Research & Development, Not Random Decisions
When we originally designed THECar, the idea was to create something new and different, something that would become the best car in the world. We partly succeeded in doing that, but were off the mark for what could be called, universally the best car in the world. I will focus on handling in this story, because as for quality and durability, most cars are closely matched, as they are almost all made in the same factories, and that doesn’t make for an interesting story.
We believe that THECar is the fastest, and the best for a certain group of drivers. The best generalisation I can make, is drivers who are 1-4 seconds off the best laptimes of the best drivers in the world, and have a calm, controlled driving style. This has been confirmed by the huge amount of emails, facebook messages and other communication we have received from happy customers who have ”instantly gone 1 second faster after switching to JQ from brand X”, or in some cases even more! At first I thought this was only fanboys brown nosing, but I came to realise that in fact, there was some truth to these claims.
The way we designed THECar was extreme, it had short arms, a lot of offset in the rear, narrow weight distribution, aggressive steering geometry, it was light, with a relatively even lighter drivetrain compared to the competition, it had aggressive gearing, all these things, making it super responsive and fast. We wanted to make a fast car, and we did, but we missed one important factor. Someone has to be able to drive it fast! There are limits to the speed and precision of human reflexes, and as such, for a car to be fast, specially over a longer time and variable track conditions, it needs to be easy to drive. Also it needs to respond to situations in a controllable manner, not reach a peak of traction, steering, or roll, and then suddenly do something surprising.
Has the limit been reached?
This explains why THECar is so great for a certain group of drivers. They drive it calmly, yet THECar does everything quickly, accelerates fast, maintains cornerspeed, changes direction quickly, it is fast. But they are slow enough as drivers, to where the speed of things occuring on the track doesn’t mean that they can’t keep up, and they don’t push THECar to the point where it does something unexpected. Try matching the speed of the best drivers in the world, and it doesn’t seem that good anymore.
THE Future is Not Copying But Understanding
The next step is obviously to develop THECar, to where it is still naturally fast, but also easy to drive and controllable, and where even at extreme speeds, it remains stable. The question is, how do we achieve that?
A lot of studying, head scratching, CAD work and work at the track, in order to learn to understand what’s going on.
The most popular statement in regards to developing a buggy seems to be ”Just copy the Kyosho” or ”Just copy the Mugen”. Those two seem to be what everyone with a lack of imagination wants to copy right now. Of course there is no point in re-inventing the wheel, and of course well working concepts taken from competitiors are and should be implemented in ones own design. It would be silly not to, they have obviously been working for many years and tested a lot of different options, they can’t be all wrong! However there is a fundamental flaw in ”just copying brand X”. Copying skips understanding. If I was to now copy the exact geometry of another car, and find that to be an improvement over what I currently have, how do I then improve further? Do I wait for brand X to release a new car so I can copy that one also? Do I just guess? If one is to constantly improve, one has to understand why the design is the way it is, and how that conclusion has been reached. This is both important if you want to become the best, and also what I enjoy the most. Figuring things out, and seeing a real result on the race track.
Learing to Understand THECar
To start off, we needed to fully understand our own car. A thourough understanding of THECar was achieved during 2010-2012. We figured out the ins and outs of the car, and the reasons for the various handling traits it had. We realised rather early on, that in order for us to significantly improve THECar, we needed a major redesign. We had chosen an extreme path early on for some of our geometry we thought, and it didn’t fit in with our new vision of how a car should work. Whatever changes we made, the basic unwanted characteristics were always present, due to the geometry itself. Anything short of changing the actual design was merely a bandaid.
In order to learn set up, and to learn about car handling, you need to have a consistent, technical track, where you can run daily. After spending enough time at the track you will be so comfortable that you can do consistent laps, and you will notice small changes, in both handling and in laptimes. This is the best way to make significant progress, learn new things, and develop new ideas.
