As 37-year-old Biju Jose off-loads four remote- or radio-controlled (RC) cars, each more than a foot long, from his luxury SUV, his three sons, aged between 5 and 9, are itching to get their hands on the controls. But the cars are meant for Jose.
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Jose, who runs a family-owned business of 82 bakeries across south India, bought his first RC car on a whim in September, thinking his sons would enjoy it—but he got hooked instead. Since then, he has bought three more, including a Thunder Tiger Hummer that costs Rs40,000 and the much sought after Traxxas E-Revo monster truck that left him poorer by about Rs50,000. His overall investment in this newfound weekend passion, he says, has been around Rs2 lakh.
Jose is only one of many Bangaloreans to have taken to this new hobby. On 6 December, a national tournament of remote-controlled vehicles, organized by newly formed Delhi-based event organizer RC Inc. in Bangalore, fuelled the passion of enthusiasts like him. Harish Kukreja, or Handbrake Harry, part of the 50-member RC car enthusiasts’ group called the RC Bangalore Boys, says 38 cars participated in the tournament and around 250 enthusiasts turned up to watch and cheer.
Control freaks: (clockwise) Biju Jose takes part in a race in Bangalore; Harish Kukreja, aka Handbrake Harry, is part of a 50-member enthusiasts’ group. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Kukreja, who did not take part, is also the dealer for HPI Racing, a Japan-based manufacturer of high-performance RC cars, trucks and monster trucks.
Small, toy-grade cars cost upwards of Rs1,500 and are operated by remote control, while the relatively bigger hobby-grade cars, used for racing, are guided by radio-control transmitters that hold a steady network at long distances. The larger RC cars come with power support options of battery or nitro fuel, which costs Rs600-1,000 a litre in India, and broadly speaking, come in two variants. “On-road” cars have relatively small road clearance and are called buggies, while the “off-road” ones, called monster trucks, can be driven on rougher and bumpier terrain. The ones in between are, conveniently, called truggies. These RC cars can cost anything between Rs15,000 and Rs1.5 lakh. The most popular brands, the Japanese HPI Racing and Kyosho and the American Redcat, are available in India through dealers, while Thunder Tiger, a Chinese brand, is sold in retail stores. Jose bought his two Traxxas cars, each with a top speed of 80kmph, on a trip to Dubai.
Towards the end of October, an RC car enthusiast and friend of Jose’s mentioned the opening of Pitstop, a 1-acre space in JP Nagar, south Bangalore, that boasts of two RC tracks and an adjoining café. “I was just beginning to understand these cars, and putting them on tracks seemed challenging. But then, how long could we drive them in the safety of our courtyard?” asks Jose, testing his car for a race organized by Pitstop.
Equipped with one “on-road” (60ftx50ft) and one “off-road” (90ftx60ft) track, Pitstop is Bangalore’s first RC track. Owner Suresh Babu, 40, is a granite stone dealer who came across the RC car phenomenon on the Internet a few months ago and sensed a business opportunity. With ancestral land at his disposal, Babu took the plunge. Constructing the “on-road” track with a tarmac surface cost him around Rs1 lakh, but it’s an investment that seems to be getting quick returns, especially since Babu also rents out a range of RC cars and even imports them on demand.
“Buying cars is an expensive deal and people should first try their hands at the machines before investing thousands of rupees,” says Babu. He adds that renting a car with a tank of nitro fuel that runs up to 15 minutes costs Rs250. “It’s not cheap,” he admits, “but it’s better than buying a car and then figuring out if you are interested.”
“One man just came one day with a car worth Rs18,000, but later realized it just wasn’t his thing,” says Kukreja, who bought his two large-scale Baja 5B variations, each worth around Rs80,000, a year-and-a-half ago.
Enthusiasts range from ages 5 to 65, but serious drivers discourage children under 14 from driving high-power vehicles. “Most of these vehicles, anything that goes above 8.5 cc, can hit speeds ranging between 80kmph to 120kmph. Speed needs control and parental guidance if you are very young,” says Umesh Kotramada, an importer of Kyosho cars.
The RC Bangalore Boys meet every weekend at the Palace grounds to drive their machines. Ten or 15 people turn up to watch, and it’s not uncommon for the same people to turn up the following weekend with newly acquired cars.
It’s still early days, however. “RC car racing is a recognized sport across the world,” says Babu, “and for us to have more car brands available and to be able to participate in international events, we have to show them we are serious.”
Kukreja is setting up his own RC track on Bannerghatta Road in Bangalore to encourage more professional racing—for his friends and him, just driving their “babies” on open grounds was becoming monotonous..
The national tournament, racers believe, helped achieve two goals: bringing the community closer in a competitive environment and showing the road ahead.