Precision, speed and a whole lot of nerve was displayed in the air at Texas Motor Speedway as Red Bull hosted their season finale of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Fort Worth, Nov. 17-18. At speeds of over 230 miles per hour and a maximum g-force of 12, pilots from across the globe raced for the 2018 title.
“There is about 400 Red Bull employees and about 300 local staff from the U.S. who are supporting us and then TMS [Texas Motor Speedway] as well,” communications manager Jemma Campbell said. “One hundred and eighty-four countries in the TV compound are covering this event, so it’s an exhilarating sport world-wide.”
Former head of aviation Sergio Pla is now the head judge. He and others in control of operations watch from the race control center.
“Flight operations, air traffic control, and security all happen in this area,” Pla said. “This one [center] is a little different because we are usually up in a tower, but this one is good because we can see a full-view of the planes, the track, and the airport is in view as well; and it’s a nice venue. There’s a short runway, 450 meters more or less, but the pilots are very skilled and used to short landings and take offs and the planes are very powerful.”
The track is typically around 6km and pilots make two laps weaving through and around the inflated pylons. Pilots must keep in mind several things during their heat including speed, altitude, the levelness of the plane, the plane’s production of smoke and g-forces. If pilots make any errors flying through and around the pylons, their time is deducted by seconds.
“This is a fast-paced sport, and we run everything down to the minute if not the second,” Pla said.
Pylons reach 82 feet into the air and stand parallel to each other 42 feet apart. The pylons are made up of nine segments of a lightweight spinnaker fabric.
“These aren’t just big balloons, there is a lot of science that goes into the process,” Marcell Apati-Nagy, a pylon crew member in his third season, said. “We have three teams and there are five people on one team. It takes all of us to set up the track, but after a pilot finishes their lap, just one team will go out and repair [a pylon.] It used to take 20 minutes to repair, but the record now is at 90 seconds.”
The season opener for the air race championship began in Abu Dhabi last February, and the race has traveled to eight countries and three continents. Red Bull launched this competition in 2003. After the 2010 season, the Air Races took a three-year break to regulate rules and regulations.
There are two categories in the race: Master Class and Challenger Class. There are 14 pilots in the Master Class and eight in the Challenger. The competing Challenger’s victory is based on time. Germany’s Florian Berger is trying to move from Challenger to the Master Class.
“This is my fourth season, and I want to step into the Master Class,” Berger said. “I won my first podium ever in 2015 here [Texas Motor Speedway] so it is a special place for me. The weather will probably change tomorrow, so the pressure is big, but anything can happen.”
A 70-degree Saturday with barely a breeze changed Sunday as fans faced a 45-degree chill and the pilots had to consider a 13-mile-per-hour wind.
Texas native, Red Bull Air Race veteran and track holder, Kirby Chambliss, has been a pilot since the start and won the 2004 race.
“Everything we learned out on the track during practice we can pretty much throw out the window,” Chambliss said. “This weather changes everything, so we have to be careful not to overcompensate in speed or G.”
But the cold could not keep fans from attending the race. They came in from Arizona, New Mexico, New York and even other countries. Vania Castello and her two sons flew from Tulum, Mexico to follow the Master Class pilot Juan Velarde.
“It’s an exciting sport and the kids love it,” Castello said.
Michael Goulian from the United States, Martin Sonka from Czech Republic and Matt Hall from Australia were in the top three rankings going into race day. Martin Sonka came first in the final and won Czech’s first world title for an aerial motor sport and was named the Red Bull Air Race World Series champion. Matt Hall came in second and Michael Goulian third for the world championship, and Kirby Chambliss third for the Fort Worth win.
Kamari Brown, global social influencer manger for Red Bull Media House, flew in from Salzburg, Austria to be part of the event.
“It’s a little confusing at first, but once you watch a few of them, you start to understand the rules,” Brown said. “It’s an exciting event, I was able to go to the race in Budapest, and it was amazing to watch them over the water. The precision under g-force is absolutely mindboggling.”
You can view photos from the competition below:
Photos by Ashley Smith and Rodney Moore
Written by Ashley Smith