VLOG 02 – Chicago FPV Drone Racers — Chicago



The purpose of this post is to provide a little extra clarity and detail around the function of the race, how it went, and give some context and feedback.

Supplementary Blog Post

After a couple weeks of practicing, I headed up to Chicago from Indianapolis (about a 3 hour drive) to race. My friend Patrick and I left Indy at about 7a to arrive by 9a (because the timezone changes on the way to Illinois). We arrived on time to find the course largely already set up. The course was roughly “gun” shaped, with few gates and a couple flags. See a picture of the course layout below, which when we first saw it, I called the “pack puffer”.

The Course

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This course was very large — it was roughly 1.5 soccer fields down the straights, so it there was a lot of room to make up for. The race was “open spec” which meant that any 4s, 6inch, 2208 and below quapter (quad-copter) was allowed to compete. This meant that anyone flying 3S had zero chance to compete, since the straights and “butt” of the gun handle were flat out. I managed to set the fastest in-race lap time of 21.69 seconds (you can see the entire race results here), so I do have some thoughts and opinions on how the course is laid out:

  • In open spec, pilots should have a hard time finding a place to push the throttle all the way up. In this course, on the turn around the butt of the gun from the turn on the top left, all the way through the turn where the “trigger” would normally be, I had the throttle pinned. I think they should have found a way to slow pilots down a little bit and add a bit more technicality at the top end. This would mean that, for pilots with less powerful rigs or slightly heavier rigs, winning the course would be more dependent on skills and less on the fastest ship possible.
  • The turn around the barrel of the gun was excellent. The turn into the gate decided who won and lost the race — I didn’t do a great job with it on every lap, but for those that hit it every time, they were destroying things.
  • This course would have supported a 6inch prop setup very well, because of the straight-line speed, but I didn’t have one.
  • The thing that most caught me off guard was, coming out of the double gates at the top, I’d open up the throttle heading for the first flag and the slalom. I would come past the first flag with so much speed in practice that I would often miss the slalom and have to go back. Later, throughout the race, my technique was to essentially get as close to that flag as possible, turn left and in past it, give a full bust of throttle to push me around the second flag. When I came out of a “timed” burn that just came with practice, I would turn around and give a full burn essentially “at” the final flag and the hairpin turn.

The Race

The race followed what seems to be a set of local standards. I’ve seen this a couple times when I’ve been racing up in Chicago. Their process essentially comes down to “laps completed” rather than “raw speed” as a way to let those that crash out in an early race to “come back” and make up for those crashes. So, in general, they try to time the laps to be able to complete, on average, a number of laps in 3 minutes. So, the goal is to make the lap take about 30┬áseconds so that you can start your 7th lap before 30 seconds timer is up. You are allowed to finish the lap you’re on when the timer goes off. But, this also can reward faster pilots because if they bring their lap times down to below 25.7 seconds, they can start their 8th lap before the timer goes off. But when you’re blitzing that fast, there’s a higher chance of crashing. It’s an interesting way of solving the problem, because it rewards consistency more than it does all out speed. But it can be frustrating when you crash for a stupid reason or technical reason.

We had two qualifying/placing rounds for the 20 pilots and one final round where the winner takes all. Between rounds, open practice was allowed.

How’d it go?

For me, in a word, not well. I completed my first qualifying round with flying colors. I beat all racers in my “heat” but crashed during my sixth lap. Minor crash, no damage, but I was on track for 7 which I did not complete. During open practice between my 1st and 2nd qualifier, I was doing a practice flight when someone powered on their quad and knocked me out of the sky, causing major damage to my quad. I was able to fix the structure damage to the frame, but even after brief testing in which the quad flew well, it did not take off for qualifier 2, which meant I did not set any laps for the second qualifier. Thus, for the final round (after I replaced a motor), I was seeded in heat 3 (essentially 11th place) and won my heat. During that race, I set the fastest “official” (set during a race) lap time for the day. My friend Patrick took 2nd place overall. Afterwards, we all grabbed our GoPros and started filming freestyle and having a good time. Because the structural integrity of my frame was shot from the practice crash, in a fairly severe crash, the quad essentially ripped in two, stopping the fun for the day.


Thoughts Overall

  • Shorter, more technical courses are better, in my opinion┬ábecause they focus more on pilot skill than on flat line speed
  • NEVER power up your quad when there’s the slightest chance to signal-stomp a pilot currently in the air
  • When practicing, plan each turn and obstacle maneuver and continue to repeat on that. Systematize how you’re going to take each turn and go through each gate. In this type of race especially, don’t hesitate to “cancel” a maneuver and try it again when your approach is off — a few second hit on your time is acceptable in qualifiers because you can still probably complete a significant number of laps — there is no room for a crash.
  • Bring a backup quad
  • Get a butane-heated soldering iron ( I had to field-swap a motor, and my friends’ soldering iron saved the day)
  • I need to order more motors..

For the VLOG

  • I didn’t take quite enough footage while I was out at the field.
    • I was a little embarrassed to be seen talking to my camera, which I just need to get over
    • I was very busy making repairs
    • I just didn’t think about carrying my camera sometimes
  • I need to get a decent DVR setup so that I can record race footage and be able to talk about the footage later — show what went wrong — tell the story of a race day
  • I need to record myself or the audio where I’m sitting when piloting so that there’s some engaging content and “what if feels like in the pits” sort of thing to think about
  • Timelapse was a great addition
  • “Title” was a great addition
  • End-screen was a great addition
  • Still too long, but that’s okay

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