For Bashers, By Bashers!

Interview with Shawn Palmer of Schumacher

Hey All, with the recent announcement from Schumacher about their speed controllers, I thought I better get to work on the interview with Shawn Palmer! It’s good and long with lots of details! Enjoy! Make sure to hit the title/jump for the full interview!

1. The news officially dropped today about Schumacher’s brushless system. It’s already a crowded BL marketplace. All the dedicated electronics only manufactures like Novak, LRP, and Castle are already in neck deep. Why did Schumacher, primarily a chassis manufacture, decide to jump into the BL market?

Schumacher USA has a long history of being more than just a distribution arm for Schumacher vehicles. We’ve been exclusive with Take Off tires and hardware for quite some time and have provided spec tires for club racing, state series racing and full blown National/International race events all over the country for years now. While the company focus on non-Schumacher vehicle product had been very racer intensive through the years, we’ve been expanding that outward recently with our CORE Lipo packs, a few more surprises to come, and right now – the GT ESC as well as brushless motors and accessories from Speed Passion.

Schumacher USA is a distributor first and foremost, and the job of a good distributor is to identify and secure new and excellent product lines for their dealers. Robin Schumacher and I have spent a considerable amount of time looking into quite a few areas and product categories in order to find both “the next big thing” as well as a line we can support our dealers and customers to the fullest with. Speed Passion seemed almost too good to be true at first, and the more we worked with them on the product line, the more we realized that not only is it all true, but it’s BETTER than we first thought.
(Click here for the rest)

Anyone can throw out some “insert your made up brand name here” brushless products and have some success right now just due to the pure demand for it. Where I see Schumacher USA having REAL success with Speed Passion is the simple concept that in order to truly and fully support a product line, you must first have a total command of the technology as well as a complete base of experience in all of its real-world applications. This is where I come into the equation on a personal level. I’ve been living, breathing, eating, and sleeping brushless tech in cars since the name “Mamba” came to me in 2003. (Funny how a successful career in RC Product Development and Marketing can stem from winning a $20 prize for “name our new product” huh? LOL!) I have a unique experience base starting out as a racer myself in the ‘80s, then working in the industry developing and marketing the most groundbreaking brushless products both the aircraft and basher car markets had ever seen in the early 2000’s. Now I find myself full-circle in several ways with a company that not only has intense championship winning racing roots and currently engineers some of the highest level race vehicles available, but also manufactures some of the fastest and most basher loved RTR vehicles of all time. I know and understand what the pro level racers want and need in an ESC. I also know and understand what the guys doing 60+mph in their front yard want and need in an ESC. And I have been very lucky to have been exposed to being on the “inside” of the software and hardware design aspects of high level brushless ESCs and motors for many years.
All of this adds up to what I suppose is the “short answer” to the question: I have the experience and technical knowledge base to KNOW this product inside and out, and KNOW it is the real deal. The more I drive it, the more it impresses me on new levels every day. I firmly believe the GT ESC is simply the most technologically advanced ESC on the market today. I’m personally proud to distribute and fully support a product that I think moves brushless technology a big step forward for racers and bashers alike. We jumped into the BL market because we found a product worthy of getting behind 100%, and we are capable of developing it further as well as supporting it for our dealers and customers alike like no other.

2. The BL world really is buzzing about your “hybrid” technology. In theory, it seems to be the next step in BL technology. Can you explain to the average driver what this is, how it works, and what the advantage is here?

Before the GT ESC, ESCs have been locked into one or another mode of operation, andeach has some distinct advantages and disadvantages: Sensored operation (using sensor wires and a Hall effect sensor in the motor) essentially “slaves” the ESC into the motor’s sensor array for information as to where the rotor is, and how to make it do exactly what the driver is commanding.Sensored operation has always exclusively given the user beautiful and accurate control over the motor regardless of it’s directional and/or power state. Starting from zero rpm, wanting to go forward from a state of rolling backward, feathering the throttle through a sweeper – it’s all done accurately and smoothly. However, one of the areas it falls short on is with timing advance for the motor. Since it’s taking direction completely from the sensor array, it’s “locked in” to the advance level that the physical array is currently positioned in. There are no timing advance tuning options available from the ESC at all, and in most cases no easily attained options on the motor itself either. Sensored brushless systems have been available in the hobby for decades now and because of their directional and start from zero rpm consistency and reliability they have become the accepted standard among racers.

