Assisted vs. Non-Assisted R/C Drifting

September 10, 2021

Assisted vs. Non-Assisted R/C Drifting
I should start by going on record stating I am in no way trying to take away from today’s style of R/C Drifting. Rear Wheel Drive R/C Drifting with a Gyro has come a long way and is a ton of fun. There is no arguing it has brought the R/C Drift Scene to a point many never imagined. Anything I state is not knocking Gyro users. I will however be expressing how I personally feel, and it may feel like an attack, but it in no way is meant to be taken as such. I will refer to Gyro and No-Gyro as Assisted and Non-Assisted Drifting since that’s really what it is.

Past Experience with Non-Assisted R/C Drift
As many of you may know, I have ventured into Non-Assisted R/C Drifting a couple times in the past. What is probably not so clear is why. To put it simply, I feel this huge disconnect while using a Gyro. Everyone told me the Gyro was necessary and I heard a ton of explanations as to what and why it does what it does. It simulates this, your brain can’t do that, etc. I just could not get past the fact that the car is doing stuff for me that I am not in control of.

When I first started out, I instinctively wanted to counter-steer. I had to unlearn this instinctive reaction. Isn’t that what drifting is at it’s core, getting your car to slide, and you counter-steer into the drift? We aren’t supposed to do that though because the Gyro is acting like a real car with the tendency to self-steer? This self-steering people speak of, does it also keep you from spinning out? At any rate, I’m sure we can all agree that the Gyro is at least PARTIALLY driving the car for us. On a side note, I kept thinking about the days of Off-Road and how I was able to drift around all the corners without a Gyro, easily. So why am I using a chassis specifically for drifting, but I NEED a Gyro to just drive around the track, even at slow speeds. It just doesn’t make sense.

Futaba GYD550 – Mindblowing Control, Overdose DAIS -So Good, Yokomo V.4 – Good and Simple

Dissecting the Gyro
I’ve always been the type to admit when I’m wrong and when it comes to what the Gyro does, I have to admit in my previous write-up I over-simplified the role the Gyro plays in Assisted Drift. When I was finally able to drive without it, it was clear the struggle was to keep a balance between the throttle and steering. What wasn’t so clear was just how far off I was from actually having it down well enough to make it a thing. This time around I had to break it down to it’s core, and I have to admit the Gyro is a technological marvel. It is doing more than what anyone is really giving it credit for, and also in my opinion the Gyro is what is driving the whole speed drifting thing. Seeing people practicing “backies” and “360 entries” is a indication that Assisted R/C Drift has become too easy for a lot of people. It seems a good number of people are in search of that next challenge.

So what is my point?
There is so much that is intertwined here, I think it will be best to break it down into sections. In my opinion, just about everything we have been doing up until now has been based on the Gyro and it’s limitations. The better the Gyros get, the more extreme the tuning gets. The more extreme the tuning gets, the faster the cars get. The faster the cars get, the slower of a tire is needed. So since Assisted Drift has begun, it has been a constant chase of the next slower tire. It’s just a vicious cycle. If you took a chassis from the start of RWD R/C Drift, and put the hardest tires we have available now on it, it wouldn’t even be able to get out of it’s own way. With a modern day chassis, you put those same tires on, you will be just a tad slower than the fastest guys. That’s technology at work.

My Journey
There are many moments that seem insignificant to most, but can spark something in others. This journey of revisiting Non-Assisted Drifting was triggered by a post Bob Rock had made a few months back. The topic was, What is next for R/C Drift? I posted Gyroless Drifting. Bob’s response,

”I think you may be on to something there. It’s going to be a big challenge to drift Gyroless and as much as my mind is telling me that it can’t be done, I really got to simply think back. When you do that, one realizes that there have been numerous difficult obstacles and challenges that have been overcome from a point where something was deemed impossible. So I think that perhaps now is the right time to explore Gyroless drifting. The advancement of drift tech and products may possibly make it easier to get this right. The process should definitely be documented to which I hope you would do so that we can follow your progress and then join in.” – Bob Rock

Up til this point the response has always been, “Meh, go ahead and try.” ::Rolling Eyes:: Finally, someone viewed it the same as I. To make a change, it’s not going to come easy, but it needs to be done if change is to happen at all. I knew at this point if I was going to make another push, I needed to document it. So to do this, I needed to really understand what was going on. Challenge accepted!

