Post Abu Dhabi
Posted on: 20th Feb 2015 by: Nigel Lamb
For us, the 2015 season opener in Abu Dhabi was the perfect illustration of the 'bitter / sweet' nature of air race competition.
Our 2014 Championship win came after a poor start to the season followed by a very low point in the second race and thereafter 5 Second place finishes. Yes, it seems I’m the most experienced when it comes to failure to convert a second into a first! Consistency won the World Championship, but along the way, there are all sorts of ups and downs. There always are, except, of course, for the one pilot who wins a given race.
Over the winter, we spread our resources across various modifications hoping to make improvements in aerodynamics, handling and race track analysis. I was convinced we'd done enough to start the season with a powerful statement but this was not to be. During the first two days of training, I was frustrated by the feeling that, despite not flying too badly, our times were poor. In the old days, being a few seconds off the pace was not too bad but nowadays, if you're consistently 1 second off the leader/s, you've got a problem. After two days we were THREE seconds off! Nothing short of an aeon.
Looking back, I can't believe we did not immediately revert to our 2014 handling setup, instead, we left it until the evening before Qualification. I entered the track with slightly lighter ailerons and made enough small mistakes to be on the back foot all day and to suffer our worst ever Qualification result. You can't get worse than LAST! Worse was in store when we checked the new 2015 race format to see who we would fly against the next day. It's Paul Bonhomme..Not only once but potentially twice if one of us goes through as 'fastest loser' after the first round.
This new format is not popular with any of the pilots as we all prefer to stay as close as possible to the pure competition of "man, machine and clock". We all accept the vagaries of the weather etc and the need for some 'luck' in that department (that's aviation) but to have your result largely influenced by the random nature of what happens to a different pair of pilots in a different race, is not ideal. But, we love racing so we go with the flow. All I have to do is find a way to spend the night with positive thoughts; get a good rest and wake up feeling confident. That part goes extremely well but there’s plenty of debate amongst the pilots when people point out that it's impossible for both Paul and me to reach the final, not at all ideal if we happen to post the two fastest times!! It would mean one of us being ranked well behind a slower pilot so best to make sure we beat Mr Bonhomme in the second session, assuming we make it. No point itin hanging it all out in the first race and making a small mistake then not making the second round..Just got to fly fast and hope to beat him or go through as fastest loser. And THAT, is exactly what happened. The two Brits race each other and post the two fastest times - I am back on track and go much faster than I did all week; the second race looks promising until during the Red Bull Air Race weighing procedure our spats were damaged beyond repair forcing me to fly without. With a huge increase in drag there's no chance to beat Paul unless he makes a basic mistake. Unlikely because he’s smart and he knows he’s up against a ‘wounded’ competitor. We give it our best shot and manage to move from 8th to 5th. Paul goes on to win the race. We are so amazed with our 'spatless' result it almost feels like we won the race! I don’t think I’ve ever hit all the lines so well, and I’ll be studying that cockpit video carefully when we head for the next race. It’s very confidence inspiring so it’ll probably feature regularly when my head hits the pillow at night.
For us Abu Dhabi is a battle lost in a long campaign. But, we’re in the same place as we were last year after one race, the championship is winnable and that's what we'll try to do again. Along the way, we just need to strive for more consistency - more ups than downs!
There was not too much in the way of celebrating by the pilots that night for we have to be upside down in the SWET trainer the next day. The Shallow Water Egress Training experience is amazing. We are so lucky to have Danny Lopez and his team from California at every location. Knowing these guys are on hand to help is a real confidence booster and having a training session with them, a privilege. Earlier in the week, Jim had us thinking of our breathing technique to slow the heart rate and it gets really interesting when you see how long you can get out of the spare air bottle just sitting on the bottom of the pool compared to when you are inverted with water gushing into your sinus cavities and you’re doing some basic drills. Even knowing that the rescue guys are watching your every move and ready to flip the simulator erect at any moment, it’s scary how fast you consume the air in the little bottle. When it’s for real, you’ve had a knock or two and sucked some water into your lungs and the adrenaline is pumping it’ll be an entirely different story. So, I need to lose a couple more kgs so I can carry more air and stay within the minimum weight.
Alternatively, I hope they raise the aircraft min weight so I can keep eating a pie or two!