2004 HPI Challenge World Finals Report

Thu, 25th November 2004

Story by Frank McKinney
Photos by Frank McKinney

Well here we are again, down to the final race of the year for the HPI Challenge series! So far the HPI Challenge World Finals have been held twice in Southern California, then the south of France, then in Japan, Las Vegas and now...Halifax?

Yes, Halifax, in Yorkshire, the site of the Yorkshire R/C Model Car Racing Club and one of the finest radio control car tracks in the United Kingdom! With loads of help from track organizers John, Muriel and Claire Russell, the members of the YRCMCRC, Chris Deakin of Radio Race Car International, sponsorship from Mitsubishi Motors, Stephen Fabray our race director, Stefan Kohler from LRP Electronics and several HPI and Mirage RC Enterprises employees, we were sure this year's HPI Challenge World Finals would be a massive success!

Friday was the first official day of the event, but by Thursday many of the international racers had already started showing up. Several UK racers were already on-site also with their caravans and tents, and they knew they would be settling in for a long weekend of racing action! Although the middle part of the week was dry and only partly cloudy, the weather forecast didn't look great for the weekend – we were promised intermittent showers in the Halifax area, due to its northern location in England and the fact it sits between some low hill ridges. Well – we told the racers to prepare for wet-weather racing, so let's hope they were ready!

Foggy morning to start us off!   Lots and lots of banners as usual

Friday morning the air was misty and wet, but we had to get things rolling to stay on schedule. No time to wait for the track to dry out, there's racing to be done! Well, actually practice, which ran for just a couple of hours. By noon the track was pretty much dry and racers were starting to really get down the proper racing lines through the corners. Although the British racers had been to this track before during the regular HPI Challenge series, none of them were complacent and they all got out to the track to practice. This wasn't going to be a normal HPI Challenge race! 

  The foreign invitational drivers had plenty of pit space  

Soon after the track was closed to open practice we started three rounds of controlled practice. This let the racers get used to running with the people they would be qualifying against, and also let them check out top speeds, runtimes, fuel stops, etc. against the other racers in their class. With the Nitro racers using the handout fuel (16% Tornado Fuel), they also had to tune their engine properly and get everything working just right. Because this was “just practice” not all the racers went out for every round, especially after it started spitting down with rain sometime during the second round! In the final round of practice there were usually just a couple of cars out on the track in each heat, so the other racers passed the time commenting on the interesting lines the cars were taking (usually looping or drifting) and seeing where the standing water was on the track (only in a couple of spots would it be an issue).

The rostrum is nice and tall...   The always popular chow hut!

Finally, after the practice was all completed, it was time for the racers to pack up and head to their tents, hotels or caravans. The early morning and evening routines at a big race like this is always the same – a traffic jam of full-size cars, with racers wearing RC shirts weaving their way between the cars carrying very heavy and large pit bags or boxes! 

The Americans had a tough time dealing with the wet track at first but dealt with it well The international tent - truly international! Now it starts to really rain!


Saturday started off with clear skies and sun peeking through the trees – but would it last? That was the big question on everyone's minds. With plenty of dry track to practice on during the open session on Friday, some racers hadn't bothered to practice during the wet controlled practice rounds. Time would only tell if this gamble would pay off!

The first thing to do was, of course, the Mitsubishi Motors-sponsored Concours Challenge! A nice trophy and new HPI Racing kit was up for grabs to the overall winner. With several Mitsubishi prizes thrown in, a win would be a nice thing to take back home for whoever won!

Check out the line-up!   Quite a variety of cars to choose from

It took several minutes of judging to sort through all the cars and choose the top contenders for the overall prize...

 Ah! Finally some finalists are picked  

With the finalists chosen, now came the REALLY hard part – nitpick someone's pride and joy while they're standing just a couple of yards from you! 

  Hmmmm tough choices...  

In the end, after several minute's deliberation amongst the judges, we had our winner: Patrick Garbi from Germany! His exquisitely detailed Dodge Stratus Aero 2 bodyshell was masked perfectly, airbrushed and detailed to perfection to take the top honours at this year's World Finals Concours Challenge. 

