Inside the team @RacingFPV with Joe Scully

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Air Race Arena Showdown

 

UPDATE: The RacingFPV team just added Team Blacksheep and OpenPilot as sponsors.

With the fast-paced growth of sales of Multi-Rotor Units, Cameras and FPV Kits, it is quite simple to see that the fastest sector of the RC Industry is anything “Drone” related.  But after a little online research, it can also be noted that Multi-Rotor FPV Racing is working its way up in market share as well.

Since the dawn of time, man has been competitive in nature.  Racing was first a necessity in survival, and eventually became sport.  With the invention of the wheel, racing took off.  Being the fastest of the fast is not only part of being a champion, but it is truly what makes someone king of the hill.

After learning of the latest Multi-Rotor FPV Race to be announced, we caught up with Joe Scully, the Race Director of the “Air Race Arena Showdown: Indoor Multi-Rotor FPV Competition” February 15th, 2015 in Clinton, Ontario, to find out more about the event and to learn about what sets their event apart.

 Indoor Multi-Rotor FPV Competition” February 15th, 2015

How did you get involved in this project?

I’m like the Justin Bieber of RC.  I was the Race Director of a major 1/5 Scale race here in Canada, and the recap video of it went viral.  It’s a sensational piece that has had over 70,000 Views, and features some great racing on a great track, plus my opening monologue is pretty intense.  A majority of the video is filmed from above by a guy with a Hexcoptor, Gimble, and FPV Unit.  He’s also a 1/5 Racer, so he could really follow the race-lines from above, and footage is epic.  @DroneFestCanada on Twitter stumbled across the video, reached out to me to see if I could bring the hype to Multi-Rotor FPV Racing, and the rest is history.

 

Is this your first Multi-Rotor FPV Race?

Yes.  But in reality, it is one of the first in the world.  The Multi-Rotor FPV Racing hasn’t been run like we run other races yet, as it’s just growing.  We have a lot of enthusiasts that can build a kit in a few hours, and can maybe get that kit through intense obstacles, but haven’t the slightest on how to run an event.  I get that.  I also get the appeal.  A lot of these guys have built kits, flown them up in the air, looked at a ton of building tops, and now are looking for the next challenge – and that’s naturally racing.  Every sport has developed the same way.  People rode horses to survive, now they race them.  People drove cars to live, now they race them.  People rode motorcycles to go places cars couldn’t go, and now they race them.  My main offering in this event is that I have been a 1/5, 1/8 and 1/10 scale race director.  Just like your average “remote control car”, we played with them when we were kids – now we race them.  Multi-Rotor FPV Racing is brand new, and we have a strategy to do it in an effective and efficient manner that is proven to work on the ground; we’re just taking it into the air.

 

There have already been races, though.  How is this different?

In RC (scale vehicle) racing we are organized and focused on the race.  In all my research it seems that the Multi-Rotor FPV events are just meets that have races at them.  In RC (scale vehicle) racing we call that bashing – enthusiasts getting together, doing a show and shine, and then maybe doing some laps.

In reality, it’s the scoring or timing that has been the downfall, combined with the organizational battles.  People are attempting to hand-time, and let’s be honest, if the race is going the way we as organizers and racers want it to be – just like a Charpu video –  how are you going to differentiate from six quadcopters going by you at 95 mph.  You’re not.  Especially not accurately.  Others have tried to use Infra-Red Timing systems, which are not overly reliable.  You have to pass perfectly (through the timing system) for it to grab you.  

So, we’re going to use the transponders and a decoder box that we use in RC (scale vehicle) racing.  We’re going to hang our loop (the reader) around an Aerial Grand Prix Gate, and every time a racer flies through it, their lap is counted.  We know this is new, since there are as of yet only 2 Aerial GP gates in the world.  They’re brand new, coming off the assembly lines.