The Chassis
I wanted to choose a platform where I felt changes would be simple and quick. With my past experience, I was prepared to change my entire setup if necessary. At the same time I felt our tuning has gotten to a point where it’s pretty refined. I chose the Usukani PDS Mix for my starting platform. The main reason was I have been using this chassis as my personal driver and I really like the steering system and the ease of setup. I knew I could make quick changes which is essential to deciding which setting is better. I have it outfitted with Tamiya TRF dampers and N.E.R.D. Adjustable Piston/Shafts to further speed up my tuning. In addition, I choose the Acuvance Xarvis XX ESC and Fledge 10.5T Motor since I wanted the smoothest setup I could get. Finally, I chose the Futaba CT700 Servo to use with my Futaba 7PXR Transmitter so I could adjust all my electronics on the fly. My hope was my setup would be really close to what I need to start laying down some serious laps right out of the gate. WRONG!!!

The Format
Since my schedule is pretty stacked throughout the day, and our track is open just about every day now, trying to get any R&D time for something as unstable as this, is really tough. Trying to get on the track and figure this out would be highly disruptive to our customers and was not an option. So if I were to do this, the only way it was going to work was to show up an hour earlier in the morning and get my Non-Assist Drift session on. This worked out well. It allowed me to document my time into this, which would be a good indicator for others as to the difficulty level associated with making the switch. As much as I would have liked to put more time into it, it was limited. I believe the switch would have been much quicker as far as days are concerned, if I could have had solid 2-3 hour sessions, rather than the 1 hour sessions. Although I made a daily log of the journey, I will spare you the wrong paths I had gone down. (There are many) A few have made me want to quit, but as any tuner knows, you have those days where you make break throughs and others where you try to make one more step forward and you end up taking 10 steps back. You can’t enjoy the sweet without the bitter so they say.

Starting Out
Since my chassis was set up pretty well and I could kill it on our track, I removed my gyro, plugged directly in to my receiver, and I was good to go. At least that’s what I thought. Right away, it was comedy hour. Spinning, crashing, just overall struggling was going on. I realized my suspension was setup extremely light. I had a lot of snap-oversteer going on, and not much damping at all. I started to think about the progression we have made over the years, and looking back on when we started, we were all running stiff suspension and pretty heavy damping. There was a lot not making sense to me. I needed to really take a step back and figure out what was going on here. All I was certain about at this point was nothing made any sense.

The Colin Chambers Approach
A few years back my good friend Colin (who was active in R/C Drift and helped write the Super Drift Challenge Rules) used to come in after his 1:1 drift events with video of what he was doing out there. He was just starting out and he was always excited to show us his progress. Was it spectacular? Was it crazy? No, not at all. In fact, it was the opposite, but it always showed progress and how much fun he was having NOT being a pro driver. One day he came in and was excited about being able to finally tandem with is friend. It wasn’t like Formula D, but it was my friend having a blast. That’s what it’s all about, right? Having fun? Colin showed me you don’t need to be a superstar to have fun, and everyone needs to start somewhere. There’s no shame in that, and everyone needs to go through these stages before they get to the top. So why was I out here trying to pull Pro Driver Justin Pawlak type of laps, when I’m not even close to that level. I mean, I can’t even go down the straight cleanly. I should be taking it slowly and working my way up. Non-Assisted Drifting is something totally new it seems. It was time for the Colin Chambers Approach.

