Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Journey to Tamiya World Championships 2012 - P.Y.Tang A-Finalist in GPX-TRF Class (November 18, 2012)

Still with a fresh memory, I have decided to write a short report on my experience at the Tamiya World Championships 2012, for us the international drivers, probably a once in a lifetime chance to participate in this event. Special thanks to Andrew Law (Stargek Singapore), Daryl Thong (Assistant), Leonard Sim (2012 Tamiya Asia Cup M-Chassis Champion) and of course Soo (my wife) for the great support and a great trip to Japan! 

Just almost 5 years back in 2008 that's when I started joining the Tamiya Asia Cup qualifying series in Singapore, one of the best series races in Singapore. It was my first time running a touring car which I have been an off-roader since 1987. Still remembering getting my first touring car, a Tamiya TA05, almost stock without any hop-ups, was able to compete in the lower half of A-Main but just were not up to standard to get to the podium. At that time, I had no idea about droop, roll-center, tweak and didn't really care about ride heights! Within a few months, I was able to get a hold on setting up a touring car, with a lot of help from fellow racers, Mr. Chee Lip Keong, which he helped me a lot on the touring car setup theories. By joining a lot of TC races in Singapore and Malaysia, my skills and experience in TC picked up throughout the 2008, and I finished 2nd overall in the GT Class of the Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying.

My first Tamiya Asia Cup Finals 2008 was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which I qualified very well in 3rd GT Class, but with lack of experience and consistency, I could only managed 6th overall. I used Front and Center one-way then, which i think it was a big mistake for me but that was the only setup I know despite the traction was very low! Well, the champion of GT Class, FaiHo from Hong Kong was experience enough to use Front Spool! Anyway, not bad for the first season, and fired up for 2009 qualifying series!

Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying 2009 started at Kallang Leisure Shopping Centre running on carpet. Still extensively growing my TC skills, I grew more confidence in racing touring cars, and I won Round 1, 2, 4, & 5, and 2nd in Round 3 & 6, in the 2009 Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying series. I was claimed 2009 champion for the first time in GT Class Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying. Very pumped up for my second 2009 Tamiya Asia Cup Finals, this time was held in Bangkok, Thailand. A very tight and narrow 20m x 10m carpet track in the Esplanade Shopping Centre. I had a great start topping the GT Class in control practise, this time using a front spool, so that I can attack the track!! But again lack of experience, dropped me a position in every qualifying round, ended up 5th in the A-main grid, and 5th overall. The A-main finals was fairly good when I exchanged lead with the 2009 TAC Finals GT champion Wang Haifeng from China, in one of the finals but my car was too slow in speed and lack of punch. An incident in Final A3 where a marshall stepped on my car which broke the batteries costs my podium spot. Feeling confidence heading to the event, but was very quickly discouraged from the lack of speed as our team do not have good knowledge in motor and batteries preparations. Biggest experience I could bring home from this event was to improve setups for increasing traction, and to really gather more info on making brushed motor and Nimh batteries powerful...

2010 season started off without the strong contender of Dr. Kelvin Khng, which had been one of my motivation to improve in TC racing. Winning all 6 rounds in the 2010 Singapore Qualifying series, the event led us to the Tamiya Asia Cup Finals 2010 in Manila, Philippines. I was very happy that the GT Class for 2010 TAC used the Tamiya Brushless ESC and Motor. Also the first time using the Tamiya LiFe battery. I felt that it would be a better year for me as these electronics gives fairer level-playing field. I topped the control practise again, a little dejavu from 2009. I continued to led the pace until Q3 and unable to improve, I was dropped to 2nd in Q4, behind local racers J.P.Reyes. My car again was lacking speed, this time I believe there are more "black-magic" to be learnt on the LiFe batteries. My TA05R speed was getting slower each round, unable to keep up with the leader, I found myself defending my 2nd from one of the most pressuring race by Tanes M. from Thailand. Overall 2nd was my best result here, a bit dissapointment for not winning but a consolation on getting to the podium for the first time in Tamiya Asia Cup. Again I believe lack of experience in setting up the car in changing traction and LiFe charging method had made myself disadvantageous.

Keeping focus for 2011 TAC season, there are more skills and experience needed in TC racing. TITC and international races were very helpful which I think had helped me a lot. I started winning the qualifying rounds again in the 2011 Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying series, up to Round 5, when Singapore top driver Mr. Nicholas Lee decided to join the event. Nicholas Lee won Round 5 after multiple changes, a good way to pump up for the season finale round 6 and the TAC finals in Singapore. I won the Round 6 ahead of Nicholas Lee giving me a little more confidence heading to the Tamiya Asia Cup Finals.

2011 Tamiya Asia Cup Finals was in Singapore. Mr. Nicholas Lee was dominating the qualifying rounds throughout taking TQ, while I qualified 3rd behind Mr. Dongil Seo from Korea. I was using the new Tamiya TA06Pro in second race. Little knowledge and runtime on the new car made the setup very difficult. The outdoor sheltered carpet track was raised on a platform to prevent rain from soaking into the carpet, caused a lot of issues which made the track very bumpy. Unusual 7-8mm ride heights were used.

Fastest car was obviously from the Koreans. Again I felt disadvantageous in power which I could not gain more knowledge in charging the LiFe batteries. I finished 3rd in Final A1, retired in Final A2 and a good 2nd in Final A3. So 3rd overall was good enough on the stressful day, just made it to the podium. Mr. Nicholas Lee was 2011 Tamiya Asia Cup GT champion, and he went on to win the Tamiya World Championships GT-A class in November.

