Thursday January 08, 2004
The Scalextric Challenger System
One thing about our hobby is the fact there are many "lone wolf" racers who simply have no one to race with. Well after some attempts in the past to help these enthusiasts find a "partner", this new system from Scalextric had many anticipating its release.
So just how does it work? Basically this system is designed to "learn" your current circuit and once it does so, the car included would react to the different sections of your layout...just as you or another driver might. For some this system is just a novelty item and I have to admit I felt the same way at first...but novelty or not...it functioned as intended. Although this system might look complicated to some, it is one of easiest accessories to use. The instructions Scalextric have included are excellent in my book. Very clear and to the point with adequate diagrams to go with it so that anyone (even me) can be up and running in just a few minutes. With that said let us get right to it shall we?
Inside the box you see a Gantry, Gantry base, Magnet holder plate, Mercedes CLK Challenger car, 2 spare guide blades for this car and 4 "Smart Keys" that are designed to fit into different track power bases. The system instructions tell you that it is compatible with Carrera, Ninco, SCX and of course Scalextric Sport and Classic.
You will need 2 AA batteries to power the Gantry and a flat tip screwdriver to remove the battery access door. Once you have installed the batteries you simply place the Gantry in it's mount. Next you need to place the magnet holder plate on your track, with at least 30-35cm distance between it and where you placed the Gantry.
Now it is time to select the appropriate smart key for the system you are going to use. Once this is installed and your other controller is hooked up, go ahead and place the Challenger car on the lane you have the magnet bracket connected to and allow the car to slowly drive forward and it will stop where the magnet bracket is.
Now there are 3 buttons on the back of the Gantry with the top one being the "Learn" function. As the car is sitting at the magnet bracket point press this button and the car will take off and perform 2 laps to learn your layout. Once it has completed this it will come to rest at the magnet bracket position again and you are ready to race. There are 2 other buttons below the Learn function button with the middle button being the SLOW and bottom being the FAST options. I could not really tell much of a difference between the speed settings though, and I just left ours on the slow setting. Choose either button and you will see the Gantry lights count-down to the green and you are off! (to the races...literally!) You can set this system for 25 or 50 laps but I just chose 25.
So does it really work? Yes it sure does, at least it has for us. The car does speed up on the straights and slow down for the corners quite well actually (better than some "live" opponents I know) and in our tests it has kept the circuit memory very well. I tested this system on 4 different track systems and layout options and the Challenger systems worked well on all. If you find that the car is "losing its memory" and speeding up slowing down in the wrong places, try changing the batteries in the Gantry. *After further testing the Gantry does NOT need to have constant contact with the car AFTER you press the slow or fast button for racing. it simply more like a remote control unit that needs to have contact with the car to tell it to "learn"...and once it has done that, to select which speed you want it to race.
There are a few tips that are recommended though to get the most out of the system. First, do not place the magnet bracket (your start/finish line) right before a curve. Try to allow a few straight sections to allow the car to get a better feel for the circuit. I tried getting really close to a corner and after you press the LEARN function, the car just takes off a little too fast and half the time it would just de-slot.
The car itself is a good model by Scalextric but there are some tuning tips you can do to get it to perform even better. The rear tires on this car are what I refer to as "off-road" tires and need a good sanding to run optimally on tracks such as Sport, Carrera and Artin. You will need another model to sand the tires on and then transfer them to the Challenger car though. I was lazy and I added INDY GRIPS #1005 and this really helped improve the performance. These tires are slightly taller than the standard rubber but still fit perfectly. On the bottom of the car there is a switch that says CLASSIC or SPORT and I assume this allows the car to utilize brakes...but I have tested in both positions and the results seemed identical to me.
Up front you notice the special guide and that is turned to one side. The car is designed to be that way so do not try to adjust or center the guide by hand. I did find that this guide might pop off easily on a hard crash. Be careful when installing this guide as you must make sure it lines up with the spring-loaded pin inside. (if you wear out all the guides, replacements are available separately #C8283 from your dealer) Inside this model you see the electrical heart of the system and I must admit my curiosity got the best of me. NOTE* Opening this car will VOID YOUR WARRANTY so unless you really have to...leave it alone. I wish I could tell you the function of each component, but I have to admit ignorance of it. It really doesn't matter that much to me HOW it functions, I just know that it does:)
Now what other layouts can it race on? So far my results are ANY track system can be used. The reason for this is that these "Smart Keys" are really nothing more than a simple controller end that is dead-ended. So this means if you don't see a key for your type of layout, don't panic. I made an Artin key by simply using an old controller and cutting the end off and wiring it together...It worked perfectly. The magnet bracket is a simple affair as well so if you have a 4 lane or larger layout, you can just place it under the desired lane you want the Challenger car to race on. If you do this, use some tape or light drops of adhesive to keep it in place.
What about those of you who do NOT have a power base and have wired your own control stations? Well, I was in this same boat and all it took was a jumper wire like the one shown in the photo. This does essential the same thing as the smart keys and again it worked flawlessly on our system. Being able to make your own key is a good thing in case you ever lose or damage the ones for your track system.
So is it a Challenge? In the end I have to say yes. Not everyone has the same skill levels in this hobby and for many enthusiasts this system will be a decent match for them. For the advanced racer, it won't be that competitive but it functions as intended and can breathe "life" into those occasions where you are tired of racing alone. If you have been looking for people to race with...and cannot find any...I would give this system a closer look.
As always feel free to contact me about this article or just the hobby in general at firstname.lastname@example.org, or better yet drop into our Message Forum and share your thoughts with other enthusiasts!
Thanks go to Scalextric-USA for providing us with this model.