A New Perspective
Since I was now in the mindset of starting over and figuring this out from the ground up, I reflected on something my friend Randy had mentioned to me years back. I don’t even think he knew it even made an impression on me, but it did. He basically said, if you are having a hard time with a track, drive it slowly at first. Keep speeding up, and eventually you will be drifting it. This is exactly what I set out to do.

A Revelation
So I started out again fresh without any type of preconceived path. I started out slow with the goal of driving around the track slowly. I found I needed to go EXTREMELY slow. Slower than I would have thought. This again didn’t sit right with me. How slow do I actually need to go to make it around the track? Maybe a scale 5-10 mph. You mean to tell me I need a Gyro to drive at a moderate speed just to make it down the straight? It really felt as if I was driving on ice. WAIT!!! ::LIGHTBULB::

Do 1:1 drifters drive on ice? Of course I can’t drive around the track! I can drive any other R/C Car with no assist around the track with no problem, but I can’t drive my Drift Chassis around the track without a Gyro? With little to no traction it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible. Has the Gyro made the impossible possible? Yes, it definitely has. The modern day gyro is so good, it has made it possible for us to basically drift controllably on ice. Without a gyro I can’t make it down the straight, but with it I can go as fast as is physically possible with no issues. Still feel it’s not like auto-pilot? The gyro is driving the car down the straight, allowing an extremely hard flick into the corner, and keeping it in control the entire time. For me that would equate to auto-pilot. Something that is out of my control. Not just simply simulating some sort of auto-centering or auto-steering, but full on auto-pilot. At this point I am simply adjusting the direction and speed.

The Game Changer
After realizing we are basically trying to drift on ice, I spoke with Wee from DS Racing. I explained my findings and my theory that what has been hindering the advancement of No Assist Drifting is the tires. I felt I needed something with more traction than what we have been using, but still hard enough that we could slide them without too much effort. I gave him a few examples of what I was doing and what I felt I needed, and he said he had exactly what I was talking about. He sent 5 different compounds to try. My man! When I think of companies who support the R/C Drift scene, DS Racing is always among the top few.

Tires – The real game changer! DS Racing HF-1 and HF-2 are the magic compound for Super-G

TIRES (or more traction)
This was the missing link the entire time! The point where RWD R/C Drift started from, right after CS (Counter Steer) we were already headed in the wrong direction. Since we were dealing with AWD, the speeds were high, so we were already using slick tires to slow the cars down. Then when we went to RWD, we all threw on Gyros and slapped on slightly grippier tires, and we were on our way. That was already too slick! We already had considerably less traction than the old HPI T-Drifts. Everyone accepted the fact that RWD was going to be slower than AWD, but look at us now.

The DS Racing HF Series is the ticket!
They have a higher friction coefficient than what we have been using all along. This has made all the difference and now EVERYTHING makes sense. I don’t know of another tire that would make this possible since all the tires available are either grip or slip. DS Racing’s HF-1 and HF-2 for our surface has really opened this up. With the added traction, “Driving” the track is no problem at all now. My car feels like a normal R/C car that I can drift. With the change to the new tires, it has become obvious we have been tuning around the Gyro. The car now reacts very realistically. Remember how realistic Assisted RWD Drift was when compared to AWD? Non-Assisted vs. Assisted Drift is at least equal to that or even more. 

Chassis Setup
Now that we have a solid starting point and I can actually drive around the track like a normal car can, it’s time to start setting up to be Drift specific. The first thing I noticed is the chassis is very unstable. With the added traction it is even more apparent. Snap oversteer is huge. Soft rear springs, light damping, rearward weight bias, I can’t event come off a corner without the rear end snapping the opposite direction. Time to slow the suspension down and add more damping. In fact, things got a whole lot better as I stiffened everything up a bit. The bouncy, floating stuff just doesn’t play well without a Gyro compensating. I also went stiffer and slower on the springs and that added to the stability as well.