Some of the things that we figured out included such things, as having short arms makes the car fast, but it also makes it impossible to keep the roll centers from moving a lot. Having a roll centre that moves a lot, specially if front and rear moves differently, unsettles the car. This is why a sweetspot can be found for a track, where the roll centers move together, and predictably, but then when you go to another track, with different traction levels, the cars roll angles may be larger, where again the roll centrers start moving off the map, causing unwanted effects. Add into the equation the problem of wheel scrub and camber change, which both become more problematic with short arms, and a headache is guaranteed. By wheel scrub I mean how a wheel moves laterally on the ground when the suspension compresses, in our case inwards as the suspension compresses. As for the problem with camber change, in our case the problem was mainly the large offset in the rear, which along with the short arm caused extreme positive camber while cornering. So in conclusion, for the absolutely fastest car, short arms may be the way to go due to the responsive nature and high cornerspeeds, but it takes a perfect setup, and a highly skilled driver. A balance needed to be found.
There are no shortcuts. If you want to learn, you have to put in the work. You have to do it yourself.
Another thing we learned, has to do with the weight distribution of the car. Originally we made the car as narrow as possible. This would make it as fast as possible we believed, and actually to a degree we were correct. However, again we were forgetting the fact that the car doesn’t drive itself, someone needs to drive it. A narrow car is more responsive, and also gets more unsettled due to bumps or differences in traction between the left and right wheels of the car. For example clipping a pipe or a curb will see a narrow car flip over a lot easier than a wide one, or driving over a bump with only one side of the car will see it get up on two wheels easier. Again a balance needs to be found. The wider you go, the more stable the car gets, and the less responsive and agile.
Learning to Better Understand 1:8th Scale Buggies in General
We also decided to figure things out by approaching the problem from the other direction. Since THECar is super fast, but a handfull to drive if you are an aggressive driver, or on a world top level, we would be able to figure out what is making our car fast, and what is making our car a handful to drive. But what we would not necessarily figure out, is all ways to make it really stable. Just figuring out that we need longer arms and a wider chassis will not necessaily make THECar as good as we need it to be.
In order to learn more in a shorter time, we started trying to make a good car bad. One by one we started replacing parts on our test cars with other parts. People tend to just see the obvious answer. They say, the reason a car is good, is the shocks, it’s the chassis, it’s this, it’s that, always just throwing assumtions out there, based on what is visually different, not basing their opinions on facts. We were not content with this kind of speculation, so we replaced the shocks with others, the chassis with another, further parts with others until we learned to understand what created the handling traits of each car. We then verified these findings by testing these things on THECar. We wanted to make sure that they had the same effect on our car.
Improving our Design
In real car racing where they have actual data, engineers are able to look at raw data and try to understand what is going on. They base their decisions on data, yet still a lot of vehicle dynamics and car development is considered a black art. There is just so much going on, so many variables, and no single correct answer. Consider that in RC racing we don’t even have the data! We are in the dark. We can look at pictures, slow motion videos, and CAD drawings, but we are still guesstimating and figuring things out by iteration. The one thing we do have that is better than in the ”real world”, is we can test things a lot easier and faster, roll centers, toe angles and steering geometry can all be changed in a matter of minutes.
Undeterred by this lack of information, and complexity of designing an RC racing buggy, we decided to really try to understand how to improve on the current car designs. We also spent a lot of time analysing the reasons for cars either flipping over, or losing traction and becoming out of shape. We shot a lot of video of different cars in different types of corners, and sections of the track, analysing how the chassis moves and behaves in these conditions. We were then able to watch the footage in slow motion, determining how much the chassis moves up and down, chassis lean angles, and camber change amounts, in an attempt to better understand the actual problems that occur when a car is pushed to it’s limit.
What’s really going on?
We then constructed models of cars on the computer, where we could analyse various front and rear end geometries, studying the movement of the roll centre during similar situations that we had seen in our videos. By doing this for over a years time, on many different tracks, we were able to form an understanding of what is happening in both theory, and practice when a car negotiates a corner. Using the computer models, we were able to simulate setups that worked in the ways we wanted them to in theory. We then made prototypes that we were able to test on the track. I will never forget the first time that I came up with a setup on the computer, that worked almost perfectly on the track. It was a revelationary experience!
We kept doing this kind of testing throughout 2012 and early 2013, and finally we had figured out the following:
1. There are some basic principles that you have to have right, if you want to have a car handle in a certain way. Meaning that, for example, it is impossible for you to make your Losi handle like the Mugen because of the radically different front end geometry, and weight distribution, and vice versa.
