By Aaron Waldron
The 2017 IFMAR Electric Off-Road World Championships in Xiamen, China kicks off this weekend with registration on Saturday, followed by a week of racing action to determine the best racers on the planet in the 2WD and 4WD divisions. It’ll the 17th time that the biannual event has occurred, going all the way back to 1985 in Pomona, California, but it’s the first time it will be held in China - and according to Facebook, the major race teams have already begun the journey (the LiveRC crew flies out on Thursday morning).
To get ready for the race, I dug through the 2015 Worlds results as well as this year’s Reedy Race, ROAR Nationals, EFRA Euros and JMRCA Japanese Nationals to put together two dozen drivers to watch.
(Before anyone gets mad, I’d absolutely have included former European champions Jörn Neumann and Marc Rheinard — but I haven’t been able to confirm that either of them are attending.)
Here are 24 drivers I expect will put on a show next week, separated into “Favorites” and “Wild Cards,” with each list presented in alphabetical order:
He’s a former 2WD world champion, and three-time former 4WD champion, but got bumped around a bit in the 2WD finals and lost to his younger teammate, Spencer Rivkin, and missed the 4WD main altogether. This year, he won a record-extending fourth Reedy Race title and was in the mix in both 2WD and 4WD at the ROAR Nationals. Armed with a full year behind the wheel of the B6D, and the totally-capable B64D, Cavalieri should be a contender in both classes.
Critics who say the reigning 4WD world champion has no shot because he’s an on-road racer and this year’s race isn’t of turf must not have realized he convincingly won this year’s European Championships on dirt. He didn’t make the 2WD final at this year’s European Championships, and we know that’s not his best class, but the Portuguese driver is the man to beat in 4WD.
It has been 12 years since Neil Cragg scored the 2WD World Championship in Italy, but the Brit hasn’t slowed down; he finished fifth in 2013, fourth in 2015, and was the 2016 European Champion. This year, he finished seventh at the European Championships in 2WD but he was second in 4WD. While I expect Cragg to be fast with his B64, the 2WD class has always been his strongest.
Is this the year that Maifield finally wins an IFMAR World Championship? He started off the 2017 season, his first with Yokomo, with a runner-up finish at the Reedy Race, and he was third in 2WD and fifth in 4WD at the ROAR Nationals. He is the only driver to have made both finals at the last two Worlds, but save for his third-place finish in 2WD in 2013 he wasn’t really competing for a podium spot. With increasing support in the Yokomo camp — including his hand-picked new US team manager Joe Pillars — this might be his best shot in years.
Like Maifield it’s hard to believe Lee Martin hasn’t won an IFMAR Worlds title yet. The last time the IFMAR Worlds was held on a sugared dirt surface, Martin nearly won the 2WD title — he was second in 2013, and also finished tenth in the 4WD class. He finished tenth in 2WD in 2015, and was 11th at the Reedy Race, but he picked up another 2WD European Championship earlier this summer and will no doubt benefit from the strength of the Yokomo squad.
Conspicuously absent from this year’s JMRCA Japanese Nationals, Naoto Matsukura finished second in 4WD in both 2013 and 2015. If there’s anyone that might be able to hang with Coelho in 4WD, it’s probably him.
Polish Schumacher star Michal Orlowski went into the 2015 Worlds with a lot of pressure for a 13-year-old; having just been crowned European Champion, he finished ninth in 2WD and qualified second on the grid for 4WD but made several mistakes in the finals, finishing fourth. This year, he had an up-and-down experience at the Reedy Race, scoring a couple of second-place finishes on the way to a 19th overall, and finished a surprising second in 2WD at the Euros — but even more surprisingly missed the 4WD final. If he wasn’t such a shoe-in for at least one main event, Orlowski might be on the “wild card” list, but it would be equally as un-shocking if he won either class.
There’s perhaps no one happier that this year’s Worlds is on dirt than Dakotah Phend. He was 12th in 2WD at the 2015 Worlds, and in the C-Main in 4WD, but came roaring back at the 2016 Nationals to TQ three classes and win two. In 2017, he finished sixth at the Reedy Race and was not in the hunt at the Nats either, finishing fourth in 2WD and ninth in 4WD. He has performed well on a sugared dirt track before, though, and will be motivated to carry the torch for the TLR camp.
Defending 2WD world champion Spencer Rivkin has a tall order ahead of him; not since Masami Hirosaka went back-to-back in 1987 and 1989 has any driver won two consecutive 2WD titles (while Hirosaka is one of three to have accomplished the feat in 4WD). Rivkin was fourth at this year’s Reedy Race, and finished fifth in 2WD at the Nationals - but he was second in 4WD, proving he’ll be a contender in both classes in China.
