Interview: Fred Medel, Head of Marketing for Tamiya USA
RCF1: Hi Fred, thanks for agreeing to share your views. First a little background, what is your role at Tamiya USA?
FM: I’m the head of marketing for Tamiya USA. I’m responsible for many aspects of the U.S. organization. I handle all the marketing as it relates to advertisements, product placement, trade shows, racing events, licensing research, new product research and customer service relations. As part of our racing activity initiative I organize the Tamiya Championship Series (TCS), which is a great marketing tool for our line-up of radio control products. I also handle our sponsored U.S. drivers in the USA as they too can be used as a marketing tool.
RCF1: How long have you worked in RC and why did you choose this career?
FM: I’ve worked in RC for about 23 years. Fifteen of those years have been for Tamiya America. I really didn’t choose the R/C (hobby industry) career. It chose me in a funny twist of fate kind of way. While in college I was offered a part time job at a nearby hobby store in West Los Angeles.
At the time I was studying architecture and the store I frequented carried model architectural supplies as well as models and R/C cars. I had recently picked up my first R/C car in that store, which by chance was a Tamiya product. Prior to this I had no idea what an R/C kit car was or that Tamiya made them. As a young teenager I only knew model making and I stumbled on Tamiya’s F1 models. Working at the store helped both my architectural ambitions and my newly discovered R/C hobby. During that time I began racing R/C cars for fun. I was fortunate to have some of the best RC tracks within a decent driving distance. While I was still in college I became disillusioned with the architectural field and I was about to change directions. Before beginning the process of changing directions I decided to enter one last race before retiring from the racing hobby. In short, I won the Tamiya TCS Nationals. I went to Japan for the Tamiya World Championships, met some great people within the organization and six months later was offered an entry level position within the American organization. There it is in a nutshell.
RCF1: How long have you been racing and when did you first race F1?
FM: I’ve been racing since 1989. In regards to F1 cars I began racing them in 1993 when Tamiya released the Williams FW14B F102 chassis. By that time I had stopped racing because I didn’t care for the unrealistic looking cars that had taken over the pan car scene, but a friend and mentor of mine formed a Club called FORCE, which stood for “Formula One Radio Control Enthusiasts”. He organized local parking lot races around Southern California which got me back to racing. It was a cool club and Formula One took off in a big way. It was a low cost and simple class to race that stressed set up and driver skill. It also emphasized realism. If we saw an extra wing element in the full size car we added it to our R/C replicas. It was a great time to race R/C. Unfortunately, the F-1 enthusiasm died off by 2001 as Touring Car had taken over completely.
RCF1: What are the highlights of your racing career so far?
FM: There are a few highlights in my racing activities. I’d have to say winning the Tamiya Championship Series Finals in 1996 (6 months prior to me being offered a position at Tamiya America) is at the top of my list. I won that in the Front Drive class. The KO Propo Grand Prix in 2004 was dear to me too as I won the 19Turn class with a Tamiya Touring Car. My current endeavor and highlight is racing in the UF1 series. One of my best friends convinced me to club race again. We’re doing the team championship within the series and thus far working together with a team mate has been amazing. We’re working together to push each other to go faster and we’re using strategy to stay ahead of the other teams. It’s been a fun ride as R/C racing in general lacks team building and working together.
RCF1: No manufacturer makes an F1 Ready-To-Run. Have Tamiya considered releasing an F1 RTR?
FM: Actually, we have considered it and have done it. About two years ago we had the Ferrari F60 available as a RTR product. We’re not sure if we will do this again in the future. Items of this nature can be expensive to produce. As you probably know the technology in our polycarbonate body making process is second to none. The manual labor to paint, finish, sticker and assemble them is daunting and expensive. Direct drive R/C cars are challenging if not difficult for the average RTR consumer to handle. They’re also not ideal for bashing in front of the house. They’re more suited for smooth parking lots and purpose built tracks. We would have to come up with a completely different product to make it appealing to the RTR masses. As it stands now, our current Formula One products in R/C are strictly marketed to hobbyists who enjoy the time it takes to properly build and finish our kits. In today’s world of pre finished and assembled items, we realize that’s a small niche group.
RCF1: Australia is enjoying renewed interest in RC F1 and are working towards national class rules. As the organiser of the USA Tamiya Championship Series (TCS) and a participant in the UF1 Series in Southern California what motor combination would you recommend we consider in order to best grow the class here?
FM: For at least two decades we stuck to the standard Mabuchi [silver can] motor. It comes in the kit and it’s cheap to replace. Since the F1 class uses direct drive transmissions the demon tweaks done to the motors were negligible since you only have so much traction. With that said, Mabuchi motors are archaic and just like real F1 the newest technology seems to be favored by hobbyists. In both UF1 and TCS we have found that a brushless 21.5 using “blinky” or ZERO boost speed controls has been the best formula for the class. It has plenty of power and once the motor is installed you rarely have to touch it. The only time you’ll touch the motor is to clean it or adjust the mechanical timing for different track conditions. Zero boost ESC’s have become inexpensive and you don’t need the latest and greatest to be competitive.