I have been in discussions with the manufacturer of the scoring hardware and we are feeling strongly confident in our adaptation. I also will be using the RC (Scaled Vehicles) Racing industry standard software, RC Scoring Pro, to manage the race, at this point using a traditional 1/8 scale format of practice, qualifiers and mains with bumps, which gives lots of practice, a forgiving qualification program, and a main racing program that guarantees that the fastest and almost most consistent will be at the top of the podium.  

So from that end, there really isn’t anything new for me, other than that we’re adding a third dimension around the course – by being in the air.  The software, hardware and rhythm are all in my wheelhouse.

The other major thing that I see from the research is that you have all these keeners, or enthusiasts, all fired up, flying in all directions, and that’s causing your frequency multiplexing, drops, cross-overs, etc.  We have a simple plan to run the event with authority that will make for optimum flight and race time.  I’m not faulting other races; I’m sure they were fun and so forth, but we’re going at it with a different goal: to be a professionally managed racing.  

 

Does being indoors give you any obstacles?

The venue we have selected is perfect for a million reasons.  We want to draw on a racer pool from across the Northeast, and where we are is just under 3 hours from Toronto, Buffalo, and Detroit.  There’s a Tim Horton’s 2 minutes away (big thing for me, haha), and hotels within 15 minutes.  It’s located in a great area for that part of the experience.

From an execution standpoint, we have seen all these warehouse and underground garage videos, and heard of the horror stories of the fly-aways and the video issues because of the concrete floors and metal walls.  Here, it’s an agricultural facility and we’re on dirt.  We will be able to work the ground, or footing as the horse guys call it, in a manner that should drastically decrease multiplexing and so forth.  It’s massive, over 100 feet wide by almost 300 feet long, so we can build a great course that will have some challenge to it, but also some opportunities for speed.  We have pit areas that are away from the racing area, which allows comfort, safety and also “control”.  

The only things that I think will play negatively for a racer are: a) the Roof, and b) the floor.  Starting with the roof, it’s very high, like maybe 40 feet up.  But, as we saw on test-day, the trusses are very unforgiving.  I’ve watched the on-board video at least 20 times of one of our test racers crashing into those trusses.  I get it – when flying, our comfort zone is usually to go “up”.  While flying outdoors, that’s great. You know your chances of hitting something are exponentially smaller.  However, indoors, that isn’t a security blanket, it’s more like the blanket they put over you when your ticket is punched.  So don’t hit the roof.  Stay on your line.

Next, the floor.  There are pros and cons with racing on dirt.  I think the con part is that if you land on your lid, the dirt has a chance to get in some interesting places on your craft; just like when you go to the beach, as it were.  The positives of the dirt angle, aside from the frequency improvement, is that if you do crash, just a few taps and it loosely falls out (it’s indoors, so not wet or mud); and secondly, you’re going to sustain much less damage slamming into harrowed dirt than you will asphalt.

 

What kind of a layout are you planning?

We have a team, and it’s a work in progress.  Already we’ve identified that our course needs to be big and “sweepy,” not close and intricate from our trials and tribulations on test day.  We all watch the tree racing videos and the abandoned factory videos.  Those are intense.  But the best racing in any sport doesn’t use eliminators, they use obstacles that separate the field.  NASCAR – oval.  Horse Racing – oval.  F-1 – winding turns.  Off-Road – jumps and turns.  Regardless of your experience, you can almost flawlessly do a lap, and if you’re good, you can do it faster than everyone else.  One of our sponsors, Aerial GP, which is designing the gates and turning poles to give everyone around the world the kind of same playing field, has a great example layout: sweepy… through this, that, around that, and back.  Red Bull Air Racing has courses that are pretty sweepy as well.  So, that’s really the focus.  We’re going to amp it up with some unders and overs in addition to the looping around and slaloming through, but again, focusing on big and sweepy.  My initial feeling is that you should get about 9 laps in during the qualifier and 12 laps in during the main (each is based on time, per scaled racing); and we want to see everyone that starts finish; it would be extremely boring to have everyone crash-out in the first few laps.  If you have two guys battling it out side-by-side over 6 of the 12 laps, and then one breaks free near the end – that’s exciting.  So, that will be the focus when ultimately designing the layout.

