Most Southern Californians that live and breathe the hot lap are likely also familiar with Willow Springs International Raceway, and the big track's little brother, Streets of Willow. The complex, which includes the recently added Horse Thief Mile, is a club racing hotspot, ideal test facility, viable film/TV/magazine setting and also popular track day destination, in part because there are a variety of circuits to choose from. Streets in particular seems to host a lot of open course gigs, we're guessing because it's kind of the bunny hill of road circuits; though technically a challenge to drive, speeds are relatively restrained.
It was for a track day that we found ourselves at the high-desert raceway park near Edwards Air Force Base on January 18 to watch HPI Racing, popular manufacturer of on- and off-road radio-controlled cars, entertain a number of honored guests, namely a group of distributors from Japan and their company. They were joined by a smattering of local and international media, of which we were part.
The agenda for the event centered on its two stars, a pair of Super Taikyu Endurance Race Series-winning Subaru Impreza STi. Folk were getting ride-alongs with pro drivers on an abbreviated configuration of Streets (essentially sans the Bowl), and then later in the day were permitted to try their hand at piloting one of the race cars, a duo of Prova Engineering-prepped machines, the HPI Racing 2004 WRX and the Fujitsubo 2005 version with '06 front end. Those in the media savvy enough to bring a track-able car (like us) would, in addition, get an opportunity for some seat time.
It's at this point that you might be asking yourself, what is a maker of scale-model remote-controlled and diecast cars doing building a full size racer, or holding a track day for that matter? The answer is pretty obvious, really - the people at HPI are true enthusiasts, the real deal. Their passion for cars, and especially motorsport, is informed by the same impulses as any other gearhead, and even though they work in a smaller world, the rides they create are still expressions and extensions of who they are, be it a hardcore competitor or a casual hobbyist.
It is that fire that has taken HPI to where it is today, one of the top three manufacturers of R/C cars on the planet. Through a heartfelt desire to have its products reflect the real world as much as possible, HPI offers nearly every popular import platform in a scaled-down version, with additions to its various series all the time. Boasting features like real all-wheel-drive drive trains, disc brakes and high-revving engines, one could even argue that HPI's R/C products bring you one step closer to your dream car. (Incidentally, we've got an HPI project that we're working on currently, a Sprint 2 Sport Drift AE86 Toyota Trueno - look for updates to come...)
The day at Willow went off without a hitch, save for a few interesting choices made by a handful of inexperienced drivers that clearly needed the basics of track etiquette before getting behind the wheel of a purpose-built competition car. The Subarus themselves seemed to perform without a hiccup, holding up well to the repeated periods at idle as different drivers got strapped in each (we would guess the gearboxes and brakes were pretty beat up afterwards as well). Our total time on Streets amounted to about a half hour, short for sure, but seat time is seat time. We'll take whatever we can get.
The following day, Saturday the 19th, we were invited to check out the second half of HPI Racing's 1:1 Track Day and R/C Drift Day, which took place at HPI Global Headquarters in Foothill Ranch, Calif. The affair was part of the HPI/HB Challenge Series, which is designed to give HPI and HB car and truck owners a way to get together for a weekend of competition and a chance to meet the HPI and HB crew. For a small entry fee, each participant receives free HPI and HB gifts, decals, prizes and trophies for most racers. With events in off-road, on-road and drift, the emphasis is placed on sportsmanship and having fun.
This specific gig was called the HPI/HB Drift Challenge, and it was the first such comp of 2008. With a competition track adjacent to a practice track, and a number of tents in a row making up an impromptu "paddock" off to one side, it was set up very much like a full-scale contest would be. It had general competition rules and several more regs governing each of five unique classes: four drift groups and category for time attack. Challengers had to work through respective ladders, and prizes consisted of car kits for each class winner and prizes for the top three in each class.
The entire experience was initially a bit weird - seeing such sophistication in and passion for these junior race sleds - but by the end of the day we could totally see ourselves living this life. Our crash course in the growth and complexity of the R/C car following left us with an appetite we previously thought only came from playing with full-sized toys. Big thanks to HPI for showing us that building and modifying - indeed customization - can extend into the world of little toys as well, and be just as satisfying.
Check out the Event Gallery for more photos.