For the 5th season joining the 2012 Tamiya Asia Cup Singapore Qualifying series, the local qualifying was a little quieter for me, as the GT Class entries were fairly small. Nonetheless, I took every opportunity to test out new things on the Tamiya TA06Pro to gain more knowledge of the car. I did win all 5 rounds of qualifying series in Singapore. Getting to the 2012 Tamiya Asia Cup Finals in Seoul, South Korea in July 2012 worried me a little as I have been running my Tamiya TA06Pro on asphalt the whole series and kind of forgotten the feel of carpet racing. However, confidence feeling and sufficient rest throughout the week turned out great. My TA06Pro was handling very good which "getting-to-know my TA06Pro sessions" paid off! I had a lap pace of 0.4s advatange which I topped all the qualifying rounds and eventually won Final A1 and A3 to become 2012 Tamiya Asia Cup GT Champion! What a great feeling, finally after 5 seasons trying. Leonard Sim also became the 2012 Tamiya Asia Cup M-Chassis Champion after 7 seasons.

Just 4 months after winning the 2012 Tamiya Asia Cup Finals GT class, I had little time preparing for the 2012 Tamiya World Championships in Shizuoka, Japan. I found out just weeks before the event that some of the rules in previous world championships changed, and the GPX-TRF class replaced the GT-A class, and this year the TRF chassis is allowed. I felt the Tamiya TA06Pro is less superior than a TRF chassis and I got myself a Tamiya TRF417X. The last time I drove a TRF chassis was a TRF416X a couple of years back. Confidence in this event was quite low, as I have no "connection" to the TRF417X at all. If I could make the decision again, I would have chosen to run my TA06Pro for the finals as I have more knowledge in setting up the car.

I was looking forward to the Japan trip very much. After starting our travel from Singapore at about 5am, we touched down in Tokyo by flight, and then finally arrived in Shizuoka Hotel at about 9pm by the Shinkasen bullet train. We visited the Tamiya headquarter the next day, and was very impressed with the facility. A warm welcome by the Tamiya staffs and many thanks to the great hospitality the staff gave the international drivers from Asia and North America. The factory and Tamiya track visit ended in noon, and after a few hours walking in the city, there was nothing much to do other than heading back to the hotel to prepare my car for the race. Still quite puzzled how my TRF417X will handle tomorrow. The 2012 Tamiya World Championships was held at the Twin Messe Shizuoka, an annual Tamiya fair.

2 rounds of 3 min each of Practise and Control Practise was on the Friday. That means I only had 4 tries to make my car worked for the qualifying next day which made the testing critical. I prepared a set of setups that I wanted to test including front gear diff, front spool, rear gear diff oil, shock oil and springs etc but usually there are too little time to test everything and all I could do was to feel the car handling and use the setup that I feel most comfortable and with a fastest car. Tires were controlled and we were not able to take the tires back to the pits. No traction compound were allowed and we only had Tamiya Cleaner spray to clean the tires. At the end of the day, I was sitting in 7th with a 13.971s fastest lap, and 13.617s was set by Japanese drivers. I was happy with 7th on the first day, but a lot of work needed to be done to shave 0.3s on laptime.

Saturday came qualifying with 3 rounds. Great feeling among us as we entered the venue and were greeted by many Tamiya staffs lining up left and right as we were like superstars on red carpet :) Not to focus too much on that, I quickly prepared my pit and working on the car. Traction was somehow different from practise and it was still poor. There was nothing much I could do as I did not want to make major changes to my car and I focused more on driving. I could not improve my laptimes with 14.055s, 14.042s, 13.955s in 3 rounds and was barely hanging on in the A-Main at 10th. Fastest drivers from Japan was clocking 13.492s lap. I was consistent but not fast enough for this kind of qualifying system.

After a night rest, one more qualifying on Sunday followed by the Finals. I was pretty worried on the position I was in as the 11th, 12th, 13th was improving on laptimes on Saturday and i could have a chance to be bumped to B-Main. However, I was convinced to stay in the A-Main so that I have a chance to work my way up in the finals using my consistency in driving. I stayed up late on Saturday night, put on a thinking cap and was trying very hard to come out with a solution to make my car faster. I made a few changes to my TRF417X, changing to a harder shock oil, as well as thickening rear gear diff oil. Some small changes made to the roll center and flex to improve cornering speed. Qualifying 4 started, and my car felt great. I started in 4th position and immediately I caught up to the front car in the first lap, but on the second lap, I hit the chicane barrier and tweaked my chassis. My car was losing rear traction at hairpin turns and I was losing pace setting slow laps at about 14.2s. Chances to stay in A-Main became slimmer as i needed at least top 3-4 in the heat, as my car number is not appearing on the laptime board, I kept driving and driving. Just about to settle for B-Main, my car number came up on the laptime board and I clocked in a 13.89s on the very last lap! I was secured qualifying in A-Main 10th! A much relief feeling. For those who gets a chance to qualify for the Tamiya World Championships, pacing with a faster car is a must to get better laptimes, a strategy which I realized too late!

A-Main would run 2 times 5min final. Not changing my final setup, I believe that my driving consistency would gain me a few positions, and it did on Final A1. I caught up to 5th half-way through. I hit the cones and crashed into a barrier making my front bodyshell to get stuck. I couldn't drive straight and I lost 2 positions in the closing minutes finishing 7th in Final A1. Final A2 was a cleaner run for me as I caught up to 5th again with ease. As I was too far back in the starting position, the leaders were too far in front. I finished 5th in Final A2, and was good enough to get a respectable result to be 5th in 2012 Tamiya World Championships GPX-TRF. It was a good overall result that met my minimum expectation of Top 5, and everything could have changed totally if had not been for the very last lap of 13.89s in Q4.

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