Friday, 2 December 2011

Neil Cragg Exclusive interview - World winning off-roader leads the pack

In any competitive sport the words World Champion are dreamt about, fought over, and cried in aid of. To be at one point, better than any other single person on this planet at your chosen sport must be the most exhilarating experience for any competitive person. Neil Cragg is a member of the 'World Champions' club. His long and illustrious career in off-road racing has taken him on a world-wide campaign to dominate every race class and track type that his hands have touched. He has succeeded in gathering 15 National Championships, 8 European Championships, and 1 World Championship during his time within professional racing, and judging by his recent form, he does not intend on settling with that! With Neil piloting the brand new CML Centro C4.1 conversion kit to win this years National season, it really is no surprise that he will be one to watch in the near future.

I recently had the exciting experience of interviewing Neil and really wanted to dig a little deeper into the kind of racer he is. We all know Neil is fast around a track, we all know he is an expert at high pressure International competition, but race fans always want to know more about the man behind the buggy...take it away Neil.

ORRC - What was the first race you ever entered and how did you get on?

Neil - My first race was at my Dad's club Christmas party in 1990, I was 7 years old and my dad let me race his car for the night. It was a Schumacher Cougar with a Procat body shell I think! 
I finished 3rd in the E final and got a trophy, it was awesome, I was pretty much hooked after that!

ORRC - What was your first RC buggy and at what age did you own it?

Neil - Two weeks after the Christmas party I got a Schumacher Cougar ( later called a club 10) for Christmas 1990, so I was 7 when I got my first car. I painted it plain white and it had Turtle Wax stickers on it, it looked rubbish!

ORRC - What is the most important design element in your buggy with your racing style? 

Neil - I suppose it's all about easy set-ups for me, If you can go to different tracks with a base setup and make small tweaks to suit your on to a winner. Before lipo's came into play a few years ago the b4 was amazing for this, it worked everywhere really good. Now with lipo's and mid motor cars the weight distribution in the car has become very important.

ORRC - On the National circuit, who do you consider to be your closest rival?

Neil - I don't really see anyone as a 'rival' because we're all pretty good friends in general. When I go to a electric national I know the drivers who I'm gonna have to beat if I'm gonna win, you look at lee Martin who quality, especially at 4wd, Bradders, Cockers, Yardy and old timer (Ellis!) these are as close to rivals I have I suppose! 
In 8th scale it's pretty similar, Bloomfield has really stepped up his game in the last year or so and is really difficult to beat now, Elliot boots is crazy fast but not as consistent as Bloomfield. These are the two people I'm gonna have to beat next year at the nationals if I'm gonna win!

ORRC - When you switch between 2wd and 4wd classes does it take you time to adjust between each buggy?

Neil - I don't really struggle changing between 2wd and 4wd, although it takes me a few laps to get used to 4wd because it's SO fast! If anything I struggle a little when changing from 8th scale to electric, that take a little getting use to, it's not too bad though. 

ORRC - What do you look for in a good off-road race track?

Neil - I love racing on clay tracks with a few jumps and lots of elevation changes, not too hard not too easy. I look forward to going to America because you know they don't build bad tracks! Some of the tracks over there, especially 8th scale, are pretty mind blowing and it makes for amazing racing!

ORRC - Table tops or doubles? what your favourite obstacle?

Neil - I suppose I prefer doubles and triples to a table top, but to be honest I really like any obstacle as long as its not stupid crazy. I like a big jump like the next guy but I don't wanna have to risk breaking my car every lap just to win, like at the worlds in Finland last year, in 4wd, whether you're leading by 5 seconds or running in 6th(?) you had to hit the quad flat out and pray it landed alright, it was just to BIG.

ORRC - Do you have a 'base line' set-up that works almost everywhere for 2wd off-road?

Neil - We kind of have done this year with the C4.1, but if you look at the tracks we've raced on their all really similar so setup hasn't been a drastic change from track to track. Although we've been struggling a little with setup indoors at Worksop, we've been trying some things and I don't think we'll be to far off soon.

ORRC - When you race, do you strive to drive clean steady laps consistently, or do you push as hard as possible driving 'on the edge' to win?

Neil - I try to keep it to clean and steady laps, that's what generally wins races. Although it really depends on the situation, sometimes it will be close and you'll have to add an extra 10% or you'll be hounding someone down and then your really on it and taking too many risks! Sometimes though the cars just dialed

ORRC - What advice would you give a regular club racer who wants to enter their first National race event?

Neil - Practice practice practice! Just go and have fun, don't expect to much (I finished 4th in the K final my first National!) try and learn off people and watch the fast guys, when I first started doing nationals I watched every one of Craig Dreschers (my hero) races and tried to pick up where to go fast, where to go steady. Most of all don't beat yourself up after a bad race though, just make up for it in the next one!

ORRC - Is it always best to hit the apex of every bend and push for the shortest distance around a track? or do you ever drive off the racing line?

Neil - Your always looking for the shortest way around the track but in off-road that's not always the fastest, you have to take into account jumps and elevations. I suppose your generally trying to hit 90% of apex's on most off-road tracks. I've found on slippy tracks that keeping momentum in the car is important, as apposed to hard in, handbrake, full throttle out, carving the corner should be easier and faster, hopefully!
ORRC - Astro or grass? whats your favourite or do you prefer a mixed surface when racing outdoors?

Neil - I prefer a mixed surface in all honesty, astro is ok, but I'm not a big fan of the grass, well not at National level anyway. I think we'd all like to have more clay tracks in England but weather, climate etc . Grass Is good at club, regional level. I know some people love racing on flat grass but it's just not for me!

ORRC - Since the advancements in brushless motors and lipo batteries have you had to change your driving style due to more power and run times?

Neil - I kind of struggled a little when brushless first came in, there was just no feeling, I struggled with there being no drag brake so I couldn't get my braking right at the end of straight aways. The LRP stuff is so good now though and with the advancements in technology they came make any car feel exactly how you want it which is great. As for lipo's they are just crazy! The run time is just amazing, I remember one of the first times I used them was a Kidderminster winter series round. It was open practice and I pulled my car off after 20 mins, my Dad shouted up to ask if it was flat and I said 'No, I'm bored!'

ORRC - What has been your best race meeting ever? and explain why?

Neil - My best race meeting ever is winning the world championship in Italy in 2005, it was something that I dreamt of since I started all those years ago. To be the only person from England to win an off-road world championship is something that I'm very proud of. As for just a fun meeting? The neo buggy race in 8th scale is just awesome, best drivers in the world, quality track, onside accommodation, it's just about racing for 4 days and I really enjoy it. I love going to any big race to be honest, nationals, euros or worlds.

Neil Cragg has already proven his racing calibre on the National, European, and World stage. He consistently achieves fast laps, stunning car preparation, and highly sought after race wins. If you had to take £100 of your own money and bet on one driver who is going to carry on winning, no matter what is thrown at him.....Neil Cragg would be a good bet.

Whenever you have a bad race, or just struggle to get your car spot on, remember Neils words " Practice practice practice! Just go and have fun"

Thanks go to Neil and his team over at Associated, LRP, and Reedy for showing us all that World class motor sport, even at the smaller scales, is a force to be reckoned with.

To learn more about the products supplied by Team Associated visit
To view the amazing range of products used by Neil from LRP visit
To order the C4.1 buggy conversion kit that Neil used to win this years 2wd National Championship visit
To learn more about the other great RC brands that CML distribute visit

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