The Day at the Races – Red Bull Air Race World Championship, Lausitzring.

When I have heard about the Red Bull Air Race for the very first time I was more than sceptic. What could be interesting in flying the whole weekend around some pillars, with almost the same airplane and following this routine race by race?

Well, it could seem like that, but once again there was the truth in the proverb saying that appearances can be deceiving. The race itself is an interesting and exciting aviation event, there is no possibility to be boring – especially when the final rounds are flying. The feeling of challenge is in the air, skilfully managed by the Air Race commentators and the perfect race atmosphere is one of the most significant experiences one can feel at the race track. This story would bring you as much of this atmosphere as possible.

Martin Šonka.

The Red Bull Air Race has returned to Germany after the six-year gap – the Lausitzring track already hosted the Air Race in 2010. The track, officially known as EuroSpeedway Lausitz, has the capacity of 120,000 spectators and is located between Dresden and Cottbus, close to Czech and Polish borders. Lausitzring was built in late 1990s by converting the former open coal mine. A huge bucket-wheel excavator that could be seen from the main grandstand is still the reminiscent of the lignite mining era.

The Lausitzring track – general view towards the High G Turn.

The official Air Race weekend started on Saturday morning, 3rd of September. And it was a sunny, lazy morning, despite the roar of the airplane engines that could be heard over the race track – the Challenge Class pilots have already started the free practice flights. But the Challenge Class pilots are located outside the main track and there is still a bit relaxing atmosphere in the Master Class hangars. While the teams are performing the final checks and maintenance on the airplanes, the pilots are still hanging around, giving the interviews for the media. Those of the visitors who already arrived to the grandstand have also the possibility to come closer and see the pilots. Certainly, the biggest crowd gathered in front of Matthias Dolderer´s hangar.

While Matthias Dolderer is busy chatting with fans and giving autographs…

…his team is working on the final settings of the airplane.

This lazy and relaxing time didn´t last long and soon the official programme started. The organizers arranged the race as the full day event, together with many additional shows to be performed during the time there were no race airplanes in the air – the boredom was forbidden at the Lausitzring!

The list of the side displays was impressive, including not only some flying displays (Bo 105, DC-3 and Antanas Marciukaitis) but also different kinds of motorsports and stunt performances: Porsche Falken Team, Drift Brothers and Falken Drift Team, trial and BMX show, Fourmotors and Nascar cars. Those side displays were performed both Saturday and Sunday, skilfully warming the atmosphere during the gaps between the air races. Most of the motorsport cars and motorcycles were also presented at the static display near the grandstand.

Antanas Marciukaitis aerobatics show.

The Challenger Class pilots started their qualifying round at noon, followed by the Master Class free practice flights. The first race in the afternoon was the Budapest Race for the Challenger Class. Due to the heavy rain the Challenger race was cancelled there and postponed to the German round.

The Challenger Class round.

After the Budapest race, there was the qualifying race for the Master Class pilots. The fastest pilots were: Nigel Lamb (with the fastest qualification lap – 26.315 seconds), Matt Hall and Martin Šonka. The current qualification leader, Matthias Dolderer, qualified with the 8th result.

Matthas Dolderer.

The closing event for the day was the prize giving ceremony for the Challenger Class pilots, for the Budapest Race. The winner of the race was Daniel Ryfa, with the run time 1:03.571, the second was Ben Murphy and the third was Luke Czepiela. The first race day passed quickly as both the main race and side events were successfully keeping the spectators´ attention, even if the main race didn´t started yet. The Sunday programme was promising still more thrills.

Kirby Chambliss´s Edge 540 on the way to the technical check.

There was again the hot and sunny morning on the second day of the German round. Unfortunately, the forecast for the day was not good and some showers were expected in the afternoon. Would the weather cause any cancellation again? This was the main question on the Sunday morning.

The sun was shining so far, and the spectators were filling up the grandstand and the side tribunes. There were significantly more visitors on Sunday than during the first day and there were plenty of Czech flags seen in the crowd, supporting both Czech pilots flying the Master Class contest. Unfortunately for the Czech Air Race fans, one of the first news released on Sunday was that one of the Czech pilots, Martin Šonka, was disqualified from the qualification round for the technical infraction. The reason was he exceeded the max RPM allowed and he was now ranked 14th.

Martin Šonka.

The morning in the hangar wasn´t so relaxed as it was yesterday, the anticipation of the race was in the air. Just a few more interviews, last checks done by the crews and the pilots started with the preparations for the race. In the meantime, the spectators could watch the block of motorsport displays that included some amazing stunts.

Nigel Lamb and his team in their hangar.

Directly at noon the pilot parade began, all participating Master Class pilots boarded the platform mounted on the roof of the veteran Mercedes bus and performed a few passes in front of the stands, greeting the fans. The Air Race started shortly after, with the Challenger Class race.

The pilots´parade.