  Concours Winner Patrick Garbi

After a brief photo session with the finalists and a quick run-through of the racing procedures from Mr Stephen Fabray, we were set to start racing within just 15 minutes, starting with the RS4 Electric GTi class. We would go through all the electric classes, then into 5-minute qualifying heats for the Nitro racers, then do it all over again, four more times. 

Yes, that's right, FIVE qualifying heats – we weren't going to listen to any complaints about not enough track time to get in a fast run! (Although, secretly we were hoping the rain would pass us over!)

So now, class-by-class, we have the qualifying highlights for your reading pleasure:

RS4 Electric GTi
With German racers making up half the numbers of this class, it was up to British GTi drivers to uphold the home-field honours. Sebastian Weiss held the top honours throughout most of qualifying, setting the fastest time of the day (FTD) in the first four rounds, but Thorsten Faber came back strong in the very last round to take the top qualifier spot by just half a second! Sebastian was relegated to second position and Erwin Kruse, who had stayed in third position all day, was left in third qualifying position. Thomas Daley, the top British GTi racer, had to be satisfied with fourth position, ahead of Paul Rosenberg and Hollie Ainsworth.


Top racers in RS4 Electric GTi after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Thorsten Faber (GER)
2. Sebastian Weiss (GER)
3. Erwin Kruse (GER)
4. Thomas Daley (UK)
5. Paul Rosenberg (UK)
6. Hollie Ainsworth (UK)


RS4 Electric Sport
Once again, the Germans started off strong in the second electric class – Jochen Janik took the first round by storm, setting the TQ pace by nearly seven seconds over fellow German Sebastian Weiss. 

Ricky Copsey from the UK came back strong in the second round but Jochen upped his performance by keeping the pole position with a time over a lap ahead of Ricky. Krizty Rosenberg of the UK moved up right behind Ricky into third qualifying position. 

In the third round, Frank Weddige from Germany bumped Krizty down a position to sit in third, and it was a mix of nationalities in the top ten: Germans, British, one Hungarian and one American. 


After the fourth round, Frank moved past Ricky's fastest time to get into second, Ricky sat in third and Peter Major from Hungary was in fourth qualifying position.

After the fifth and final round of qualifying, Ricky hadn't been able to nail TQ but did improve his time to get on the same lap as Jochen but nearly five seconds behind. With only these two racers on a 14-lap pace, it was definitely going to be a tight battle in the Finals! Joe Cook was the big mover in the fifth round, getting third position. Frank Weddige went from 2nd after the fourth round to 4th, with Peter Major in fifth.

Top ten racers in RS4 Electric Sport after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Jochen Janik (GER)
2. Ricky Copsey (UK)
3. Joe Cook (UK)
4. Frank Weddige (GER)
5. Peter Major (HUN)
6. Krizty Rosenberg (UK)
7. Sebastian Weiss (GER)
8. Travis Lewis (USA)
9. Ray Cockman (UK)
10. Josh Walford (UK)


RS4 Electric Pro
The Electric Pro class featured the latest HPI electric car, the Pro 4. Nearly every racer in this class ran the highly efficient shaft-drive car, and with a 10-turn motor on this 1/8th scale circuit, let me tell you, these cars were FAST. The drivetrain chosen was a mix of front diff, locked front diff (basically a spool) and one-way. In the wet, a locked diff worked best for most racers but in the dry it was all down to driver preference.

With the action getting hotter every round in the Electric Sport class, we knew that the Electric Pro racers would make things absolutely sizzling! James Hart of the UK started off quick, setting the only 14-lap run of the first round. Joshua Rose and Colin Leslie, also from the UK, were in 2nd and 3rd, but Christian Geis from Germany wanted to move up from 4th on the leaderboard. Balint Rajki out of Hungary was eager to make his mark also, he sat in 5th after the first round. 

After the second round of qualifying Daniel Fallows, another young UK racer, set the FTD with a 16-lap run just half a second faster than James' second qualifier. There were several 16-lap qualifiers run by the fastest racers, and Christian Geis moved up to third position while Joshua moved down to fourth. 

