Fast-paced changes in technology continually reshape the manner in which manufacturers communicate with consumers. Digital slot car racing has become increasingly popular over the past several years, and manufacturers have been continuously improving and developing their digital slot car systems. With so many racers looking for something more from their slot car racing set, Carrera's active and rapid develpment of their digital systems have brought the thrill of racing slot cars with a twist to a wider audience. Carrera continues to support their analog products, but the place to be with home based slot car racing is digital. That being said, the goal of this guide is to give a better understanding to you, the beginner, of what Carrera digital slot car racing is, what the parts are, and how they work.
I'd like to first suggest that you read a previous article about slot cars in general, which can be found here: http://www.lebhobbies.com/blog/2013/10/
It discusses what slot cars are and how they operate, with a little history thrown in as well. If you are new to slot cars, that short article will give you a nice picture of the hobby. If you have been racing analog slot cars of any brand on any type of track and have thought about upgrading to digital, this guide should give you all the information you need to make the final decision to begin or switch to digital slot car racing.
What is digital slot car racing? Unlike analog (non-digital) slot car racing, which allows for one car per lane, digital slot car racing aims to allow many independently controlled cars to drive on each lane and for the cars to be able to switch lanes and overtake. It introduces the challenges and elements or real motor-racing as the driver must be aware of who is behind you and who is in front, whether there are slower cars ahead of you in your lane or faster ones behind. Those are some pretty big differences so let's discuss how that works. Then we'll review the parts that are available from Carrera for digital slot car racing.
The electric slot car track uses a 'Digital Control Unit' or 'CU' like our 30352 Carrera digital 124/132 control unit. The CU is like a computer that tells the track and cars what to do with input from the racer. The CU sends a digital signal to the cars and track via the track rails. This signal is received by the digital car, which contains a digital chip. It also controls things like maximum speed, braking, lap counting, car position during racing (who is leading, and, if you are like me, who is losing), fuel levels, pit stop and pace car functions. The CU also works together with the other Carrera digital accessories to add to the racing experience. We'll cover those items in this guide as well. Each Carrera electric slot car set comes with one CU. If you currently have an analog Carrera track, you can purchase the CU separately and convert your analog track to digital.
What good is a digital track without an electric slot car? Carrera offers dozens of digital cars in three scales; 1/43, 1/32, and 1/24.* For this guide, we'll concentrate on the more popular 1/32 scale. Each electric slot car contains a digital chip. This chip does a couple of things; it provides power to the motor and lights (which not only light the way, but help with programming the cars--more on that later), and also sends/receives signals from the CU for things like lane changing and lap counting. Carrera offers their digital decoders separagely should you want to convert your analog cars to run on your digital track. You can find the decoders here:
A nice feature of the Carrera digital cars/decoders is that you can flip a dipswitch on the bottom of the chip, accessed from the bottom of the car, and run the car on analog track. After you flip the dipswitch, place the car on the analog track and pull the trigger on the controller three times in a row. It's that simple!
*NOTE: The 1/32 and 1/24 digital systems (D132 & D124) are the same and both sizes of cars are compatible with the same track and accessories. The digital 1/43 cars and track are not compatible with the larger scales.
When a racer wants to change lanes, they press the lane change button, or trigger, on the front of their controller. In doing that, the CU sends a signal to the car to activate the onboard infrared LED, which, when passed over a lane change section of track, tells the sensor in the track to actuate the lane change 'flipper'. If you press the lane change button too late, the car will not change lanes and you will have to go around the track again, or at least to the next possible lane change section, and try again. It is possible to hold down the lane change button on the controller and drive around the electric slot car track, actuating each lane change section as your car comes to it, but that's not much fun and your finger will get tired. There are several types of lane change sections offered by Carrera. Each digital set will come with at least one lane change section.
With the basics of how digital track and cars work, let's move to the available accessories from Carrera for their D132 and D124 track system. You can view these items at the following link to learn more about them:
The first accessory is the Position Tower (item #30357). The Position Tower displays the number of laps, up to 299, as well as which racer is in the lead, up to six racers. The Position Tower comes with one adapter track that the tower plugs into, which can be pllaced anywhere within the track that you'd like. This is a great item to give racers a quick look at what position they are in and how many laps have been ran.
