By Mike Garrison
Race Report by Ryan Lutz:
This past week I travel across the pacific to Xiamen, China, which is just inside of Taiwan on the Chinese eastern coast. This was the same venue that held the 2017 IFMAR Worlds for 1/10th EP however the layout was reconstructed to full size and felt good sized in the 33-35 second a lap range. Upon arrival on Thursday early AM (Around 2am to the hotel), I expected a relaxing Thursday to get acclimated. But I found out that there was practice if the rain held off. Supposedly there had been open practice since maybe Sunday and some had been there since then, although Wednesday was rained out. Well we arrived to the track shortly after 7am on Thursday and I got my car ready and glued up a set of tires and got a battery pack in with my ebuggy. I prepared my Nitro after that but the rains came and washed away the rest of the day. We went out and had a nice dinner and I got to try some new foods (which was a daily theme!)
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Friday morning brought nicer weather and 3 rounds of controlled practice were on tap and they would take your fastest 3 consecutive laps from any of the rounds to seed into the qualifiers on Saturday. I was pretty set on sticking with AKA Impacts in SSLW compound throughout the day, though I did try some double downs as well to compare. The grip was a bit inconsistent to start as they had originally sugar watered the track but the rains took some of it away. Also on Friday there were some wetter sections of the track and then drier. So you would be a bit loose in the dry then hit a wet patch and have a bit higher grip. The track had some natural bumps in it from the rolling process I assume, nothing extreme by any means but you could really see the suspension work on the front straight for instance. I watched my teammate Jonathan Yeung’s car go down the straight and saw how awesome it soaked up the bumps and just in general how good his car looked on the track. I went over to them after the run to investigate.
Turns out they had been doing a lot of testing at home on rougher tracks and had come up with a pretty unique set-up to what I had been driving. I decided to go with it and spent the entire time between rounds copying their set-up to give it a try. It was extremely soft on the bench. It felt probably 200-300 cst lighter than anything I would ever run. But I wanted to give it a try and I was pretty surprised. While it was really soft with (4×1.9 + 4×1.4) pistons (They actually had 4×2.0 vs. the 1.9 I went with even) It surprisingly stayed very level and while it did transfer a lot of weight to the rear and squatted, it was still able to hold it’s direction and not dump/loop out in corner exits. Now as the grip started to come up through qualifying and into the main this set-up got to soft for me and I elected to go back to my standard shock set-up for the main though I primarily kept their geometries of the rest of the set-up. Overall I think their set-up is something I absolutely want to try more on looser and bumpier track, though I think I would need some revisions for medium grip and for sure for higher. But still it was fun to try something new and be successful with it. In the end of practice I was able to be the top seed into qualifications in both Nitro and E-buggy.
Qualifying day was met with the warmest temperatures of the week at around 78*F for a high. The track began to dry out more and started looser perhaps but got a slight groove in sections by the end of the day. Some jump faces also began to get some holes which made lining up for jumps more important. In Q1 of Nitro buggy I went out and put in a clean run that I was pleased with and thought would be able to hold up through qualifying. They were doing rocket round for some reason and so I was pretty secure in my Q1 time. For Q2 and Q3 I tried some other set-up changes as I felt I needed to keep thickening up my set-up with the grip coming up a little. I made a number of mistakes in my runs and wasn’t able to win out any of the final 2 runs but my Q1 time held up for the overall TQ. In E-buggy it was just pretty good all weekend. I copied a lot of the geometry changes from the Young’s set-up but left my standard 7-7-5 diffs and my 4×1.9 shock package on. I was able to take the front double double jump section as a triple single which may have got me .2-.5 second a lap when done cleanly as well. In the end I would TQ each run and take the overall TQ in Ebuggy as well.
Sunday was main days and being TQ in nitro buggy allowed me to be the only one to seed into the A-main directly with the rest of the field needing to navigate the ladder format. This put all of my racing at the end of the day which included triple E-buggy mains, a 10 minute solo practice session for Nitro and the 1 hour Nitro buggy final. One thing they had which was nice overall was they provided marshals from the factory to take care of those duties all weekend. So we didn’t have to marshal which was a blessing for main day for sure. The downside was they weren’t the best marshals and so not crashing was pretty paramount.
E-buggy A1 was up first and my EB48.4 kept doing what it had been doing. I quickly pulled away from the field doing my 3-1 front section and just put in a solid run. I had one crash mid race but already had amassed a nice lead and got the victory. The mains were only 5 minutes each so it was like a heads up qualifier in a way. In A2 less than an hour later it was much the same although this time the pack stayed a bit closer. Still I was able to run clean this time and win by around 7 seconds and take the championship.
Next I was given the opportunity for up to 10 minutes of free practice with my Nitro buggy as the rest of the guys had just finished their 30min semi-finals. I utilized the time just to be sure everything was running smoothly and that my Soft long wear impacts felt decent for the conditions. All things seemed good and so I pulled off after about 4 minutes. Then I decided to just go over my NB instead of run A3 of e-buggy to be sure I was ready for the hour long final.
The hour long final was the final race of the day. I would start on pole and at first just a few corners in I thought it should be a pretty straight forward affair as P2 crashed and fell to 4th. But Yusuke Suguira from Japan was pretty dialed in and within a few minutes had caught up to me. My strategy for the hour final was a clean run and drive within my limits. Also I realized pretty early on that I missed my tune slightly and it was a little lean so I also didn’t want to push harder than I had to for fear of heating up the engine even more. Well Yusuke tried to put a pass on me in the top right but ended up crashing me, so he waited and let me go and a few corners later he made a mistake. This gave me a slight cushion again but soon thereafter he caught back up. Again though he would make a mistake as soon as he got up to me. I knew he was driving harder than I so I just hoped my strategy would work by keeping it ‘slow and steady’ and hitting my marks. After the first stop I also knew I would be doing at least one less pit stop than he so I calculated those 6 seconds or so into my advantage. About halfway through the main he made a few extra mistakes and soon I was up to a 3/4 a lap lead or so with a couple of stops remaining. After the final pit stop I was about 25 seconds up and decided I wanted to try to put a lap on the field. So during that final stretch I picked up my pace and drove a bit harder. I made up time and soon was within 2 seconds of a lap with about 2 minutes to go and they elected to do a splash and go which gave me the lap lead and secured the victory.
Overall I had a great time at the event. I was very blessed to be able to go and attend and it’s pretty awesome to have a prize purse for the event. They paid the entire A-main and even the top 10 drivers from the China/Hong Kong/Taiwan region separately as well. This is a yearly event for them this time of year and hopefully I will be able to make it back to compete again next year.
Also a huge thank you to Tommy Fung and Kent Sung for the hospitality and to Jonathan and Carson Yeung for sharing their set-up that they have been working really hard on.
Next up it’s psycho time at the Psycho Nitro Blast. I have 5 cars to get prepared for the grueling, now 4 day event. Looking forward to it as always!