In the third qualifying round James clawed back into the top spot, six and a half seconds ahead of Daniel's fastest time. Daniel stayed in second, Christian stayed in third, but the fourth position was occupied by Scott Morton of the UK, who moved both Joshua and Balint down a position! 

James didn't improve his time in the fourth round of qualifying, but Christian did, moving into the second spot and bumping Daniel down to third. Scott stayed in fourth and the man on the move this round was Austrian Werner Spannbruckner, always a threat at the World Finals! He won at the World Finals in Las Vegas last year and was eager to repeat! 

In the fifth and final round of qualifying the top five racers didn't improve their times, but the positions in the next five shuffled around a little – two more Austrians made the A Final, moving some British racers down out of the big show.


Top ten racers in RS4 Electric Pro after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. James Hart (UK)
2. Christian Geis (GER)
3. Daniel Fallows (UK)
4. Scott Morton (UK)
5. Werner Spannbruckner (AUS)
6. Joshua Rose (UK)
7. Christian Strobl (AUS)
8. Balint Rajki (HUN)
9. Werner Puchas (AUS)
10. Darren White (UK)


RS4 Super Electric
The Super Electric class, although not popular in many countries where the HPI Challenge is organized, is popular enough in Germany that 6 of the ten drivers we had in this class were from Germany – there must be something about these massive electric cars! Of the remaining drivers, one was from the UK, one from Hungary and one from Austria, with the last driver being from Germany but living in England – HPI Europe's Marketing Manager, Christoph Lehmler! The best thing about this class was that it was easily the most fun class to race in, according to the laughter coming from the rostrum all weekend. With a handout 17-turn motor, the speeds these cars reached was about as fast as the Electric Sport class, making them quite lively indeed! 

During the first round, it was a UK racer, Justin Griffiths, who set the fastest time ahead of LRP Electronic honcho Stefan Kohler. Stefan graciously supplied the motors for all the Super Electric racers for the weekend, but Justin didn't let his gratitude get in the way of going two seconds faster than Stefan in the opening round. Andre Severt from Germany rested in third and Peter Major from Hungary occupied the fourth spot, with Frank Weddige in fifth.

Lined up for action    

In the second round, Stefan really upped the pace with the dry track, setting TQ by going two laps faster than his first attempt and taking Andre with him into second! Austrian Werner Puchas moved way up into third, relegating Justin into fourth, with Christoph Lehmler coming up the ranks into fifth.

The third round really saw the action heat up – Werner and Stefan battled during the whole 5-minute race, with Werner setting the FTD, just 0.4 seconds ahead of Stefan's fastest time! Andre was also moved down to third, while Justin and Christoph stayed in fourth and fifth places, respectively. 

The top racers didn't improve their times during the fourth round of qualifying, although Erwin Kruse moved into fifth, bumping Christoph down one spot. The action heated up quite a bit in the fifth round, however, with Justin and Stefan both improving their fastest times! Who would come out on top? Justin, just over 2 seconds ahead of Stefan and Werner! The gap between Stefan and Werner had to be the smallest between any of the racers – four hundredths of a second, or 0.04!


Top ten racers in RS4 Super Electric after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Justin Griffiths (UK)
2. Stefan Kohler (GER)
3. Werner Puchas (AUS)
4. Andre Severt (GER)
5. Erwin Kruse (GER)
6. Christoph Lehmler (GER)
7. Frank Weddige (GER)
8. Peter Major (HUN)
9. Frieder Klotz (GER)
10. Wolfgang Schick (GER)


RS4 Nitro Stock
The Nitro Stock class is one of my personal favourites: the noise, the smell, the action in the pits, the chaos when a car flames out on the track, it's all very much like I imagine the first European auto races used to be. And here we are, in England, running on a gorgeous track...it's all quite too much sometimes! To top it off, these cars all basically the same – the HPI Nitro RTR 3 – the only differences being the type of bodyshell being used and the skill of the drivers. Everything about these cars are the same: chassis, drivetrain, tyres, engines, two speeds, etc., with very little left for the racers to modify or change. So it really is about skill-on-skill, which is a great thing. 

