Desert wind and a bit of luck

Posted on: 28th Mar 2010

Waking up to a hot wind off the desert made for an incredible afternoon of drama on Race Day yesterday. A temperature in excess of 40C was bound to lead to a cocktail of problems; fuel vaporisation for hot starts after one’s first race, electrical problems, thin air giving less power, less propellor efficiency and less wing lift and, above all, a very different track as the wind was from the south instead of the north. A game of tactics and strategy.Having qualified second brings its advantage because even before I took off, there had been so many pylon hits and penalties, I knew I only needed to post a 1:20 to make the Super 8. Be conservative and no penalties was the aim and that paid off with a 1:16.63 and 2nd place. As I left the track I became aware of an electrical problem. The alternator had tripped out so the camera system and EFIS were draining my battery quickly. Re-setting the alternator failed so I knew that without being able to re-charge the battery, I was in danger of being unable to complete any more races. To enter the track, you need the EFIS to work so that your speed and G are seen by race control and should the smoke pump fail I’d be given an automatic 1 sec penalty each race. Careful management of the battery power was crucial from now on.From T12 through to the finals there’s not really enough time to unstrap and my team were brilliant in keeping me refreshed and getting me fuelled, smoked and started. Since the battery was fading, providing enough ground power to get a start was something of a trick. Others were not so lucky and for several minutes as we struggled to start, I thought I’d have to be content with 8th. We just made our start time and I spent all of my time before entering the track conserving battery power with all non-essential electrics including the cockpit camera turned off and also the EFIS until the last moment. I was a bit surprised to win the Super 8 and by the end of that, one look at the voltage and I really did not think the Final was going to be possible.Incredibly, Craig and Hux got me started again. The final was a repeat of the Super 8 only with less voltage and more distraction. Just before I shut down the last bit of power faded from the battery. No radio, no pumps, no instruments; perfect timing!Looking at all the events of the afternoon it’s clear that many teams were unlucky with technical problems and others simply had the wrong strategy in the heat and the wind. We had our share of luck and I guess the only failure in my strategy was that in the Final I should have been just a little more aggressive. 0.87 seconds more aggressive to be precise! The truth is, I only started to think about each race as I approached the start gate.Paul did a brilliant job all afternoon to win the most important race. He is after all a very experienced winner and yesterday’s conditions will have suited him well. The good news is that we head for the second race in Perth with 10 points and the knowledge that we’ve started the season in a competitive aircraft.Our next opportunity to upgrade is after New York so I hope the other teams will not be doing much and we’ll be able to maintain the status quo. There are many teams with podium capable machines so my bet is that there will be a lot going on in the top order this year.My job is to make sure I keep my act together and stay up there.