Sensorless operation uses only the three main motor power wires, and a whole lot of sophisticated software within the ESC in order to determine not only the motor’s rotor position, but its current state and then how to deal with it in order to make it do what the driver commands of it. The accuracy and observed smoothness of a sensorless system from a state of zero rpm, rolling backwards or feathering through a sweeper tends to depend entirely upon the motor itself. Generally when paired with a sensorless motor, the best ESCs can manage almost acceptable performance for most racers. In a bashing environment, the minor eccentricities and brief periods of ESC confusion and/or delay are easily overlooked by the sheer power and speeds these systems are typically capable of. When paired with sensor based race legal motors however, sensorless ESCs historically have shown a severe lack of accuracy and smoothness very few racers can accept. Once the motor is under way however, the sensorless design shows it’s real strengths. Unencumbered by a sensor array to “slave” it to the motor, the ESC is free to be able to alter timing advance at will, as well as use the actual and more accurate millisecond by millisecond electronic feedback from the motor itself in order to drive it with top efficiency (most power at less current). So instead of relying on a fixed physical sensor unit to only “know” where the rotor is at a particulartime in order to drive the motor, the sensorless ESC can “know” not only where the rotor is, but under what torque state it’s in, what it’s been doing recently, what timing advance is best for it’s current state, and a host of other useful information that a sensor based ESC by definition just can’t know about the motor.
So what if you could have the best of both worlds? All the accuracy and smoothness of a race legal sensored system, PLUS the running efficiency and advanced tuning options of sensorless? Well there’s no need to dream, because that’s EXACTLY what the Speed Passion GT ESC gives you. While the sensor based designers are “lockedin” to their Hall sensors, and the admittedly genius sensorless software designers remain “directionally confused”, The Speed Passion GT has it all, and has it RIGHT NOW.

Sensored control and accuracy when it’s needed, and sensorless efficiency once things are smoothly moving in the correct direction is the reality of “Hybrid Drive”. Top level racers have already discovered they can get more power and speed from ANY brand of sensored motor with the GT ESC. It’s a true competitive advantage on any track, and this is only one of the many things I’m so excited about with this ESC!

3. You’ve got plenty of trigger time in with your new system. Myself, and I’m sure all our readers realize that you are very biased, but lay it out there- what’s it drive like compared to a sensored Novak system and a non-sensored Castle system?

For better or worse, I’ve always been more honest than biased, and honesty is what you’ll get here. Firstly – I’m no top level racer. Never have been, never will be. I admire the drive and dedication it takes to be really REALLY good at whipping a car around the track with both speed and consistency, but I prefer to keep my hobby as just that – a hobby that provides fun and relaxation and not a continual quest to practice, perfect, compete and win on the track. All of my ego is purely focused on my professional business performance and my insatiable drive for customer satisfaction and happiness with the products I’m providing, and therefore the financial success of the company I’m (happily) busting my butt for. I truly enjoy dirt oval racing, and because of that enjoyment I think I’m pretty good at it. I’m racing a lot of touring car right now, but mostly to learn the Schumacher car itself in order to provide better support for our race team and our customers. But ultimately, things haven’t changed much at Schumacher from how they’ve been for me over the last 5 years or so – I’m still putting in three to six hours of drive-time a week. Speed Passion testing/evaluation/tech knowledge, CORE lipo testing/cycle lives, comparative testing with other BL systems, tire testing, Novak HV system testing in our 8th scale onroad car (WOW!), and of course some high speed stuff thrown in as well. J I think it’s safe to say that my personal Mi3 has more miles on it than any 10 Mi3’s in the world! My sales guy Adam will actually hide his Mi3 in his truck, or purposely take it home for days at a time when he knows intensive testing is going to happen – he doesn’t want me abusing his “race car” like I abuse my “test bed” LOL!
So where were we? Oh – drive feel differences! Any time I’ve driven a dedicated sensored system like a Novak or LRP, I’m always taken back to the days decades ago when I flew the first sensored brushless aircraft systems from MaxCim. The throttle smoothness and “direct” power feel is really nice. I really can’t criticize the
“drive feel” at all, except for the limited “profiles” they generally give you to pick from. My time at Castle really taught me exactly how much you can/should expect from a brushless ESC, and the purely sensored systems leave me wanting for more to play with to dial in exactly how I like it to feel, and things to change to match different track conditions.

