honest. Especially with his electric roots.

Hupo continues with Durango. He could be slowing down this season after becoming a dad a month ago. I don’t know what his race plans are for 2011 but I’m sure he will be about. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

I will cover engines at a later date because I get the feeling there will be plenty to cover in this department once we give it another few months.