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Putting up the Air Gates for the Red Bull Air Race can be almost as challenging as flying the racetrack itself.

Putting up the Air Gates for the Red Bull Air Race can be almost as challenging as flying the racetrack itself.

The most difficult setups are on water.

“Most of our challenges have to do with nature,” says Marko van Es, who as Head of Racetrack Operations leads the setup at every stop with his colleague Ivanka Kösters. He has seen a lot since he first got involved in the sport back in 2005.

“We had a seven-meter tide difference every six hours in London, a tropical cyclone in Japan and the biggest storm in 40 years in Abu Dhabi, to name a few,” Van Es recalls. “Then there were sea lions that wanted to eat submerged cables in San Francisco, and bull sharks in the river at Perth – while we were working underwater!” 

What goes into setting up a water-based racetrack of Air Gates, with the towering pylons perched on floating barges?

“On land, you can mark the location and it will stay there. When the racetrack is on water, everything is moving,” points out Technical Team Captain Peter Maaskant. “We have different depths, sometimes high tides and low tides, and on the sea we can have big waves, big winds. These influence the position of the barges, and we work with anchors and steel wires to keep them in place.”

The base for just one single pylon in the racetrack chicane requires connecting three 40-foot (12-meter) container barges, and the anchors that hold the barges in place can weigh as much as 1,000 kilograms each. When the 25-meter pylons are inflated, they sometimes act like sails, creating a force of up to 1.5 tons on the anchor and wire cable. Amazingly, the team does all the anchoring work – using a minimum of six kilometers of cable at every stop – by hand.

To help make sure things stay where they belong, the Red Bull Air Race uses an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) at many locations. The compact unit can go down to 300 meters, sending back live images so that the crew can assess the anchor situation within minutes.

Protecting the environment in Cannes

No two stops are alike. The floor of the Bay of Cannes in France is largely covered by a seagrass vital to the ecosystem. So the team first got a sonar scan to identify where they could place conventional anchors without disturbing sea life. Then they replaced 60 percent of the steel anchor wires with 18-millimeter ropes made of a super-strong fiber (breaking load of 30,000 kilograms), and further, they made sure the ropes did not touch the grass. The team arrived at Cannes a full six weeks before the race in order to carefully mark the locations for the nine Air Gates, using the ROV and precise GPS coordinates. Just delivering all the equipment took a week, because 42 trucks were needed to bring it all in, but there was room for only one truck at a time in the Cannes marina.

The open-water challenge of Chiba

When it comes to setup, a racetrack on open water, like Chiba, Japan, is the most demanding of all – even when there is not a cyclone.

“Chiba is very unpredictable in regard to weather. With a little wind, the waves easily get to two-and-a-half meters, which is dangerous for the barges so close to shore,” Van Es explains. “At that location we work with 42 of the 1,000-kilogram anchors. Six thousand meters of 18-millimeter steel wire are used for the anchors, and between the wire and the anchor we have a 10-meter chain weighing 750 kilograms. If we do not use the chain, the wires will break!” 

A race against the clock in Budapest

The iconic Red Bull Air Race location of Budapest, Hungary is not a piece of cake, either, despite its inland setting on the Danube River. Whereas at another classic stop, Abu Dhabi, a team of nine people using three boats takes eight days to build the racetrack, which then stays in place for the duration of the event, in Budapest the track is set up in just 54 minutes every day, and then removed again within 30 minutes of the last flight each afternoon – all to facilitate shipping traffic on the Danube.

Van Es describes, “This is possible only because we work with a crew from the Hungarian Army. We build the track with 85 people and 32 boats, using five 45-kilogram anchors per Air Gate. That’s as opposed to four anchors of 500 kilograms per gate in Abu Dhabi. It’s tricky because these small anchors in Hungary have to handle the forces of the current and the wind load on the pylons.”

With the Budapest race coming up fast, Van Es and his team are keeping an eye on the forecast. “In Budapest we have to deal with not only the heavy current but also water levels that are different every year. The challenges of the race, and the racetrack, will always depend on how much rain has fallen upstream and the winds on the given day,” he says. Like the 14 elite race teams vying for the World Championship, the Race Operations team has to be ready for anything.

See the pilots fly in the sport’s most iconic over-water racetrack when the Red Bull Air Race returns to Budapest on 23-24 June. For tickets and all the latest information, visit www.redbullairrace.com

Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
20-22 April: Cannes, France 
26-27 May: Chiba, Japan
23-24 June: Budapest, Hungary 
25-26 August: Kazan, Russia

15-16 September: Wiener Neustadt, Austria
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
November: TBA

About Red Bull Air Race
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held more than 80 races around the globe. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370 kmh while enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.