The Castle systems will always be near and dear to my heart, because there’s just so much of me and my work in them. I worked for what must have been MONTHS with the engineers just on the internal throttle curve/observed throttle feel of them to get the default “linear” curve just right. There was so much power there that the line between “on/off switch” and “just ugly” feel was very fine. One of my proudest moments was during that process where I’d sent the latest beta software with a throttle feel I finally really liked out to our sponsored drivers, and one of them called me back almost immediately to say “IT’S PERFECT – DON’T TOUCH IT!!!”. And I didn’t J . Years later, it still gives me warm fuzzies to see a vast majority of Mamba drivers using the stock throttle curve just because they like it – even with the ability to endlessly manipulate it via the software.
As far as a comparison from the Max to a pure sensored system or the GT – I apologize for not having a better term for it, but the sensorless feels raw to me. Whether you know it or not, there is a great deal of power limiting going on in every brushless system out there. And whether it’s on purpose or by the nature of all the systems using sensors (full time or not), to me they feel a little more evened out and refined than any purely sensorless system I’ve driven. Now in all honesty, one man’s “refined” is another’s “too soft” so it’s all about personal feel here!

So here’s an interesting personal tidbit for you: The GT throttle curve is a little too soft on the bottom and then it comes on like a freight train at the top for me personally. The first time I drove it, I remember I made a mental note to myself to design a throttle curve in my Tx, and then send that to Speed Passion immediately to “fix” it. Luckily, the “fix” didn’t happen as several of our top drivers loaded up their betas within a few days and proceeded to tell me it was the best feeling ESC they’d ever driven! Like I said above – I’m no top racer, so I guess I like something a little different than what the “real” racers all adore for a throttle curve! The first round of final product hit just before the Novak race at S&N Trackside, and the rest of the team drivers echoed their love of the “feel” of the GT. So what’s it drive like? Apparently if you race – you’ll love it! As for me – I still chuck some negative expo at it from my radio and I love it too.
It’s typical sensored style smooth with the sensor wire hooked up, and I really like the immediate and always accurate throttle response after a spinout or controlled drift. It has a “right now” feel that I really like – kind of like going from a standard steering servo to a super fast digital. It just does exactly what your finger is telling it to do all the time.
The first time I took the sensor wire off the 13.5 motor with the GT, I was expecting to see the same horror story you hear about with sensorless controllers trying to drive high turn sensor based motors. But what I saw really shocked me – and I mean it truly threw me for a complete emotional loop there for a few hours. There I was standing there looking down at my Mi3 in disbelief as this ESC was doing everything I could throw at it accurately and smoothly every single time right in front of my eyes. I drug poor Adam away from his desk to watch my testing and said “Look at this! Look at this! NO CONTROLLER IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW CAN DO THIS!” I was just stunned, and I’m actually STILL stunned at the accuracy I never knew was possible with a sensorless mode controller on a sensor based motor. Rolling backwards and hit the throttle – accurate acceleration every time with no stutter. Starting hard from a dead stop – clean launch every time. Feathering drifting corner – smooth and clean every time. I must have run 3 or 4 packs back to back through my poor car just doing all the things I’ve learned can trip up a sensorless ESC over and over trying to just ONCE see it stumble or stutter, and it never happened. I haven’t really talked about all this in public yet, because part of me is still in disbelief about how good this ESC really is. My brain is still having trouble processing the fact that my eyes have actually seen the very things I’ve been told just weren’t possible. As I’ve said above – this product continues to impress me on a different level every time I drive it, and I’m still coming to grips with talking about all the incredible things it’s doing “under the case” because it still seems too good to be true, and I’ll leave it at that for now.

4. I know these are probably going to be the most commonly asked question about your system, but I want to be the first to ask them!!! Is the new Schumacher BL system better for bashing, or for racing?

In my opinion, there is still room on the market for a single ESC to “be absolutely everything to everyone”. I could lay out the specs for it here, but there’s no need for the competition to know what that ESC will do! So with that said, the GT is not a controller for everyone everywhere driving everything. I’m still working with Speed Passion on that one J.
For the racer, the GT not only has it all, but it’s got stuff the racers don’t even know they need yet. That last bit of edge is what every racer wants, be they top level drivers with the best equipment in the world wheeling against the rest of the top ten, or the club guy having a blast at the track and being happy with finishing the race. The extra measure of efficiency and thus “oomph” out of any motor only the GT gives you can win you races if you can keep it off the wall. (Adam and I haven’t figured that last part out yet, so don’t look to us as driving examples! LOL) Cooler temps via more efficient running mean your equipment comes off the track in better shape, and gives you a little more fudge factor in gearing selection. The unique ability to use timing advance as a tuning tool for your sensor based motors is also a real advantage. Don’t tweak the endbell – just push a programming button!
And that leads to the biggest advantage of all, regardless of how you’re using the GT – “trackside” programming with the little programming box (included). I can’t get over how cool it is to run a few laps (on the track or on the street), pull over and connect the programmer, dial in more of this, dial out more of that, and your back on the throttle in 15 seconds for more action.

