simple list for a better first time
In my last article, I talked about my first time as a MultiGP racer. I had quite the experience and after it was all said and done, there were a number of things I wished I had considered or done before my first race. I know there is still much for me to learn when it comes to racing, but I thought I'd write about things to consider for the up-and-coming first time racers to help you avoid the same mistakes I made.
I am NOT a definitive voice on this matter and I'd love to hear more from the racing community on your thoughts and suggestions in this matter along with my own thoughts! There is always something to learn and procedures and thoughts will change as we all learn together. So feel free to let me know your opinions!
Before I jump into a lot of stuff about tools and procedures, I have to tell you, no matter how good your equipment and tools are, it will mean nothing without time on the sticks and practicing. Making flags or gates and learning to maneuver around them consistently and smoothly will be your best asset when prepping for a race. No amount of tree flipping, free style spinning, or flat out speed running can force you to get that finite hand-eye control that is necessary for fast runs. Get your packs in every day if possible. Focus on simple moves like going over a gate and then through it. Having two side by side to do this over and over again is even better! Sloloms are great to run, and have a place where you can throw on some speed too! (You don't want to feel bored as you're practicing) Here's a hint, if you're wondering what drills to run, look at a real track and see if you can find the most common move on it. Make a simple version of that move (ie, a simple gate, or pole for a flag) and practice that move. You don't have to re-create the entire track to practice. But practice you should!
This starts long before the race ever begins. It starts before you even build your first racing drone. I'd say this starts when you make the decision to get into racing. Your gear is very important when you finally start to race. Mainly, in that you want / need it to work the first time, every time. Try to buy the best equipment you can afford. If you're really trying to not spend anything, then maybe hold off on racing and focus on your flying while saving your pennies so that you can go into a race without having to be afraid that something will fail when it's your heat. I'm not trying to discourage you AT ALL from racing, but from my own experience, there is a level of stress that is part of racing and you want to avoid having your equipment failures add to it. So, save your pennies and buy quality gear.
At the end of this, I'll include a PDF check-list that you can print, but I'll still go over this stuff. Tools are another important part of your experience. Making sure that you have a soldering iron (Yes, you'll definitely need to learn to solder yourself) that is consistently hot, portable (you may not have power when you race) and good solder to go with it! Some basic allen wrenches, 1.5, 2, 2.5 millimeter wrenches are a must! I'd spend a few extra bucks and buy some with larger grips to make taking your quad apart or replacing motors much easier than fiddling with the L shaped wrenches. Needle nosed pliers, forceps, scissors, wire cutters, blue loctite, and even a lighter are all normal tools you'll find on the field at any given race. Try to get decent tools (Harbor Freight tools aren't the best, but they are certainly affordable) and take care of your tools. Keep them in a designated place or tool kit so you know where you tools are and can get to them quickly and consistently. You don't want to be at your bench looking for tools when you have a heat coming up. Stressful.
Batteries, chargers, and the ability to use your electrical components are another consideration. For my first time out I was fortunate to have access to AC power at the field. I brought along an extension cord and power strip so that I could charge, solder, and access my laptop throughout the day. Having at least one high capacity lipo battery is certainly suggestible! HobbyKing has a few to choose from that are relatively inexpensive and are above 10Amps (10,000mAh). Having the ability to charge your batteries on site can help keep your costs down without having to buy a bunch of extra batteries (though in all honesty, it never hurts to have extra packs!) Look for a soldering iron that is powered via 12v lipo as well if possible! Anything you can do to be less reliant on AC is a good thing for traveling to a field or areas where you might not have AC.
So, when I was going through the paces of troubleshooting my quad at the race, having a laptop was a VERY nice addition to my toolkit. Certainly not my animation computer equivalent, but a slower machine to save a few bucks but still have a working platform. I was able to isolate where problems were arising without having to tear apart my quad (although it was necessary in the end) but at least I knew roughly where I was heading. Being able to tune in your favorite program or program your ESC's is a real nice thing to have.
two weeks before
You have put in the time, practiced, got the best equipment / tools you could, organized it all, and have mentally prepared as best you could. Now it's time to go through every inch of your quad. You'll want to check ever screw, socket, motor, connection, every detail to be sure your quad is ready. With all of these checks, PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR PROPS!!!!!!