For more editorial content, please visit www.redbullairracenewsroom.com.

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PILOTS SOAR OVER IMS AHEAD OF SEASON FINALE

The leaders take to the skies before the final race of 2017. Championship leader Martin Sonka led his World Championship rivals Yoshihide Muroya and Pete McLeod for a flight over the final stop of the Red Bull Air Race season at the USA’s holy grail of motorsport.

The 2017 finale kicks off with Qualifying this Saturday and climaxes with Race Day on Sunday.

As excitement builds toward the first Red Bull Air Race season finale ever held at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sonka, Muroya and McLeod are locked in the title fight, with the results far too close to call.

The aerial view offered a special perspective on the infield of the historic oval, where the Wright Brothers flew in 1910 and this weekend raceplanes will speed at 200kts, pulling as much as 10Gs.

When the race plays out on Sunday, one of the three pilots will be crowned a first-time World Champion – unless the USA’s own Kirby Chambliss, the only other contender with enough points to challenge for the championship, can pull off an upset.

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Šonka spectacular in Porto win

The Czech Republic’s Martin Šonka claimed the second race win of his career at the Red Bull Air Race in Porto, Portugal on Sunday and launched himself back to the top of the World Championship standings with only two races to go.

In a Final 4 that set 600,000 hearts racing on the banks of the Douro River, Canada’s Pete McLeod captured second for the third race in a row, and Matt Hall of Australia clinched third.

Porto (PORTUGAL) – Šonka – the only pilot in the Final 4 never to have raced in Porto – went first and threw down the gauntlet with 1:07.229. Fighting to retain his overall lead in the World Championship, the USA’s Kirby Chambliss then served up a net time of 01:07.141, but he incurred a two-second penalty that saved Šonka’s win and opened the door for the rest. McLeod’s finish was only a breathtaking 0.113 behind Šonka’s, while Hall’s third place was his first podium of the season after switching raceplanes this year.

The results were pivotal for Šonka, who earned his career-first race win and the top of the overall leaderboard at the season opener in Abu Dhabi, only to subsequently slip. He’s been locked in a title battle with the likes of Chambliss, McLeod and Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya all season. Now with only the two races in Germany and the USA remaining, the Czech ace is four points ahead of the consistent McLeod, who jumped to second overall. Chambliss is still in the running at third place with 47 points, and so is Muroya with 44. While the Japanese pilot’s sixth-place finish was impressive after extensive raceplane work limited his track time in Porto, the result was blow, dropping him to fourth overall. With just a 10-point gap among those four contenders – and 15 points available for a race win – tension is mounting fast.

“After the last three races where we got various penalties, it was simply time to fly again – and race again – and we won, so I’m really happy,” said an elated Šonka, whose best overall finish in four previous seasons was fourth. “Of course we would like to win the title, but the others are fast, and with two races left there are still a lot of points on the table. So nothing is decided yet, and we have to wait until the end of the season.”

Spanish pilot Juan Velarde did not participate on Race Day in Porto because after making modifications to their raceplane, the weather prevented Team Velarde from completing necessary testing of the modifications. In two weeks, the Red Bull Air Race makes a speedway shift with a return to Germany’s Lausitzring on 16-17 September 2017. It’s the home race of reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer, who will be looking for a comeback after finishing eighth in Porto.

Results Master Class Porto 2017:
1. Martin Šonka (CZE),
2. Pete McLeod (CAN),
3. Matt Hall (AUS),
4. Kirby Chambliss(USA),
5. Mikaël Brageot (FRA),
6. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN),
7. Petr Kopfstein (CZE),
8. Matthias Dolderer (GER),
9. Peter Podlunšek (SLO),
10. Michael Goulian (USA),
11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA),
12. Cristian Bolton (CHI),
13. François Le Vot (FRA),
14. Juan Velarde (ESP)

World Championship standings after six of eight races:
1. Martin Šonka (CZE) 54 points,
2. Pete McLeod (CAN) 50 pts,
3. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 47 pts,
4. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 44 pts,
5. Petr Kopfstein(CZE) 34 pts,
6. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 27 pts,
7. Matt Hall (AUS) 25 pts,
8. Michael Goulian (USA) 24 pts,
9. Juan Velarde (ESP) 21 pts,
10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 15 pts,
11. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 14 pts,
12. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 14 pts,
13. François Le Vot (FRA) 8 pts,
14. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 7 pts

About Red Bull Air Race:
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship celebrated its landmark 75th race at the 2017 season opener in Abu Dhabi. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 10G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.