Thursday, 29 December 2011

Robin Schumacher - Exclusive interview with the man behind the off-road RC legends Schumacher Racing

My RC journalism has recently presented me with some truly awesome opportunities to talk with the people who are largely responsible for making our sport what it is today. Imagine the excitement I was consumed with when the opportunity arose to interview the man that I will boldly dub 'The Guru of 1/10th off-road racing'. Son of the original founder of Schumacher Racing, Cecil Schumacher, Robin is responsible for leading the British manufacturing legends to the very pinnacle of both production, driver sponsorship, and world class racing pedigree over the last 20 years. No matter how long you have been involved in off-road RC, no matter how old you are, no matter what car you choose to drive these days, every single one of you will graciously tip your hat with respect when the Schumacher name is mentioned.
From the first release of the now legendary CAT platform in 1986, through the years of both World Championship and European track success, to the present days beautifully crafted buggy kits and high quality team driver performances, Schumacher Racing is responsible for laying one of the fundamental building blocks to modern off-road RC racing. Robin spoke with me recently and gave us a wonderful insight into how his family continue to cement their name within the halls of radio control history....welcome to the pages of ORRC...Mr Robin Schumacher!

ORRC - What is your earliest recollection of radio controlled motor sport? Tell us the story?

Robin - In 1978 when I was 14 years old my father, Cecil, bought me a Mardave 1/12th scale car. I joined the local club and started racing. At the time RC cars were very primitive and either used a solid rear axle or expensive and heavy geared differentials. Cecil was a design engineer at Cosworth and he designed and made the first ball differential. I started winning races, so he made some more for my friends, and then the local shop wanted to buy some, and soon he became so busy making diffs in the garage that he left his job and started Schumacher Racing.

ORRC - Explain the direct connections you have had with other areas of competitive racing during your career? Has this ever influenced the templates of your vast and successful product range?

Robin - We keep an interest in all types of vehicles but what works on a real car does not always work on an RC car. We can draw on many years of experience and we always try to be innovative and create leading edge products.

ORRC - How much of a 'hands on' influence do you have during the design and manufacturing of Schumacher racing products? Explain your role?

Robin - As the Managing Director of Schumacher Racing I oversee all parts of the business from Engineering and Production through to Sales, Marketing, Budgets, and Accounting. I am involved in specifying new products but do not do any actual design or manufacturing personally.
We have a really good team of 25 staff and it is my job to coordinate everything and make sure they have what is required to do their jobs well.

ORRC - What has been your most satisfying Schumacher product release over the last decade?

Robin - Our return to making 1/10th electric off road cars after an absence of almost 10 years. We introduced the CAT SX 4WD and then the Cougar SV 2WD which have both been very innovative and successful products. They have coincided with, and probably helped contribute to, an upturn in electric off road racing.

ORRC - Can you explain a little more about the process that takes place between initial ideas for products being formed and Schumacher actually having a prototype in their hands?

Robin - The feedback from team drivers and customers, and experience at races is very important to give us direction. We then brainstorm various ideas with our engineering team. We make and test prototype parts and complete concept cars. These are then tested and refined until we are satisfied before going into production.

ORRC - Many manufacturers have moved away from belt drive in their 4wd 1/10 cars, the Cat SX 3 still uses a belt drive system. Can you explain why you choose to still use belts as the drive system in the Cat range? What are the pros and cons of such a system?

Robin - There are pros and cons to each type. Belts tend to be more efficient at higher loads and speeds and have lower rotating weight. Shaft drive cars have very good acceleration and it is easier to seal the transmission when running in very dirty conditions.
High grade carbon is widely used across the Schumacher range of vehicles. Can you give us an insight into how the very best quality carbon material is achieved?
We use top quality aerospace grade material and the layup and flex characteristics of the carbon fibre are very important to the cars handling.

ORRC - With thousands of loyal followers both in Europe and further afield, what do you feel your future contributions may be to support the racers who swear by your products? How will you continue to give back to the fans?

Robin - It is always a challenge for us to keep one step ahead of the competition and standards improve all the time. We must continuously strive to innovate, to improve quality, and make better cars.