[Since this interview the F1 National Rules have been adopted in Australia and 21.5 "blinky" has become the motor for most clubs and national events.]
RCF1: Why did Tamiya release the F104 Pro v2? Is it a replacement for the T-Bar chassis version 1 or is it complementary?
FM: Tamiya’s designers saw the need to take the F104 platform to the next level. Primarily they wanted to target the racing group of customers that want the latest in chassis design for racing purposes. T-Bar cars work well, but they are a thing of the past with regards to direct drive chassis design. T-bar designs have one big disadvantage and compromise. The roll and pitch of the rear end are interconnected via the T-bar and that is not ideal when trying to solve a handling problem on the track. The T-bar has a flex pitch characteristic and it’s tied to the pitch damper. No matter how soft you make your damper, it will be compromised by the flex characteristic of the T-bar. T-bar cars also bounce over bumps rather than absorb them. This can cause the car to skip or slide. The PBLR (Pillow Ball Link Rear) suspension used in our RM-01 [1/12th scale pan car] chassis was adapted to the F104V.2 and solves these issues. What you get is a completely independent roll and pitch movement, which results in a car that is very consistent. It is not interconnected by anything that would compromise your tuning. In the end the F104V.2 is complimentary to the standard F104. It’s just meant for R/C racers looking for the best we have to offer while still offering entry level hobbyists with a standard and less complicated version [in the F104 and F104 Pro].
RCF1: What is your role with the v2?
FM: Well, if you mean if I had any input on its design I would say no, though I did make recommendations to update the car with some kind of PBLR suspension. However, I was one of many within the company and outside of the company that wanted this new design to be used. Luckily for everyone, who’s a F1 R/C fan, our wish came true. My main role with the V2 is simply to market it and campaign it whenever I get the chance. UF1 has allowed me to do that. By participating in the series I’m more connected to the customer or potential customer that will be making a purchasing decision. My role is to show them and explain to them the key differences in the V2 versus the V1. By participating and doing well within the series I can demonstrate what I’m saying is translating to what they’re seeing on the track. It’s been a lot of work for this one product given that I’m responsible for the hundreds of other products we make.
RCF1: You wrote the excellent article "F104 Version II Detailed Overview". Are there other F1 articles inside you waiting to get out?
FM: Yes. I need to put down on paper what I have learned over the past several months with regards to tuning the V2. There’s a lot to say in that department and I believe our customers will get a lot of usefulness out of it. I’m going to tackle it soon. I’m going to approach it from the Set Up Sheet point of view. There’s a lot of information that can be put on the setting sheet, but looking at it from the outside there’s a lot there that can confuse the beginner or intermediate driver. I’m going to be going through every call out on the sheet to explain what each adjustment does and means.
[Since this interview Fred has done just that in his excellent video series. Refer to the bottom of this article for a link]
RCF1: Full scale F1 has a huge fan base worldwide. How could this be leveraged to dramatically increase participation in RC F1?
FM: Whenever something is popular in professional sports it has a way of filtering to the masses in some way or another. In soccer we have tons of kids playing in leagues. After the Olympics we have tons of people running all of a sudden trying different activities. F1 is a different animal in that we just can’t simply jump into an open wheel car and give it a go. However, we have seen a mass increase in simulation type racing games such as CodeMasters F1 series and others that have become more popular due to the mass marketing of F1 across the globe. R/C racing is a different beast as it must be shown and demonstrated to get the message across. You would not believe how many people to this day say “I had no idea these things were that advanced or that they exist”. I believe the best way to capitalize is to actually put on an event during any one of the many Grand Prix’s around the globe. Basically, you’re putting on a trade show type event with racing as the focus. I currently do something like this in the USA at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. We’ve been at it for 3 years and we’re still tweaking our strategy.
RCF1: If there's anything else you'd like to say that you think our readers might be interested in please feel free.
FM: Racing R/C cars can be a lot of fun. I believe racing RC cars is the only way you can learn more about the hobby and the products used within the hobby. I also think it’s a great tool to teach young kids and older kids like us fundamentals in mechanics and electronics. I’ve often seen racing escalate to where it becomes too expensive and too hard core. Do whatever it takes not to fall into that trap. When this happens people lose interest and move on. I’ve been there and done that. Once you make the initial investment with a RC F1 car, they are cheap to maintain. I spend more time detailing my body and tires than I do working on the chassis. If your readers are forming clubs make sure to keep the club fun with consistent rules. The rules should balance realism and level headed performance. That’s what we strive to do with TCS and UF1. Lastly, I would emphasize teams. The team concept we are doing in UF1 is fun. You are working together with a team mate to go faster, but you’re also working together to paint a team body set and it looks awesome on the race track. I’ve had more fun doing the team portion of the series than anything else I’ve done in racing. Racing R/C cars is usually a solitary endeavor and the team concept brings more fun to the hobby. [RCF1 note: the 2013 F1 Vic Cup Series will allow teams of two to enter a “constructors championship” as an option].
RCF1: Thanks very much for taking the time Fred.
Also check out:
On our YouTube Channel you can see Fred's car on the track on the playlist "Cool F1 RC Videos" video #5.
This interview appeared in Racing Lines magazine #196 January 2013