The weather already changed, the sky was covered by the clouds and the air was wet. The smoke trails were lasting in the air for the long time, limiting the visibility. It was the thrilling race – the engines were roaring and the vortices were shedding from the wingtips. Both Daniel Ryfa and Kevin Coleman hit the pylons, receiving the penalty. This was the second penalty for Coleman, as he also got another one for Incorrect Level Flying; with two penalties, of 5 seconds in total, he finished the race as the last one. The winners were Florian Berger (1st position with the run time 1:04.985), Luke Czepiela (2nd position) and Ben Murphy (3rd position). The pylon hit and the following penalty of 3 seconds was unfortunate for Daniel Ryfa. Without the penalty, his run time would be the best one and he could have won the race and, taking under the consideration the final results of 2016 Challenger Race, maybe even he could be the winner of the season.

The Challenger Class race.

The first race of the Master Class was scheduled for 14:00 hrs and the first pair already took off to prepare for the race. Unfortunately, there came the shower and the race was cancelled. The rain was pouring down the Lausitzring for more than one hour and the runway looked like the pond. As the classic ways of removing the water from the runway seemed not to be enough, some special support from Bo 105 helicopter was needed – working as the huge fan, the helicopter was slowly passing above the runway, just a few inches above the ground.

Bo 105 clearing the runway.

The shower was, fortunately, as intense as short and the race could continue after the break. It was still raining when the first aircrafts took off for the Round of 14 but the sun appeared again shortly. There were still clouds around and the sun shining through them resulted in the very interesting light conditions backgrounded the race. There was another shower coming, according to the forecast, and the question was if there would be enough time to finish the race.

Petr Kopfstein during the rainy Round of 14.

The most interesting race of the Round of 14 was with no doubt the last one – Nigel Lamb, the fastest pilot from the qualification versus Martin Šonka, the last one in qualification, due to DQ. This surely did not meet the expectations of the Czech pilot, but the perfectly dealt with the stress and won the round – Nigel Lamb, the winner of the qualification round was knocked out in the first round!

Juan Velarde at the Chicane.

The second pilot in the qualification round, Matt Hall, easily won over Peter Podlunšek, with the difference in the run of almost four seconds. This wasn´t the best race for Peter, as he hit the pylon and received another penalty for incorrect level of flying during the qualification race, then got the penalty in the Round of 14 race – incorrect level of flying again.

Peter Podlunšek cutting the pylon at High G Turn.

Nicolas Ivanoff has an easy race against Yoshihide Muroya, even with the penalty he received for incorrect level of flying. It seemed during the 2016 season that the Japanese pilot is fighting more against the G-force than against the other pilots. Once again, Yoshi exceeded the allowed G limit and with the DNF this was the end of the race for him.

 Yoshihide Muroya at the Chicane.

This made the Round of 8 very interesting, as the first and third pilot from the qualification were already out from the race. The third pair, Matt Hall versus Hannes Arch, seemed to be the most interesting duel of the round. Hall was the second one in the qualification round and there was an easy win over Podlunšek in the Round of 14. Arch was the fourth in the qualification, and knocked out Juan Velarde in the first race. The Sunday at the Lausitzring was surely the perfect day for Matt Hall, as he won over Arch, having also the second fastest run in the round. And the fastest in the Round of 8 was Martin Šonka, and it seemed that the DQ in the qualification just mobilized him to get the better results.

Hannes Arch.

And the pressure grew with the final round, with the spectators´ excitement heated up by the Air Race commentators. The final four was: Matt Hall, Matthias Dolderer, Martin Šonka and Pete McLeod. Who would be the fastest one? Hall was flying the perfect race from the beginning, Dolderer was hungry to win at the German race track, Šonka already knocked out the leader of the qualification and flew the fastest run in the previous round, McLeod has the solid performance during the whole weekend, winning over François Le Vot and Kirby Chambliss. This wasn´t easy to bet before the round started.

Matt Hall.

The Canadian pilot was the first to fly and he set the time to beat – 54.916 seconds. Martin Šonka was the second and the Czech fan fever started at the stands. This time, however, Martin didn’t give his fans the reason to celebrate. Two mistakes during the run costed him a lot of time and his final score was 56.126 seconds. Now all depended on Hall and Dolderer – the difference between McLeod and Šonka was big enough to fit both.

Pete McLeod.

However, both Australian and German pilots gave Šonka no chance to score twelve points. Hall was flying as the first of them, confirming his overall performance was not incidental. He flew two perfect runs, not only beating McLeod and Šonka, but also setting the incredible time to beat for Dolderer. 53.642 seconds! Dolderer flew below 54 seconds only once at Lausitzring, in the Round of 14. Would he be able to repeat this and win the race? Just a moment later everything was clear, with 54.417 seconds he was the second one. Dolderer scored twelve points and this assured his position as the Master Class leader, he celebrated it with the spectacular vertical at the end of his flight.

Matthias Dolderer´s vertical finale.

The happy face of the winner – Matt Hall.

The sad fact related to the race was that the German round of Red Bull Air Race was the last one for the 2008 season champion, Hannes Arch. The Austrian pilot has died in the helicopter crash, four days after the race at Lausitzring.

One of Hannes Arch´s last take-offs.