The next item is the Lap Counter (item #30355). The Lap Counter plugs directly into the CU (item #30352), requiring no special track section. The Lap Counter disiplay is backlit, making it very easy to read, and it is easy to configure using the three push buttons next to the display. The Lap Counter makes it possible to set the number of laps for a race or a timed race, which adds to the fun of Carrera digital slot car racing. Functions of the lap counter include:
- Car position listing
- Fastest Lap
- Total race time
- Time gap to lead car
- Stopwatch, including in the Pit Lane (requires Pit Lane, Item #30356)
- Lap racing mode - 0-9999 laps
- Time based racing mode - 00:00'01" to 99:59'59" hours (HH:MM'SS")
In addition to the lights on the CU that are used for starting a race, adding the Startlight (item #30354) makes it easier for all racers to see when the race begins. The Startlight can span two track pieces (four lanes) and features five, red LEDs that light sequentially and then go out to indicate the start of the race. If there is a false start, meaning someone tries to go before the start of the race, all five LEDs will flash. The Startlight comes with two outside shoulder sections and an accessory track piece to supply power to the Startlight. The Startlight can be placed anywhere along the track.
One of my favorite features of Carrera digital slot car racing is using the Pit Lane (item #30356). When used with the fuel settings on the CU, it really adds a fun level of play to slot car racing. The Pit Lane is used just like a real pit lane, to refuel your car. When your car is out of fuel, the headlights will begin to flash and the car will adjust to a slower speed. Using the lane change trigger on the controller, you enter the pit lane. There is a sensor in the pit lane section that your car must pass over. If you pass over the sensor too fast, you will not be able to refuel and you must go around the track and re-enter the pit lane. If you enter the pit lane correctly, your lights will stop flashing and you simply hold in on the change trigger on your controller to refuel your car. The pit lane accessory includes one lane change entry, one lane change exit, one standard straight, two single lane straights, one pitstop adapter unit, and two end pieces. The pit lane is also expandable to make it longer if you would like.
A must have when using the Pit Lane, is the Driver Display (item #30353). The Driver Display features a lighted, segmented meter that allows you to see the amount of fuel in your car. As you drive around the track, the five green segments go out one at a time until they get to the last two, which are red. The red segments indicate you are very low on fuel and you need to enter the pit lane and refuel. If you run completely out, you car will still be operational, but it will operate at a very slow speed until you refuel. When the fuel mode is turned off on the CU, the meter acts as an RPM guage. Also on the display are five yellow indicator lights that will light for each tme you have entered the pit lane. The Driver Display will also show you what position you are in during the race. If you are in first, it will display a '1', second, a '2', and so on. The Driver Display can be placed anywhere around the track and each unit comes with the required adapter track, which supplies power and data to the Driver Display, and two end pieces. It must ve used with the above mentioned Pit Lane and CU.
Also available are single and dual wireless digital controllers to add on to your existing set. The Carrera Digital 132/124 2.4 GHz Wireless+ Set Duo (item #10109) comes with two hand controllers, adapter track, charging base, batteries, and track shoulder pieces. All of these items are also available separately; Wireless+ speed controller (item #10111), Double Charging Station (item#10113), Single Charging Station (item #10114), Wireless+ Receiver (item #10112). For those of you who currently have an analog set, Carrera offers wireless controllers for you as well. Carrera Evolution 2.4 GHz Wireless+ Set Duo (item #10115) connects to your track and allows you to experience racing without being 'tied' to the track with a cord. The analog wireless controllers come with one connection track piece (replaces a standard analog track section), two wireless controllers, and two track shoulder end pieces.
The Wireless+ controllers offer many features and benefits as follows:
- 2.4 GHz WIreless+ radio controlled technology
- Race up to 6 drivers
- Rechargeable, direct connection to the Carrera track
- Operates up to 49.2 ft / 15 m away
- Uninterrupted frequency due to frequency hopping
- 8 hours of non-stop operation
- Rechargeable lithium polymer (LiPo) battery
We've only touched on the many aspects of digital racing, but with the information provided above, you will have a general knowledge of how Carrera digital slot car racing works and what you can expect.