 

Will pilots get lots of flight time?

The format of racing will allow almost everyone to have the same amount of flight time, from the slowest to the fastest.  That’s kind of the idea of the scaled format.  I have pushed for this format because we don’t want people commuting for hours, doing a few laps, and being done.  We have guys coming from New York City, maybe California, and we want to ensure that everyone has the best experience possible.

 

Your classes are Unlimited Mini-Quad and Open. What made you choose those?

Research of other events.  RacingFPV.com has done a lot of the groundwork and laid out what others seem to have tried successfully.  Using our plan to schedule the day, and budgeting of awards, etc., this seems to be a logical fit.  Of course, hexcopters are popular and will be competitive, but our projection of participant numbers has us breaking out mini-quads.  During our pre-registration process we collect the information on what people are bringing, and we can tweak as we go; right up to the day of.  Two big classes are better than four small classes, especially with our projections.  Regardless of what you’re flying, you will get the same opportunity for the same amount of flight time, and a chance to win awards or even just receive rewards.  The sponsors are rolling in well, and we will recognize as many participants as possible.

 

These qualifiers and mains sound confusing, since you are running multiple of each. How does it all work?

Good question.  We’re going to do some tutorial videos before the race and also talk about it during the race so that everyone understands how it works.  Basically, when you practice, we record your individual lap times, and then seed you into the qualifiers based on whether you’re fast, middle of the pack, or so on.  Then, when you run your qualifying races, you want to do the greatest number of laps within the 5 minutes allotted.  To seed the mains, we use your best qualifier of the 3, so if you break in one, you have two other chances.  This too affords the flight time, but also gives us a better barometer of your skills.  Then, we run the mains.  I was going to do it like Red Bull AirRace where they do brackets and eliminators and so-forth, but by sticking with the scaled race format, it does the eliminator angle, and it does the advancing angle.  Let’s say after qualifying, you finish 10th.  You will be running your qualifier with those that finished 11th, 12th and the best racer from the race group before you in the mains.  If you win, you advance to race with 7th, 8th and 9th.  Win again, you race with 4th, 5th and 6th.  Win again, and you’re in the top-4 finale.  It’s pretty simple, and is forgiving in nature.  If you start off rocky but get better, you have a chance to win the whole thing.

 

And there are awards?

Yes, that’s what I think also sets us apart.  We are getting sponsors on board this event like crazy, and we’re going to be giving away some amazing products as awards for our racers.  The format will allow us to spread the love out among the field, but also recognize our champions.  It’s a professionally run race with awards deserved of champions.

 

What kind of sponsors do you have so far?

We have some great sponsors already.  FatShark and Immersion RC are a part, which is great because a lot of their gear is being used on the course.  We have some of the craft manufacturers like X4 Drones, Dronekraft and Pat’s Mini H-Quad. We have some hobby shops like New Generation Hobbies (NG Hobbies).  Again, Aerial Grand Prix is a part and we’re using their gates as the focal point of our scoring and checkered finish line.  We have the online support of MultiRotorForums and Team Basement RC.

FatShark and Immersion RC
FatShark and Immersion RC

 

You mention experience a lot.  What is the main focus on experience?