Complete software beta/rev testing used to take me several hours, multiple battery packs and countless trips back and forth to the PC. But I was able to go through all the combinations of settings and modes with the GT ESC in less than one battery pack!
For the basher, the GT is capable of 3s lipo (4s to be tested soon) and has nearly the current capability of the top line 10th scale sensorless systems out there. I’ve played with some wicked motor setups, and again – the capability especially for it’s size impresses me. It’s fully temperature protected, so high-power “ludicrous speed” bashing and street racing can be approached without fear for the ESC.
Will it run an 8th scale truggy on 4s? Probably not. Are there other options out there more suited for pure brute power with no regard for track feel/legality? Sure there are. And heck – are there cheaper options if you just want to go really fast in your front yard? Absolutely.

As an exercise of “I reject your reality and substitute my own” – let’s turn the question around. Asking if it’s better for bashers or for racers implies that the two are mutually exclusive groups. I don’t believe that’s the case. While I do know a bevy of Schumacher Team drivers that all throw up in their mouths a little when I tell them I’ve taken my Mi3 out in the dirty dusty potholed back parking lot for an hour straight session of Speed Passion ESC/motor and Core Lipo torture testing, and I also know hundreds of drivers who would sever their own arms at the shoulders and have to learn to drive with their feet rather than to step foot on an actual race track, I truly believe there are an astounding number of folks just like me that can appreciate BOTH.
Having a car that only touches the “officially sanctioned by ROAR and personally blessed by Dawn Sanchez” surface of a race track for it’s entire lifespan seems a waste of some perfectly good driveway drifting experiences, and ultimately leaves me wondering – didn‘t you get into all this because it was all about driving cool toy cars??? And alternately, doesn’t jumping ever bigger mounds of dirt while your buddy (who owns the vidcam) puts his life on the line every Saturday afternoon to get “the perfect RC carnage shot” get a little boring after the 23rd week? (Well, OK – the quest for bigger dirt mounds and the perfect carnage shot every week doesn’t actually get boring EVER, but I took a shot at the racer guys so I had to take a shot at you too just to be fair… I’ll see you Saturday and don’t forget the extra memory stick…) We have a customer at the shop that’s become a good friend, and he bashes a brushless XXXT around a set of cones in the street with his neighbors , and disturbingly seems to be absorbing my “need for speed” in the ever escalating neighborhood power wars. He also races touring cars with us every other Sunday, and is a darn good wheel. I threw a set of drift wheels on my race-prepped Mi3 and gave an impromptu drifting exhibition while we were all just waiting for the race track to dry out last weekend. So are Patrick and I “racers” or “bashers”? I think there are tons of folks out there that enjoy all aspects of RC driving just like Patrick and I do, (in moderation of course!) and this is exactly the market the Speed Passion GT ESC speaks to. We’ve never had the option of having an uncompromising race legal speed control on Sunday, that you can then throw 3s and a 5700 motor on it for a Wednesday night 60mph neighborhood drag session. I’ve seen forum posts asking for this exact ESC “dual functionality” for several years now. You actually now can have the best of both worlds in one ESC. I think there are racers and bashers in each of us, and the GT ESC allows them both to get the full enjoyment out of our cars.
Better for on-road or off road? A good ESC is a good ESC – period. On road and off road both require some unique ESC settings to tailor the throttle feel to your own driving style, and the GT has a wide range of acceleration softening settings (DRRS) to accommodate both. We’ve had strongly positive reports from both track styles about the throttle feel and adjustability so far, and they just keep pouring in.

Oval? Of course! My racing of choice has yet to have my personal GT thrown down on it, but it’s just a matter of time!

Good for high speed running? Ah – speed runs! A subject close to my heart for sure. Interestingly enough, Nic Case, A.J. Lovering (UK) and I have been developing some new speed run rules together designed around 2s battery packs. 2s lipos and essentially “off the shelf” cars make (in our view) speed running competitions a little more accessible with a class like this. I’ll be beginning my 2 cell testing program with the GT in time to make the “big dance” this year if Air Age accepts our new 2s class designation. I think 2s has a real ability to approach/exceed the 100mph range with essentially off the shelf equipment, and I can’t wait to throw my two cents in the ring with Speed Passion power.

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Posted by in Interviews, Schumacher on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 at 9:51 am