| Heiko Dilk |
Berlin (dpa) – Heiner Martin usually has two racing cars in action and three or four more standing by in case he needs to throw them into the fray.
Such high-performance muscle is par for the course in his circle of hard-core motor racing enthusiasts. But they are not super-rich patrons of Formula 1 and you won’t find them at Silverstone or Monza.
“I’ve been doing this since the early 1970s,” says Martin, the 64-year-old secretary of the German Minicar Club (DMC), the governing body for radio-controlled (RC) model car racing in Germany.
“At that time there was no equipment and you had to get everything from the United States,” adds the pioneer of the pint-sized German racers.
But don’t be deceived by the scale of the cars – this is serious business for the club and its members.
“The vehicles can go at up to 120 km/h,” Martin warns of the top-of-the-range combustion engine models, which can demand reflexes and skills as sharp as the real thing.
Overall, the range of RC cars is enormous, says Jan Schnare from Cars & Details, a niche magazine for beginners to advanced racers. “They go from palm-sized 1:26 scale models to 1:5 scale cars – almost a metre long!” he says.
But the really big models are even a little too elite for avid competitors like Martin, who tend to drive 1:8 scale cars. And these can burn their share of rubber with internal combustion engines ranging from 1.8 kW/2.5 horsepower to and 4.4kW/6 HP. According to Martin, the off-road drivers dominate numerically over the smooth track racers.
“One reason is that there are more off-road trails, because they are easier to set up,” he says.
And cheaper. “An asphalt track can easily set you back 80,000 euros,” he adds.
That didn’t deter the Berlin region club RC Speed Racer Bernau though. The Club located just north of the capital has just completed an asphalt track to make its rivals weep, 280 metres long and four metres wide at its narrowest point.
“Our track is built to cater for national events,” says team manager Andreas Liebermann.
As in full-size racing, there is a strict set of regulations. And although there is no need for long emergency escape strips for cars that go out of control, the safety of spectators is paramount.
Racing remote-controlled cars is also very much a team event, with driver, pit-stop helper and other supporters who keep the cars in action and chasing trophies.
At the Bernau track the drivers in speed racing events stand on a 2.5-metre-high container as an operators’ platform from where they can survey both the track and the off-road course.
While competitions are mainly fought with combustion engine models, electric cars play a greater role in the wider hobby, notes Cars & Details editor Schnare.
“Just as with real cars, the electric motor models came a long way in the past 10 years,” he says.
They are also easier to handle for beginners, not to mention the greater technical understanding needed for the fuel-driven racers. Even Martin, who prefers to pilot his fuel-driven 1:8 car on the asphalt track, advises beginners to go for the electric option.
“They now have more than one horse power behind them and because of the engine characteristics they are almost as fast as the fuel burners,” he says.
The prices are comparable too: A good entry-level vehicle will set you back by 1,000 to 2,000 euros, he warns. But a “pure children’s toy” costs 30 euros from the supermarket.
Schnare is inclined to agree but is more moderate in his estimation of a good entry-level model, such as a 1:10 electric car: “A model deserving of the name RC car that you can use on the track or off-road will set you back 200 euros.”