Lane Change System
Mini Racing Puybier
19500 Meyssac, France
Phone: (33) 5 55 84 07 22
Fax: (33) 5 55 84 06 95
|By Don Siegel
26 rue de Saintonge
75003 Paris, France
Phone: (33) 1 48 87 03 15
Fax: (33) 1 40 44 59 07
|Montemarte Raceway commercial facility inside the Montemarte Squash Club in Paris||Up to eight cars can run on one lane - Fun City!|
|"X" marks the spot||Eight drivers, four lanes, ready to race|
|It takes two hands to drive these slot cars!||Demonstrating the driving technique|
The idea behind miniature motor racing
has always been to copy the big guys. But in slot racing, the slots keep the cars on the
straight and narrow, instead of allowing them to pass, draft, line up in starting grids,
make pit stops, etc. Of course, a number of lane changing systems have been invented over
the years, starting as early as 1963. But they were all pretty awkward to use. Until
Two French slot racers, David and Victor, have invented a 100% electronic system called DAVIC, commercialized by French track-builder and distributor Mini-Racing (www.miniracing.fr). The Davic system is still in the prototype stage, but has been in use for several months at the Scalextric Club Ile-de-France, near Paris, and was installed at the Squash Montmartre commercial raceway (and squash club) in Paris in November 1998.
How does it work?
As photo shows, most of the intelligence is added under the track. Each car is fitted with its own little chip, connected between guide and motor, that allows the system to track the car no matter where it goes.
The Davic system itself comprises a computer and lap counting/timing program, two (or more) lane-change sections, an overhead bridge with light sensors before each section to relay the commands and all the electronics lurking under the track. The system works with standard Parma-type controllers; in fact, you can use any controller, no matter what the ohm rating, since there's a knob on the control panel to adjust sensitivity. For the moment, the lane-change switch is a separate push-button, wired to the control console. If needed, the button could also be mounted on the controller handle, or anywhere else.
On the four-lane plastic track in the photos, at the Squash Montmartre raceway in Paris, there are two sets of lane changers: one that lets cars change between the two inner lanes (lanes 2 and 3) and one that lets cars change between the inner and outer lanes (1 and 2, 3 and 4). A two-lane track would only need one lane changer, although you could install two on a longer track.
And what about 6 or 8-lane tracks, you ask? Well, bunky, you don't need 6 or 8 lane tracks anymore! The Davic system can now handle up to 8 cars, and Dave and Vic are working on increasing capacity to 12 cars. But before you get ambitious, first try keeping track of 8 cars on a single lane...
The lane changers are routed in wood, custom-built to fit the track in question, whether standard plastic (Scalextric, Ninco, Carrera) or wood. An electronic solenoid-controlled switch shuttles cars between lanes. The clever thing here is that your lane change button will change only your own car! Of course, if another car is right behind you, or in front of you, it will get changed too. Which means you have to think twice before blindly switching lanes.
Putting your chips down
There are as many car-mounted chips (microprocessors) as there are driver positions. At the Squash Montmartre track, for instance, there are eight different basic chips, numbered 1 to 8. Each driver buys, rents, borrows or steals a chip. A plug is soldered onto the motor terminals, and the chip is plugged in; leads from the chip plug into the guide. Drivers then stay at the station corresponding to their chip number throughout the evening's racing activities unless a segment has several cars with the same chip number, in which case one of the drivers has to change. Not much fun, but the chips plug in pretty easily. The Race Director also becomes the chip director, which may involve a little horse trading....
The other evening I entered my first race on a Davic-equipped track. Two impressions strike you right away.
First, the race is incredibly realistic. You plug in your controller and you race for 20 minutes, or whatever the length of the race, without a break and without lane changes!
Second, you cant relax any more: no more getting into autopilot mode, with your only worry an occasional nerf. You are constantly running into a slower car on your favorite lane, or a faster car is riding your bumper and trying to pass. Which means that not only do you have to concentrate on your driving, you have to think about the best time and place to pass.
A typical lap on the track shown here, with the faster Ninco cars, takes about 7.5 seconds. And during that time you have to make decisions on two lane-change points. Coming up on a slower car, do you wait for him to fall off? Or lose a few seconds by switching lanes, outrun your adversary and build up a short lead, then switch back into your favorite lane . while looking out for the six other cars on the track! Basically, everybody will decide that lane 2, or lane 3, or whatever, is the best, and they'll try to stay in it. What happens when 8 cars go for a single lane? You got it action!
In theory, cars that come off can be replaced on any lane. But in practice, you designate an outer lane (near the drivers) as a "pitstop" lane, and all deslotted cars are always replaced on this lane, to avoid getting in the way of the constant stream of fast-moving cars. If you deslot another car by bumping into it from the back, or by colliding during a lane change, the race director yells "stop and go", and takes you off the track for a 10 second penalty. In reality, this doesn't happen very often: things move too fast, and people generally pay attention. But there is a fair amount of deslotting, because the cars are often in contact; it may also be because it's a new system.
The computer system gives you a second-by-second readout of the race, with each drivers position, number of laps behind the leader, total lap count, most recent lap time and fast lap! At the end of the heat you can immediately print out the results. So far, reliability of both electronic and mechanical parts has been excellent.
By the time I'd finished the evening, I was a convert! This is a great way to go racing!
The biggest drawback is the price. Although still in prototype stage, the complete system costs about $4,000 that's including a computer, software, all electronics, two complete lane-changers and a set of chips. Volume production may lower that a bit, but probably not very much. Extra chips will retail at about $15.
For the moment, the Davic system has only been installed on 1/32 or 1/24 plastic tracks for home or club. But there is no reason it won't work on a regular routed track. In principle it could also work on an HO track, but the chips are still a little too large for anything but truck racing. On commercial type 1/24 tracks, regular Group 10 cars should work fine, and maybe anything up to a Super 16D class, but the faster group cars would probably demand impossibly quick driver reactions. The perfect application would be a Nascar Oval or Tri-oval with two, three or four lanes perfectly duplicating all the strategy and thrills of real oval track racing.