ESC and Motor
ESC and motor settings are also important. At least in the beginning stages, limiting the output is huge for me. I am running no boost and low turbo. I am finding I need to modulate the throttle quite a bit since I am basically steering with the throttle and making small adjustments with the steering (Like a real car), but when I want the back end to hang out, I go full throttle and have the turbo kick in and keep the wheels spinning. Too much turbo timing and it will induce a spin. Not enough and it won’t be enough to keep the back end out.

Drag Brake plays an important role as well. There is a sweet spot where it will pull the car back and save it from spinning. Too much Drag Brake and you’re spinning. Too little and you’re gripping up and going straight or fish-tailing out of control. I’m running a 13.306 FDR All this keeps the power delivery smooth and manageable. Maybe in the future I can turn things up, but for now, I need to keep it on the conservative side.


Servo
I have also played with servo speed and I have found with the Futaba CT700, a slightly slower overall speed seems to work well for me. Not a slow setting, but I definitely have taken the edge off. I found once I went too slow on the servo, it would want to spin very easily. Probably due to not being able to keep up with the angle.

Ackerman
I have played around a lot with parallel and positive ackerman and have concluded for myself that some positive ackerman works best for me. It allows me to continue to push the back end out, vs. trying to keep things balanced all the time. It’s working best for me right now, but who knows in the future. This has changed since the last time.

Weight
Weight plays a pretty big role as well. Since things are more and more like real 1:1, I am finding that I need some added weight to keep the car moving when it’s sideways. Too light and the chassis wants to stall pretty quickly. Too much weight and it wants to keep going. So there is a balance I still need to fine tune. More weight = more stability, but also more inertia. As far as weight bias, my current setup is 35/65 and it seems to work well. I briefly tried 50/50, but found it wanted to straighten out more. I did not try any tuning around this setup, so I would say closer to 50/50 weight bias has not be explored on my end yet.

Low Motor vs. High Motor
I always prefer Low, so this is what I have started out with. I recently set up a Yokomo SXIII and it seems to do well also. I will be experimenting more with that in the upcoming sessions to see where I am at with it. There are definitely some major differences and I’m not quite sure if it’s beneficial or not. 

Not there yet, but getting there.

The Video
With the limited time I have had as far as track time, I still get nervous when the camera comes out. I’m not about editing or putting together a video to show “how good I am”. If that was the case, I would keep doing takes til I put together some laps that are as smooth as if I were using a Gyro. Those times are more often than before, but not predictable enough where it wouldn’t take some serious effort to capture it. What I really want to show is how an average set of laps comes together for me at the moment. I will have days I’m smoother and days I am twitchier, but this is what I put down today. The twitchiness you see is not necessary, it’s just how I’m driving today for some reason. I am still experimenting with the setup, and I recently pulled one of those 1 step forward, 10 steps back tuning days.

Looking back, I wish I took video of my progress. It would show how much I struggled, but then overnight things just clicked. This video is with me having 17-20 hours of drive / tuning time. Right now it feels as normal as it could possibly get. This feeling came after about 7-8 hours of not touching a chassis with a Gyro. 

Comfort Zone
The reality of Assisted vs. Non-Assisted is the room for error. The use of a gyro allows you to be very free with and dare I say sloppy when compared to Non-Assisted. Any miscalculation without a gyro to make the impossible possible and you are going to crash. Coming in too short, you’re not correcting it. Committed to a shallow line, you are going shallow. Manji too hard, you’re fish-tailing out of control. Didn’t get the weight to transfer on your initiation, you’re going straight. Lift in the corner and you’re out of control. It’s really real world driving.

Conclusion
Now it’s really a matter of getting that seat time in, but that’s just not a possibility at the moment. 1 hour sessions broken up by days is a little rough. I can say with all seriousness, there has been nothing more satisfying than pulling a perfect lap without a gyro. Knowing it’s all me has me driven to be able to do that every lap. That challenge is addicting for sure. At the moment we have 4 people who can drive decently with no gyro. I actually believe this has real potential to become the next step. It just depends how many are up to the challenge.