Red Bull Air Race 2005 (UK 5th Round) Review
Sunday 7th August
The UK leg, and fifth round, of the increasingly popular Red Bull Air Race World Series was held at Lord Bath's Longleat estate. The usually peaceful grounds, situated in the South West and a stone's throw away from the ancient English Heritage site of Stonehenge, were transformed into a high octane festival of speed as the ten pilots raced against the clock to complete the 1.4km course without picking up penalty points on the way.
applied some sun block for a day at the races. Additional photography from .
Demand to attend the event was high. As Longleat had limited space to accommodate so many people, free tickets were given out in three ballots held in the weeks leading up to the race. The number of applications far outweighed the number of tickets available by up to 1000%! For those that were lucky enough to receive a pass, an entertaining day awaited.
It was stated right from the start that there would be a considerable walk from the car parks to the arena and they weren't joking! For those in the green car park it meant a steep downhill stroll to the action with the agonising prospect of having to walk uphill to get back to the car.
The Red Bull Air Race has been held in the UK before, at Kemble, but for the 2005 season Red Bull have been heavily promoting the event, so much so that even work colleagues who have no interest in aviation had heard about it and applied for tickets.
The race wasn't scheduled to start until the afternoon but people had the opportunity to enter the 'pit' where the competing aircraft were parked along with a pair of Red Bull bikes and an F1 racing car. The queue to get into the pit soon grew and snaked its way into the distance, so far that I couldn't actually see the end of it!
The aircraft looked superb in the morning sunshine and some of the pilots were looking over their machines in preparation for the events ahead. On the far end of the line stood the two Sukhoi Su-26 aircraft of the Red Bull sponsored Matador display team, flown by British pilots Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones who were also competing in the air race.
The event was officially opened by Lord Bath himself with, Geordie presenter, Jane Middlemiss knocking on the door of Longleat house to tempt him out. He revealed that he is a microlight pilot and that his insurance company would refuse to insure him if he has another accident!
Before the race got underway we were entertained with the Matador's display and flypasts from some vintage racing aircraft, including the Hawk Speed 6 and Cosmic Wind, flown by Anna Walker who's no stranger to the display circuit. After these another Red Bull aircraft took to the skies, the Pilatus of the sky diving team. The four divers immediately opened their canopies on exit from the aircraft and formed two formations before landing close to the temporary control tower.
The actual race course was in a fenced off area of parkland with plenty of obstacles in the form of solid oaks to keep the pilots on their toes. As time for the race approached a team of people inflated the pylons that mark out the course. The pylons are made of a lightweight material that tears as soon as an aircraft wing, or if the pilot really messes up, a propeller, makes contact.
The qualifying round had been held on the Saturday which determined their order for Round 1 of the race, the slowest going first. First up was Spaniard Alexander MacLean in his Extra 300 who put in a time of 1:44.55. The timings are very accurate using a GPS system that calculates the position of the aircraft 1000 times a second.
There's more to flying the course than just flying through gates. Aerobatic manoeuvres have to be flown and there are penalties if they're not flown correctly or if the pilot flies too low. Next in line was Frank Versteegh who bettered Alexander's time with 1:37.80 and finished eighth in the first round.
One by one they took their turn and Brit Steve Jones put in a marvellous performance and took the lead. In his day job Steve flies B747s for BA, as does fellow Matador Paul Bonhomme. New to the air race was Nigel Lamb, a familiar face to many who attend displays. His inexperience showed as he came ninth in Round 1.
Mike Mangold started his run and pulled out all the stops to beat Steve Jones by just over two seconds! He had a bad time at the last race, held at the rock of Cashel in Ireland so he was out to claw some points back.
After an interval the second round begun and it certainly wasn't obvious who the winner would be. Former USAF F-4 pilot Mangold had picked up a one second penalty at the start of Round 1 for excessive speed but still managed to go ahead and beat the competition in his Edge 540. A couple of competitors hit the pylons and incurred the three second penalties. A crew rushed out and in a coordinated effort replaced the pylon in a minute, almost like the crew changing the tyre of an F1 car.
So for the UK round Mike Mangold picked up the full 6 points with fellow countryman Kirby Chambliss coming second and Hungarian Peter Besenyei coming third. This was Mangold's third win of the 2005 season which puts him just one point behind leader Besenyei.
I left the scene before the prize giving, and with good reason! Many people got stuck for two hours or more in the traffic getting out which is the price you pay with such an event. The other gripe is the large mesh fence between the crowd and race course which made it difficult for those close to the crowd line.
All in all a good event and certainly marketed well by Red Bull. For those who couldn't get tickets, the series will be broadcast by Channel 5, starting in September.