End of an Era

Posted on: 19th Jan 2017 by: Nigel Lamb

I know this is way late but here’s how my air racing career came to an end . . . First of all, why the decision made before the 2016 season started that it would be my last? It’s very simple really . . . very early in my career, I made a promise to myself and to my family that, if ever the ‘flame of passion’ began to dwindle, I would stop operating high performance machines near the ground. I wanted always to be fully focused, highly motivated and on top of my game. To be in any other mindset would be to introduce unacceptable additional risk.

In the Red Bull Air Race, there’s much pleasure to be had from simply being in the track. It’s incredibly exhilarating! BUT . . even if you’ve flown well, it’s not much fun if your posted time is not competitive. And when the wind picks up, it’s a phenomenal challenge which can be exceptionally intimidating. Basic wisdom tells you that at some point in your life, you will want to take your foot off the accelerator .  . .  well, just a little! Your hunger to win will naturally decrease as will your desire to be involved in something that is very high risk. Allow this to be happen and complacency will surely creep up on you. I turned 60 halfway through last season and I never wanted to wake up one morning feeling apprehensive about going into the track. Raceday in Las Vegas was just the day for intimidating pilots! Friday’s Free Practice in the wind was a wonderful challenge . . being in wild  turbulence but never feeling anything other than being fully in control; Saturday’s stronger wind put paid to Qualification and we woke up on Sunday morning with a forecast for even worse. And yet, I was up for it . . I had arrived at my last day of air racing without ever having frightened myself in any track flight and I was still keen to win the race. 

Sadly, the track became unmanageable shortly after I took off as the second-last to fly. How the air gaters suffered that day! I flew for endurance in the holding pattern whilst they grappled with the pylons in the hope of a lull in the wind. I ran low on fuel, landed, refuelled and went back to the hold. As I watched the mayhem continue with pylons literally being plucked from the track and I could see the effects of the wind much further afield, it was tough to stay focused. I had plenty of fuel to last beyond sunset and the low sun had become an additional factor . . not only would I be amongst the pylons in mega turbulence but the sun would be behind Gate 1 on one critical pass. But I was still up for it though in hindsight, it was probably a good thing that the race was cancelled; it would have been very sad if I’d given myself a fright on the very last of my nearly one thousand track flights!! In the end, getting back down onto the narrow speedway track with the gusty, powerful cross-wind and obstacles to deliver the MXS unscathed to its new owner, Mika Brageot, was something of a relief! The season did not go anything like I had hoped or planned but I am happy to have ended my career still feeling ‘on top of my game’ and second on the podium in Indianapolis, the last race of 2016 to be completed.

I have many people to thank for my wonderful journey in air racing; my family and my team for making the successes and accompanying euphoria possible (and for putting up with me during the lows!); to Breitling for their unwavering support since I started racing in 2005 and to all those in the Red Bull Air Race who make it all happen; not least, the air gaters! 

Thankyou all for the kind words and the momentos after my last flight but, more than that, for the priceless memories.