What has differentiated me in the scaled racing is how I manage an event on a spectator experience and participant experience balance.  This comes from my roots as a Rodeo Announcer.  Early in my entertainment career I would focus on the participants instead of the spectators, which doesn’t make sense when the spectators are technically footing the bill for the announcer.  But, I knew that if I could entertain a participant, I was being original as opposed to repetitive, and that the spectators would be equally entertained.  In racing, it’s reversed, the reason being the participants know what’s going on, but we need more participants.  It’s easier to get someone into scaled racing than rodeo – buy a kit and you’re on your way, as opposed to the intricacies of rodeo competition. You don’t just go to the bull store and buy a bull and a rope and start riding at home, but you can go to the Hobby Shop and spend a little bit and be flying 30 minutes after you’re home.  So, working the balance the other way has worked well.  Especially with the scale racing format – you race a heat, you marshal the next heat (right the cars back on all 4 wheels), then you go to the pits and wrench until your next heat.  Eventually you’re dialed in and just waiting, so you go out and watch.  That’s where I come in – if I can make a participant-come-spectator laugh or get interested in someone else’s race day, that’s a win.  If I can convince a spectator to become a participant at the next race, that’s a bigger win.  And those two goals are achieved by “the experience”, all the while directing an efficient and competitive Race Day.

 

What will the experience be like in February?

Participants will have optimum flight time, guidance throughout the program, properly officiated competition, and some wow factor.  Spectators are going to have the reward of that focused experience, witness some great racing, and also we’re going to attempt to wire the building with display screens that show a 4-up of the on-board cameras of the racers on the course.  The first time I held a screen in my hand I was blown away, so we’re going to do that on steroids.  Our focus is that of the racing, but the experience for participants and spectators will be like never experienced before.

 

Do you have failsafes in place?

Many, and there will be many more as we get closer.  Luckily, with most events weather is a factor, but here we’re indoors in a heated venue, so that’s all good.  I have two back-up strategies for the timing and scoring.  I have three back-up strategies for the format based on participation.  Pit space, course layout, spectator and participant flow – all initially addressed and all with a continually evolving flowchart.  

 

Do you fly?

Poorly, but I love it.  I have done what a lot of other pilots have done.  I first bought a $20 helicopter kit at a truck stop.  I quickly got the handle of it, and went right to the $400 Blade Kit.  Crashed, rebuilt, modified – and I almost went to the next model that can fly inverted, but my $400 kit had gone through $800 in replacement parts, and I segued into something else.  Through my scaled racing connections I got a $50 micro quadcopter, and I’m pretty handy at flying it LOS.  I fly it regularly to unwind.  I’ve flown with a traditional FPV set-up, but crashed too much, mostly because I would alternate FPV and LOS and over-correct myself into a crash.  So, I know what goes into it, but my thing is running the event.  That’s my experience – Event Production and Race Direction.  I can make the scoring system do wonders, get through a race day efficiently, and engage spectators.  Like my rodeo – I’ve ridden bulls, but poorly, and I roped quite competitively.  But my focus is the event production, and I rock that.  As for Scaled Racing, I do a 40-second lap time to the A-Main winner’s 21-second lap time.  But the event management – I rock that.  That in itself is what is making this race what it is.  I’m not a pilot that has an idea on how to organize an event, I’m an event organizer that has an idea on how to pilot.

 

Who is your team?

Jason at RacingFPV.com, David at @DroneFestCanada on Twitter and myself (Joe Scully) would be at the top of the chain, and we are supported by a lot of contributors.  To do this right, big, and successfully, we need to be calculated, and we have a great group of pilots and industry insiders that we’ve been working with along the way.  Again, this is different from a meet.  It’s not thrown together on a whim by any means.  We’ve already had one test day where we had 6 craft in the building; and a lot of meetings and discussions before and of course, since.  We’re experienced and passionate about the event and the industry, and bring a lot to the table in a manner where every piece of the equation is covered.

 

What do you think is next?

Every event I’m involved in is broken down by a performance, main, or hour, and tweaked in some fashion.  I think following this race we will see how we can continually raise the bar, and take the show on the road.  We are already in talks for Toronto and perhaps Vancouver.  We’re doing a lot of “new” stuff, and once it’s perfected, we’ll turn our playbook over and more events will have the option to use a turnkey system like the one we’ll have proven.  

 


 

Joe Scully is the Race Director and part of the managing team of the Air Race Arena Showdown: Indoor Multi-Rotor FPV Competition, February 15th, 2015 in Clinton, Ontario, Canada.  More information on this event is available at: http://RacingFPV.com