ORRC - Who originally chose purple as a key colour within Schumacher anodised parts?

Robin - We have long debates in the office about what colour to make things, and also about product names, packaging, and the general cosmetic look of the product. I think that Vic Ababurko, our Engineering manager first suggested purple (technically it is actually violet). Since then it has stuck and become our corporate colour.

ORRC - Do you ever get chance to race your own products? As part of your product development and understanding what users are actually experiencing first hand?

Robin - I used to race a lot but since we have had children I have found it hard to find the time to do the preparation and practice required to race at a high level. I still attend many races and do some testing. It is important for me to keep in touch.

ORRC - With such a deep history in creating top quality off-road race cars, what is your philosophy when it comes to lower priced, entry level race kits aimed at occasional club drivers? Perhaps a 2wd ready to run some day?

Robin - We concentrate more on the racing market and some high end RTR vehicles such as the 80mph Fusion28. We focus on higher quality and higher performance vehicles.

ORRC - How difficult is it to stay focused on what Schumacher do so well when the scene has so many avenues of development and competitors seem to want to create 'one of everything' these days? Explain how you stay focused on your strong points as a manufacturer?

Robin - There are a lot of companies who re brand Chinese products and so it appears that they have a huge range of products but if you look closely there are only cosmetic differences between different brands. Making a genuinely new car is a big investment and we must keep in touch with trends in the market and deliver an interesting and appealing product.

ORRC - The original CAT buggy is remembered for its game changing handling and speed, and its flexibility in set-up for drivers, it clearly changed the face of off-road competition for ever. Explain how you keep that original and groundbreaking DNA alive for over 2 decades? Is it rigorous quality control? A combination of other elements?

Robin - We have high standards in all departments in our company and we must maintain this in order to protect our reputation and the good name of our brand. We are a family owned business with no outside shareholders so we can take a long term view. I am proud that we have loyal and dedicated staff and very low staff turnover so we keep the knowledge and experience within the company.

ORRC - What's your favourite spectator sport outside of RC and why?

Robin - I follow F1 and other forms of motor sport.

ORRC - With Schumacher tyres dominating the UK race market in several off-road classes, what do you think will be the logical progression with regards tyre manufacturing now race cars are getting quicker and carry more torque? Do you think we will ever see fully licensed full-scale tyre styles coming from other areas of motor sport?

Robin - It would be possible to make more sophisticated tyres but we have to be wary of making them too expensive. The control tyre system works well for the racers and I think that the current tyres perform well and are reasonably priced.

ORRC - If there was one product that you could design, RC or otherwise, and budget was no consideration, what would Schumachers world changing contribution be? What would you design and manufacture as your 'dream release'? ;)

Robin - I think there will be big developments in the next few years in more energy efficient products in all areas of life. Maybe we would make full size electric vehicles?

As I sat preparing this interview to share with you all I was overcome with a nostalgic thought. I remember standing on a wooden box, in a park, in 1988. I was about to pilot my first ever off-road buggy around a grass track that was marked out with white paint on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I remember looking down the line of friends and family members who also stood on nailed together wooden boxes holding their transmitters and concentrating on their stationary cars waiting for the starting whistle, yes I said whistle! As I nervously awaited the chance to finally drive my birthday present at full speed, a friend of mine, who was stood next to me said "You can't catch my Cat Stu".....he was correct...the day ended with me being thrashed by an original Schumacher Cat buggy...I have been a respectful fan of Schumacher products ever since.

If you want top quality British engineering with a deep history in revolutionary RC development, World Class off-road racing pedigree, and super sharp cutting edge design....get closer to a Schumacher product at the next opportunity. Every single item in their range echoes their family values, and Robin is the very embodiment of their legacy. His humble and friendly nature belie the fact that he is leading his fathers company into the future with the utmost precision...and long may it continue.

I would like to thank Robin and the Schumacher team for this wonderful interview and wish them the very best of luck with all of their RC projects in 2012.

To learn more about the full range of Schumacher Racing products visit

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