The 2016 IFMAR World Champion in 1/8-scale nitro buggy is best-known for his fuel racing prowess, but the Swedish star finished third in the 4WD class in 2015. He wasn’t in either final at the European Championships but has been practicing for China, and will be equipped with a new 4WD platform. He’s the best bet for HB Racing fans, and could contend for another podium finish — especially in 4WD.
Kyosho’s Jared Tebo came within one mistake of winning back-to-back 2WD world titles when he finished second in 2015. He’s also got a 4WD win to his credit back in 2007, so he’s no stranger to racing for the industry’s highest honor in electric off-road. However, for the first time since he signed with Kyosho back at the end of 2008, he’ll be without former team manager Joe Pillars — who served as Tebo’s mechanic at major events. Will Pillars’ absence affect him, or will he once again rise to the top of the 2WD class?
Tessmann was the 2013 ROAR National champion in 4WD, and finished third at the Worlds that year. He backed up the national title in 2014. Two years ago, Tessmann spent the off-day between a disappointing 2WD finish (32nd) practicing at a different Japanese track for the 4WD portion, where he only managed 19th. Having switched to XRAY for 2017, scored a career-best fourth at the Reedy Race, and dominated the ROAR Nationals with three TQ’s and three wins, the Canadian will definitely be a contender in both classes in China.
Akimoto was 19th in 2WD and 15th in 4WD at the 2015 Worlds, and finished second in 2WD and third in 4WD at this year’s JMRCA Nationals. He may not have Matsukura’s speed, but he could snag a spot in either main event.
XRAY off-road engineer Martin Bayer, a former 4WD European Champion, was seventh in both classes in 2015, and at this year’s Euros he finished eighth in 2WD and fourth in 4WD. He may not have the speed to challenge Coelho for the 4WD win, but he should be in the mix.
Arizonan Team Losi Racing driver Tanner Denney is traveling to China with considerably more experience than he had for his first IFMAR World Championships appearance back in 2013. He was 17th at the Reedy Race, and finished 18th and 20th in 2WD and 4WD at the ROAR Nationals. If Denney can shake off the nerves of racing overseas:
He may be able to provide quite a surprise with a few solid qualifying runs, especially in 4WD.
The 2011 Reedy Race and ROAR 2WD National Champion finished in the C-Main in both classes at the 2015 Worlds after a sixth-place finish in 2WD in 2013 and a fourth-place finish in 2WD in 2011. He’s shown a resurgence in 2017 since switching to Team Associated and Reedy, with a fifth-place finish at the Reedy Race followed by a seventh in 2WD and a third in 4WD at the ROAR Nationals. Evans shouldn’t be counted out for either final in China, with an outside shot at a podium finish or even a win.
The young Finnish phenom was ninth at the Reedy Race this year and finished fifth in 2WD at the Euros. He’ll be looking to improve upon 13th (2WD) and 23rd (4WD) from the Worlds in Japan.
I’m not sure how much Atsushi Hara has prepared for the IFMAR Worlds in China, aside from attending Joe Pillars’ Yokomo team test session with the team in Phoenix this past weekend. He didn’t race in 2015, I don't believe he attended the Japanese nationals, and I have no clue how he’ll do this next week — but the last time I confidently told people that he had no shot, he won the 2008 IFMAR Worlds title in Nitro Buggy. I learned my lesson.
Austrian veteran Hupo Hönigl didn’t make either final in 2015 or 2013, but the XRAY driver finished sixth in 2WD and eighth in 4WD at the Euros this summer. I don’t think he’ll win, but I wouldn’t write him off for a shot at the final.
Norwegian national champion Daniel Kobbevik signed with XRAY in June, then made both the 2WD and 4WD finals at the Euros one month later. He could have a shot at either main event.
Japanese Team Yokomo driver Kaito Kodera was just 14 years old at the 2015 Worlds, where he finished in the C-Main in both classes. At this year’s Japanese Nationals, he finished seventh in 2WD and second in 4WD. I’m not sure he has what it takes to compete for a victory, but he might make one — or both — main events in China.
The 2007 IFMAR World Champion in 2WD has been spending a lot of time driving over the last few years, but he made the 4WD final in 2015 and just won the JMRCA Japanese Nationals in 2WD earlier this year.
I’m not totally sure that NEO Race winner Davide Ongaro will be competing in China — but if he does, look out: the Italian youngster made both main events at the Euros and finished third in 4WD.
Like Ongaro, Frenchman Renaud Savoya is best-known for racing nitro buggies — he’s a multi-time European Champion. Since joining Team Losi Racing for the 2016 season, though, he’s been racing a lot more 1/10-scale electric and even finished third in 2WD at this year’s Euros. Does he have what it takes to race with the best in the world at two different disciplines?
Those are the drivers I think will make the biggest news when the buggies hit the track next week at ARC International Raceway in Xiamen. What do you think of my picks? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the Facebook comment section!