The Red Bull Air Race pilots will face two new challenges at the Ascot race on Sunday – a first-ever standing start on the race track’s infield and flying over land, instead of a water course, for the first time this year.
ASCOT, England – A first-ever standing start that is causing some of the Red Bull Air Race pilots sleepless nights could shake up the sport’s hierarchy and the static start will be one of the highlights of the race at the Ascot Racecourse on Sunday. But some of the 12 pilots are also on edge about the first land course of the season, after the first four races were staged over water courses, because Ascot is filled with obstacles – such as trees, shrubbery and undulating countryside.
The static start on the Ascot Racecourse infield will, quite literally, level the playing field with all 12 pilots trying to accelerate from zero towards a maximum speed of 370 km/h while bumping along on the grass runway instead of the usual flying start where they dive into the race track at precisely the maximum speed of 370 km/h. Several of the favorites sound concerned that the standing start could give the pilots in the back-of-the-pack an advantage on Sunday while others said they were worried they would be robbed of the usual opportunity to adjust their RPM dials while flying in a holding pattern before entering the race track.
“Clearly the weight of our plane is going to be more important with a static start like this because if you’re heavier, like us, you’ve got to accelerate more mass down the runway,” said Britain’s Paul Bonhomme, who is second overall in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship with 29 points behind Hannes Arch of Austria, who has 41 points. Bonhomme has shed about 2 kg since the last race in Poland but his plane/pilot total weight package is still about 4 kg above the 698-kg minimum weight that many of the other plane/pilots tip the scales at.
In third place overall with 26 points is Britain’s Nigel Lamb, who said he was looking forward to the new challenges of the static start and a track on land. He said there are advantages to flying over land because there are so many points of reference that can be used to analyse and compare the performances of the pilots and study that information overnight to fly even faster the next time out.
“I like the fact that it’s not a flat track, you have some texture to it so you’re flying up and down a little bit. It’s more exciting. You’ve got trees, water and all sorts of things flashing past the cockpit. The sensation of speed is just fantastic.”
One pilot who might benefit from the standing start is Canada’s Pete McLeod. He was unceremoniously knocked out of the race in Malaysia for exceeding the 370-km/h starting speed by about 1 km and is at least relieved that won’t happen in Ascot, where pilots might only be flying at about 250 km/h when they pass through the first Air Gate.
“We’ll find out whose planes accelerate the most from a static start,” said McLeod. “My Edge 540 V3 has generally been pretty good accelerating. Engine set-up is going to be an issue. Normally we have the time to do that in the holding box before coming into the track. Getting your engine set up properly to get full power on the ground is going to be a big challenge here.”