2. You can have all the best ideas on a car and it can still suck. A great race car is not necessarily the best at even one single thing. It may not have the best acceleration, the most steering, it might not jump the best. Designing a race car is all about compromises, it needs to be balanced. If you have the most steering but the steering makes the car loose and the rear end unpredictable when exiting corners, what is the point of having all that steering? Balance is key, out of all the ideas and possibilities, they all have to fit and work together. This is the single biggest thing that people miss, when telling us: ”You should do it this way!”.
Details, details. Everything in this picture is there, and in an exact position for a reason.
3. It’s all in the details. After figuring out the basic principles of the car, that will define it’s main character, it truly is all in the details. A car will only perform really well, when everything on it is in the right place. Weight distribution, centre of gravity, roll centers, arm and link lengths, arm pivot points, steering geometry etc. Imagine every single measurement on the car, and imagine them all being within 0.5mm of what could be said to be ”The perfect car using these basic principles”. This is why the established cars on the market are so successful. Those companies chose their own basic principles back in the day. After that, they started developing their cars around these basic principles, and they have now reached a stage where all these measurements on their cars are within a very small margin, where the car is balanced and works well everywhere. The key is to find this balance. There is of course not only one correct measurement for each part, when using a set of basic principles of design. Every single measurment can be different, they just all need to work right together, and if this is the case, the car will perform.
What we set out to do, is first determine the basic principles that we thought constitutes a great car, front and rear end geometry style, drivetrain layout, and weight distribution, and then we started finding our balance. We wanted to reach a result where we had a naturally fast car with a lot of acceleration, mechanical grip and cornerspeed, and an easy stable nature. Easier said than done of course.
THEWhite Edition Features
If we look at 1:8th scale buggies today, from the broadest perspective, they are all the same, they have the engine to the rear left, fueltank in front of that, electronics to the right, 4 wheel shaft drive, 3 differentials in similar locations, and independent A-arm suspension. In this sense they are all the same.
If we look closer, we can see that there are 3 different platforms that have emerged, divided by their geometry, mainly front end geometry, because it is so dominant in determining a car’s handling. In the past these groups were also separated by weight distribution, and other geometrical parameters, but lately they have become mixed, with new car brands using various combinations of geometries and weight distributions in their cars. But one separating factor remains, the front end geometry.
Group 1: The front end geometry, with a shorter front arm, high attachement to the C hub, mostly accompanied by centralised weight distribution, and a weight far forward design. This was the style of our first car, and the style of for example Losi, Agama and Durango, and also Xray and Serpent as far as the geometry is concerned.
Group 2: Then there is the pillow ball geometry, with pillow balls up front, often with laydown shocks, and slightly wider chassis layout. This is the style of for example Mugen, Sworkz and Radiosistemi.
Group 3: And finally there is the geometry with long arms, C hub front end, and average shock geometry, not lay down, not stood up, wider weight distribution, and a less extreme design in many ways. This is the style of for example Kyosho, Associated and Hot Bodies, and now the JQ Products White Edition.
These three basic styles have been around for a long time, and will probably remain the three main design solutions for the forseeable future.
What we realised with our first car, is that these three groups have certain traits, that cannot be changed, without changing the fundamental geometrical designs. All the cars in a certain group, regardless of weight distribution, shock positions, steering systems or arm pivot widths have certain handling characteristics that will always remain. What we learned is that cars in group 1 and 2, tend to have certain conditions where they excel, and others where they struggle. So one type of track or driver will be a perfect fit, while on another track or with another driver the car may not work as well.
All tracks are different. The goal is to build a car that works great on all of them!
This was not the case for group 3, and that is the reason for us choosing it for THEWhite Edition. This group is all about compromise. It is not clearly the best at anything, but it also does not struggle with anything. It’s advantage would lie on a track that has a bit of everything. A difficult track, with both fast and slow sections, both jumps and smooth sections, and varying traction levels. Here these cars shine, because of their consistency. This is the group we chose for THEWhite Edition, because we felt this style of geometry had the most potential. There were no problems to have to work around, just a possibility of working to improve every aspect of the car, and this is why we felt that choosing this direction, would make it possible for us to make a car that would always be competitive, regardless of the conditions.
This fundamental change to the design of our car, has enabled us to take a huge step forward, and has provided us with a greater range of possibilities for future improvements. THEWhite Edition is a serious contender at any level, and we are constantly working hard together with all our drivers, to improve it even further.