If you are racing MutiGP you will be assigned a frequency for the race. Know what frequency you'll be on and be ready to switch to it, or any other frequency you'll need to in order to spot for other people. Once that's good to go, turn on your quad and verify that your VTX is in working order. Check the wires and be sure there are no breaks, loose solder joints, or bad plugs. If there are, replace them. You don't want a failure at the track. Have your particular VTX's channel maps available on your phone or as a print.
Do you have a clear image on your goggles when you turn on your quad? If you have an OSD, are all your bits present and clear on your screen? Does your camera have all its screws in place? If not, replace the missing ones and make sure all your screws are secure. When you have a chance, take a short flight and verify that your camera doesn't have "jello" which could be distracting. This could be caused by a loose frame, or sometimes a loose circuit board inside the camera. Take your camera off and shake it gently. If you hear something rattling, check it and fix it if possible. (I used a thin piece of double sided mounting tape to fix my camera, just be sure it doesn't press too hard on the board when you close the camera back up!)
Take off your props, turn on your Tx and plug into your programming software. Verify that your quad is operating exactly how you think it should. All your controls are going the right way and the right amounts. Double check your antennas and be sure you haven't had something chopped off to make your antenna shorter. Replace if needed. One thing that the officials will check for is to have your Failsafe in order! Be sure you have that checked off you list!
Sounds dumb, but go ahead and spin up your motors individually to verify that they are spinning the right way. At the same time, you can check for excessive vibrations that can by physically felt by holding the arm while you spin up the motor. AGAIN, PROPS MUST BE OFF!!!!! Another thing to look for would be to spin the bell of the motor and make sure the shaft isn't bent. (watch the base of the bell, if the gap opens and closes, time to replace the motor)
Are all your connections to the FC or PDB secure? GENTLY tug on the wires and look for breaks or exposed wires. Fix as needed. Do your ESC do its power up cycle? Are your motors spinning the right way? Are your min/max values correct on your ESC and FC?
Okay, so again, this stuff might seem very silly because it all seems so basic, but it's stuff that can be overlooked. Having fresh props when you go to a race is a great idea! Small nicks, bends, rough edges all just deliver small vibrations and things you don't want. It's not worth the irritation when you're racing. Have multiple sets of props with you when you hit the field. You will go through them throughout the day! If you know how to balance them, it never hurts to have that extra assurance ahead of time. Don't try to do this at the field if possible.
Again, sounds obvious, but go over your frame. Is it completely solid? Is there a strange break you didn't know was there? Are you missing screws? Are all your screws tight? Every time a racing team goes to a professional race (from NHRA, to Formula 1) every nut, bolt, screw, and rivet is double checked. Your quad is no different. Go through it. If you find a fault, then you have to decide if you still want to race, or postpone until you can get a replacement. In that train of though, it's best to have extra limbs or components with you when you do go race! When it comes to motor screws in particular, blue loctite is your friend.
Do all your batteries seem race ready? Are they puffed up? (don't race them if they are) Do they all charge equally from cell to cell? Are the packs physically damaged? Are there tears in the silicone around the wires or broken connectors? Anything that might disqualify the battery brings a choice you have to make whether or not you'll want to use it. Flying around on your own is one thing, but needing it to work properly trumps the want to not replace the battery in my opinion.
This is not an easy thing to check, but do make sure it lights up and you know your transponder number. You'll need to relay that information to the person checking quads in the morning of the event. Having an extra transponder or two with the ability to put it on another frame quickly and easily is highly advisable.
3 Days before
Okay, so you've gone through your rigs, flown a little between then and now, and now it's getting close to race day! It's time to go through your rig again while you still have time to get to the hobby store (or next day ship from online sales) if need be. Check everything again!
After you've done that, take the next couple of days to relax. Try not to fly or think about the race day and get out of your head for a day or so. It helps to have a distraction to help you relax and not get overworked. You've worked hard to get to this point, and now it's time to just enjoy the experience!
The night before, get a good nights sleep! Go through your check list, and make sure everything is packed up and ready at your front door. One last thing would be to charge your transmitter!! (preferably next to the gear so you don't forget it lol, I have done this)
The day of, you're on your way! Load up your car and make sure there is nothing left in the area you staged the night before!