So anyway, on to the racing! The first round of action in the Nitro Stock class saw only about half of the racers running – either they didn't want to race on a slick track or they weren't ready, we don't really know, but after the first round Balint Rajki and Zoltan Polyak, both from Hungary, occupied the top two positions. American Harry Ananian, or “FastHarry” as he's known online, sat in third, with UK racers Ben Powell and Ray Cockman taking the fourth and fifth positions.

  Anxious pit crew watch their drivers' cars  

In the second round, just about everyone made their qualifier, so now we could see how things would start shaking out. The top five racers after round two were completely new, except for Balint, who was shuffled down to fourth. In the pole position was German Bernd Hasselbring, with Stephen Wright from the UK in second. Stephane Ceccarelli, one of our two French racers, was in third with Balint just behind him, and Peter Stefanski from the UK moving way up to the fifth spot!

Balint moved back into the TQ spot in the third round, pulling off the only 14-lap run so far in this class. UK Nitro Stock Champion David Wright got things sorted out and moved into second position, with Bernd in third, Stephen in fourth and UK racer Jason Dean in fifth. In the fifth round of qualifying, the only racer to improve his time was Peter Stefanski, moving into fifth and bumping Jason down to sixth.

Simon checks his times Members of HPI USA staff visited the World Finals

Top ten racers in RS4 Nitro Stock after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Balint Rajki (HUN)
2. David Wright (UK)
3. Bernd Hasselbring (GER)
4. Stephen Wright (UK)
5. Peter Stefanski (UK)
6. Jason Dean (UK)
7. Stephane Ceccarelli (FRA)
8. Zoltan Polyak (HUN)
9. Harry Ananian (USA)
10. Ben Powell (UK)


RS4 Nitro Modified
Nitro Modified! The Big Boys! Well, not Super Nitro “big”, but “big” in the sense that this class is maybe a little more serious than the other Nitro classes. With foam tyres to worry about, front overdrive calculations to make, bump-stop and rollbar settings to fiddle with, plus the use of any high-zoot HPI engine, this was definitely the contender for the most serious racing class of the weekend! Every racer in this class used an HPI R40 chassis, and although many started the weekend with an HPI Dodge Stratus Aero 2 body, very quickly we could see the very unique Suzuki Escudo Pike's Peak shell make its appearance on the track! We could tell they were quick “buy it and spray it” paintjobs from the fluorescent single-colour schemes! I know of one plucky Austrian who walked the pit area looking for a used Escudo shell to purchase!

Well let's start in with the racing, shall we? For the first round of qualifying a wide array of nationalities occupied the top ten spots: Germans in first and second, an American in third, three UK racers spread throughout the rest, two Hungarians, an Austrian and one of the French racers. Sebastian Kunz was the racer who would score first blood with a 15-lap run – the only other racer to come close was fellow German Patrick Garbi, albeit 5 seconds behind. Racing for team USA, Jimmy Hyunh sat in third spot with Jason Dean from the UK in fourth and Attila Csuzdi from Hungary in fifth. 

Things changed in the second round, but not for Sebastian and Patrick, who still occupied the top two spots. UK racer and HPI Challenge series champion Robin Lucas moved up to third spot, with Austrian Werner Spannbruckner taking fourth and UK HPI Challenge Super Nitro Champion Jake Heard occupying fifth. Nearly half the Nitro Modified field got 15-lap runs this time, but Sebastian and Patrick both got 16-lap runs...

Although Sebastian did not improve his time in the third round, he did stay in the pole position, but Patrick moved to within 0.86 seconds of Sebastian's fastest time. Robin and Werner stayed in their respective qualifying positions, but Jake was bumped out of fifth by Attila.

  Robin Lucas, the UK champion, looked strong  

In the fourth round, finally someone was able to topple Sebastian's fastest time. Who could it be but our plucky Austrian Werner using his just-purchased Escudo shell! His time was over half a second faster than Sebastian's, so Sebastian was moved down to second, Patrick down to third, and Robin was relegated to fifth by Jason Dean who moved into fourth. Just a big old shuffling match!

After the fifth round of qualifying, the top five positions were unchanged as no one improved their qualifying times. 

