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Friday, 02 May 2014 02:41

Shine in the Red Bull Air Race: Master Class and Challenger Cup

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Red Bull Air Race - Paul Bonhomme 3

After three years break the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is back on track. It is the fastest motorsport series on the planet. It started on February 28th in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and it finishes next November in China, after having stopped in six different locations around the world. This season 12 elite pilots compete in the Master Class. Former champion Paul Bonhomme is among them.


Red Bull Air Race - Paul Bonhomme 2

Paul Bonhomme, actual winner

This year there is an exciting new ingredient: the Challenger Cup (CC), which makes the whole event even more compelling. There areeight ambitious pilots want to prove they have the skills to get the Superlicence required to fly in the Master Class. While the current master class pilots are performing the qualifying flights, the Challenger Cup pilots are competing to develop their low altitude flying skills under race conditions.  Being this a big chance to experience the thrills of this sport.

The head of aviation at the Red Bull Air Race, Sergio Pla explains that after the last championship in 2010 they realized that something was missing. Subsequently they created the air Challenge Cup that fills the gap existing between the "standard aerobatics competition and the high speed low level air races".

The Challenger Cup Pilots have a lot of experience flying and they compete in very similar circuits to the ones being used for the Master Class. Nevertheless these circuits are slightly shorter and less complicated than the Master Class ones. They use standard aircrafts with less performance, the race pace is slower and they experience weaker media pressure. 

Red Bull Air Race - François Le Vot 2

A new generation of pilots racing for Challenger Cup

The Red Bull Air Race is providing the same types of aircraft, an Extra 330LX, in order to offer equal opportunities to the pilots. So, the competition will focus on the pilot’s skills. According to one of the top Spanish aviators and currently one of the CC pilots, Juan Velarde, you need the pylons in order to train. So unfortunately you can’t do it at home. Besides the official Red Bull Air Race Trainings, the only thing you can do is to prepare your physical shape, especially cardio, and train your g tolerance.

Apart from Velarde, there are also seven young prodigies who will compete in the Challenger Cup: Tom Bennett from Great Britain, Mikael Brageot and Francois Le Vot from France, Petr Kopfstein from the Czech Republic, Peter Podlunsek from Slovenia, Daniel Ryfa from Sweden and Claudius Spiegel from Germany.At present and after the races in Abu Dhabi and Rovinj, Le Vot occupies first place in both races and he is the provisional leader of the CC.

Each CC pilot is required to fly a minimum of three races, but they can compete in all of them if they wish to. The best six pilots of the season are invited to the final Challenger Cup race, where they are fighting for a cockpit in the Master Class.

Red Bull Air Race - Hannes Arch AUT Paul Bonhomme GBR Pete McLeod CAN - Award Ceremony
Award Ceremony in Abu Dhabi - Hannes Arch (AUT), Paul Bonhomme (GBR), Pete McLeod (CAN)

Sergio Pla explains that the requirements to participate in the Red Bull Air Races are very strict because all the pilots must engage a Qualifying/Training Camp (QTC). There are some requirements to be invited to QTC. For example, the pilots must have a CPL, more than 1,000 flight hours, a good ranking in an international unlimited aerobatic championship or an equivalent experience. According to Pla and referring to aerobatics championship: “there isn’t another sport where we can see such a potential from the pilots. Although they fly higher compared to RBAR, and they do not compete for time, they are in a rivalry environment looking for perfection in each figure. That requires a huge physical and mental demand from each pilot all the time, similar to what they will be required from the air race”. They also evaluate their personality, reputation for flight safety, etc. In the case of the Challenger Class, they want a good compromise of age and experience. Pla adds that all their Master Class and Challenger Cup pilots take at least 2 QTCs, so they learn to fly circuit pylons safely. The profile of the pilots is similar and aerobatic flight training is essential.

According to Velarde, flying aerobatics is the only way to obtain the sensitivity needed to fly a plane at high G’s and high angles of attack near the stall, at any flying attitude and at such low altitude and high speed. In that environment the pilot’s reactions must be intuitive, they don’t have time to think. Especially if something goes wrong they have to react in tenths of a second.

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Francois Le Vot in Abu Dhabi

Participating in the Red Bull Air Race Master Class is a dream of many and the Challenger Cup is a good opportunity to get to it. Velarde explains that it is a very rewarding experience itself, a chance of becoming a better and more complete pilot and a chance to jump to the Master Class. He quotes ‘There are very few people in the planet who can fly through a race track at nearly 400 km/h, and I just feel tremendously fortunate for being one of them. In addition it’s a huge pleasure to work with such a group of outstanding professionals. I’m surrounded by the best among the best, and that’s a great satisfaction’.

CC pilots will compete energetically to get a seat in the Master Class next year. The current MC championship is formed by Paul Bonhomme, from the United Kingdom, who began with a victory as well as Hannes Arch from Austria; American Kirby Chambliss, who won the world title in 2004 and 2006; Nigel Lamb (UK); Matt Hall (AUS); Peter Besenyei (HUN); Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA); Michael Goulian (USA); Matthias Dolderer (GER); Yoshi Muroya (JPN); Pete McLeod (CAN) and Martin Sonka (CZE).  

Al Fursan
Al Fursan, the aerobatics demonstration team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force.




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