It takes a lot of planning to run a successful drone race. We have a two-part series that’s only just an overview of what’s involved. But if you’re willing to eschew blazing speed for the humble micro quad, things get a whole lot easier. Here’s a simple formula that anyone can use to pull a successful race together. Okay, so there’s a little bit of planning involved—but if you’re familiar with the big productions needed to get 5″ racers coordinated, you may be amazed at just how simple small-scale racing can be.
The type of racing we’re describing here is not strictly fair. It’s casual, inclusive, and a great deal of fun. You can still have tough, close, friendly competition—but it’s important to keep it informal if you want to set up with a minimal amount of work and still keep everyone happy.
Classes: One critical piece that makes this all possible is a very small size and weight. Allow only 1S quads that are fully ducted: a modded Inductrix, an AcroBee, the Tiny Whoop Racer, and so on. Require that everyone uses Raceband. There’s no real need to be picky about specs beyond these.
Selecting a Venue: With micro quads, safety is barely a concern; you can run a ducted quad full-speed into your face and not suffer a scratch. Obviously, don’t select a porcelain art museum for your venue, but a great many locations you visit every day could be suitable. Don’t forget your own home—I’ve had a great time racing in the smallest of apartments. If you’re indoors, FAA rules don’t apply. Get permission from the property owner, and you’re good to go. If you can then designate an area for pilots to sit that isn’t too close to the course, that helps.
Race Regulations: Nothing needs drawn up. The rules are: no powering on if quads are in the air, and don’t be a dick. If you miss a gate or obstacle, turn around and do it over again. That’s really all you need.
Prizes: Don’t offer any. When there’s something on the line, some people can’t help but become competitive and strongly concerned with fairness. This structure isn’t set up to handle that kind of seriousness, so it’s best to just not go there.
Course layout: Whatever is available! Make sure you clearly define the start/finish line, but otherwise just be creative with what’s around you. If you can’t mark it clearly, then keep it short—nobody wants to forget where the course is when they are flying. If you need some ideas, take a look at our article on course design.
Running the Event
Frequency Management and Heat Setup: Use Raceband channels 1, 3, 6, and 7. They’re easy to switch between, and this set avoids IMD. Assign each pilot to a channel and split into race heats (one pilot per channel per heat, of course). Pilots who have just finished racing become spotters for the next set of racers; each pilot spots for the pilot running the same channel they are. There’s no need for registration; you can hand out channels as people arrive. However, once heats are assigned, no more pilots can join in. Set aside 15 minutes or so where nobody is allowed to fly so everyone can change their channels and test out video. Then, everyone gets a practice race or two to learn the course.
Race Structure: Have one person who is not racing this heat, (better if they’re not racing at all,) be in charge of a timer. Set it for a 90 second countdown. This person should call for a thumbs-up from all pilots to confirm they are ready. Once everyone is set, call for arming. Then, within about 5 seconds, call “go”. This person also announces when there’s 1m left, 30s, 15s, and every second from 5 to 0. Each spotter counts the number of laps the pilot completes, and lets the pilot know if they have missed any gates/obstacles on the course. When time runs out, finish the lap you are on and it counts, too. Allow spectators and spotters to flip quads back over after a crash, because it keeps people in the air having a good time. However, if someone crashes after time runs out, they don’t get to finish that last lap. Write the lap counts down where everyone can see them.
Scoring: Run rounds until you’re out of time or batteries! You can easily run a heat every 5 minutes, which makes for a whole lot of racing! Drop each pilot’s worst round (everyone’s entitled to a bad one) and add them all up to get a final points total. If you have a tie, do a race-off! Everyone enjoys watching the final showdown. Or you could always run a final heat and have the lap count totals serve as a qualifier. Your final should be a ‘first to X laps’ format so there isn’t another tie.
Almost anyone who wants to can make this type of race event happen with minimal effort. You don’t need much more for supplies than a score sheet and a timer. It’s almost a zero-effort solution that’s great for setting up racing at the drop of a hat, and it works just about anywhere. Whether it’s a school gym, a maker space, or just the basement exercise room, if you’ve got a group of pilots with micro quads, you’ve got a race day. Finding the pilots will probably be the hardest part.
There are, of course, all kinds of ways to take it up a notch: custom gates, a large display board, use of a timing system, (we love the LapRF for this and cast it to a nearby large screen when possible,) and so on. None of these are essential, so don’t let them stop you. Getting an informal, approachable ‘whoop race’ group going might give you the inroads you need to start a more competitive race group with full-size race quads. It also brings in new people and is a perfect way to spend the off-season.