  Jimmy Hyunh's Hara replica, all the way from Texas  

Top ten racers in RS4 Nitro Modified after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Werner Spannbruckner (AUS)
2. Sebastian Kunz (GER)
3. Patrick Garbi (GER)
4. Jason Dean (UK)
5. Robin Lucas (UK)
6. Attila Csuzdi (HUN)
7. Jake Heard (UK)
8. Jimmy Hyunh (USA)
9. Chris Deakin (UK)
10. Jean Pascale Nicolai (FRA)


RS4 Super Nitro Modified
Super Nitro Modified is my personal favourite Nitro class to race in – the cars are easier to control because of their size, and because of the smaller class size the racing is usually more laid-back and less stressful. 

Well let's get into the racing shall we? With only six racers in this class it looked like it might be an easy win for the British racers, but with defending 2003 HPI Challenge Super Nitro Champion, American Michael Collins, in this class, it probably wasn't going to be as easy as they thought! Luckily for the UK racer Mike had some engine troubles early on in the day and missed his first round of qualifying, so it was Simon Smith taking the pole position after the first qualifying heat. One lap down was 2004 UK HPI Challenge series champion Jake Heard, then Super Nitro regular Peter Spratley, then French racer Jean Pascale Nicolai and another UK Super class racer Vernon Jones. 

Looks at the crowds of people we had watching the races!  

In the second round everyone went quicker, with Vernon pipping Simon for the top spot. Simon moved down to second, a lap behind Vernon, then Jean Pascale and Jake in third and fourth, Peter Spratley moved down to fifth and Mike was still sorting out his engine gremlins.

Just about everyone went faster again in the third round, except for Vernon and Simon. Vernon did stay on top however, with Jean Pascale less than a second behind on his fastest time of the day. Simon was bumped down again to third, with Jake, Peter and Mike rounding out the list.

In the fourth round Mike finally had his engine sorted and blasted to the top of the list with a 15-lap run, one lap better than anyone else had been able to achieve! Everyone else moved down the list but stayed in the same qualifying order. In the fifth round, with light rain coming down once again, no one improved their times so the results from the fourth round stood as they were.

The scrutineers were kept busy TQ Mike Collins from Ohio makes a rare mistake

Top racers in RS4 Super Nitro Modified after 5 rounds of qualifying: 
1. Michael Collins (USA)
2. Vernon Jones (UK)
3. Jean Pascale Nicolai (FRA)
4. Simon Smith (UK)
5. Jake Heard (UK)
6. Peter Spratley (UK)


Staff from the local newspaper and television stations even visited the track to see what all the fuss was about! The result was a LOT of publicity for the event, and Mirage and HPI! Look at the crowds we had during the weekend!


Sunday morning was nice and bright, but with brief bouts of showers overnight the track was quite wet in the morning! A round of practice Finals was scheduled so that racers would be able to sort out any frequency issues before the main events, but with the track wet only a few racers from each final went out for a practice. I guess many of the racers were simply hoping for a dry race! 

Sunday morning - clear and wet! Cool! James leads the Electric Pro racers in the practice A Final
  GOOOOOO! The track was starting to dry out by the time we reached the nitro practice finals.


Well with everything sorted after the practice Finals we couldn't wait for the weather to get better so we had to get stuck into the Finals – starting with RS4 Electric GTi!

RS4 Electric GTi
A Final
First leg
We had our first Finals casualty before the race even started – second qualifier Sebastian Weiss from Germany had his speedo go up in smoke (literally!), apparently some water got into it and he couldn't start the race. Thorsten Faber and Erwin Kruse went on to dominate the race, each one getting 10 laps in and finishing just 2 and a quarter seconds apart. UK GTi class winner Thomas Daley came in third, with Paul Rosenberg and Hollie Ainsworth in fourth and fifth.

The first A Final grid - but where's Sebastian?!  

Second leg
Unfortunately for Sebastian, he again had trouble right at the start of the race and had to watch his chances to win drift away as the seconds counted down to the start of the race. Tough luck but that's racing for you sometimes! Erwin took the win with 12 laps this time, but Thorsten finished on the same lap as well, setting up an exciting third leg to decide who would go home with the championship. Thomas Daley finished th

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