THEWhite Edition in Detail
One of the main features of the new car is the new longer suspension arms, which along with the new front end geometry, make the car a lot more calm and stable by nature. It keeps it’s line when cornering with less effort, and does not become unsettled by bumps and ruts. It also lands a lot better and feels more plush and smooth on the track.
The new geometry, together with the wide weight distribution, and updated steering geometry, make it possible for the driver to drive precisely with far less precise, and more calm steering input. A driver is now able to turn the wheel more, and do so more calmly, resulting in an easier car to drive. On the track the car still has a lot of steering, and it is possible to place it exactly where desired, but to do so is a lot easier, and requires much less precision and speed.
We also worked a lot with improving the throttle control, traction and feel of the car. The new gearing ensures that the car accelerates smoothly, maintaining traction. Again it requires less precision from the driver, as the car does not respond as aggressively to throttle input, yet it still accelerates fast, due to the more consistent traction.
The shock absorbers have been improved, and also enlarged to the now, almost industry standard 16mm size. The rear units have also been lengthened due to the change in suspension geometry. On the new car, the piston speeds are higher, and as such the shock absorber works differently. We realised that a larger shock absorber would be better, and decided to go with the most popular size, simply because having the same piston size as most others, could potentially be beneficial for finding more working setups, and we already know 16mm performs well.
The rear end geometry now incorporates a set up option running a short arm, with more rear offset, or a long arm, with less offset. When designing the original car, we had to decide to either use this system, or the vertical holes in the arm. At the time we made the wrong decision and chose the vertical holes. Having the option of changing the length of the rear arm, along with rear offset is more beneficial in our opinion. The overall track width stays the same with both setups. Running the rear arm short, increases steering and forward bite, and helps the car square up better exiting corners. The car is noticably faster in hairpins. But the downside is that the car can feel too nervous for some drivers. Running the rear arm long, increases stability and rear traction, and reduces steering. Both set ups can be as fast, it really comes down to driver preferance.
Can you find the mistake in this picture? I hope so! The insert is in the wrong way round. + to the inside for toe in!
The rear hub uses plastic inserts to set the height of the hingepin, with 5 possible locations, each separated by 1mm. It is also possible to add outboard toe in, with 0.5 and 1 degree toe in inserts available. This increases rear traction and stability dramatically! It will be completely impossible for anyone to complain about lack of rear traction, with our new car.
The car includes CNC aluminium front C hubs, steering knuckles, and rear hubs which improve the rigidity and the durability, increasing the value of the car out of the box. We have focused on all the smallest details, with improved shock mounting hardware, hingepins, and an updated CNC centre diff mount.
Improved outer hingepins, with 2.5mm hex, and smoother, more durable finish.
We feel that with the introduction of THEWhite Edition, and with our new understanding of car design, and the link between theory and practice, we have now reached a point where we are attempting to find a balance, and an edge on the competition. What we wanted to achieve with this car, is a design where it is good everywhere, with no obvious weaknesses. We believe the choices we made has made the car one that will perform well on any track, and in any conditions, with the basic set up, regardless of the driving style the driver has. We did not try to make the car very specialised, and perfect at one thing, in a way that would make it struggle in another area. But what we did do, is make the car adjustable enough, in the ways we felt was needed, to make it possible to set it up to suit any specific track condition or driver as perfectly as possible.
Yes there are options, but they are there for a reason, and we teach you how to use them.
For this reason, we still have a lot of set up options available on THECar. Tuning a racing car is an art form, and every driver is different. We believe that we have included the tuning options needed, for anyone to be able to tune the car to their liking. As we further develop the car, we expect the tuning options to be both reduced and refined, but for now, we will provide you with guides for how we like to use the available options, so you don’t get lost. And in case you do not like to experiment, no need to worry, we have come up with a number of basic setups, to suit different tracks, and different drivers.
We realised that when designing a racing car, it is not only about how fast the car is, how much steering it has, or how much acceleration it has, but more about controllability and handling. We learned that we need to place more emphasis on the driver, and the experience of driving the car. The car should feel like it wants to be driven, and it should inspire confidence in the driver. Afterall we all race because we enjoy it, and we all want to win, so our goal is to make driving at your maximum pace, as much of an enjoyable experience as possible.