Twelve pilots will wow spectators as they navigate a specially designed 5km obstacle course at top speed against the clock, in a thrilling show of aerobatics.
In order to win, the pilots must combine speed, precision and skill to manoeuvre through a series of air-filled pylons, known as air gates – some of which are just 10m apart. In case that’s too easy, they’ll also have to do it whilst flying 20m above ground.
The competition format, originally held as a two-race contest, was established by the energy drink firm Red Bull in Austria in 2003. More races, destinations and pilots were added later, and in 2005 it became known as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship Series.
After a few near misses, Red Bull cancelled all events worldwide in 2011 due to safety concerns. But now, following a three-year hiatus, the championship is back – and where better to launch it than Abu Dhabi?
The Air Race CEO, Erich Wolf, says, ‘We have worked hard over the last three years to fine-tune some safety aspects and bring the sport to a new level. We never took our eye off the target and neither did the pilots or their fans. Their interest in the sport remained unbelievably high during these past few years. We can’t wait to get back in the air.’
The pilots will fly high-performance aerobatic planes such as the Zivko Edge 540, Extra and MXS, each of which has a wingspan of less than 7.6m – and they’ll be flying up to 426 km/h.
We told you to hold on tight... Dhs195 for grandstand both days and concert, Dhs850 with food and soft drinks at the Breakwater race club; Dhs3,300 for Sky Lounge on March 1, food and concert, Dhs4,800 for both days. The race starts 2pm February 28 and finishes 11pm March 1. Tickets are available February 7 from www.redbullairrace.com
In the cockpit
TOAD caught up with Pete McLeod, one the championship’s pilots
Why did you become a pilot?
My granddad and dad were both pilots so I went in the family plane at three weeks old, and took the controls at three! I’d always been exposed to aviation so becoming a pilot was never a conscious choice. I got my licence at 16, before I could even drive, and started aerobatics training then. I’m now a professional racer.
Why do you like flying so much?
It’s part of me. I like the freedom of being in a plane. When I start the engine and head to the race track, the world stops around me.
What’s your signature trick?
I like doing them all – I go upside down, do doughnuts, circles in the sky and air rolls – a kind of somersault. But when I race it’s the speed that counts.
Have you ever crashed?
No, but I’ve had a few close calls.
What part of the Abu Dhabi race are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited about the race because it’s the first of the season. It’ll be good to be back on the track. One thing that’s new this year is the Take to the Skies initiative – 2,000 people will see their photo printed on my plane, an Edge 540. For details, visit www.redbullairraceuae.com/taketheskies
What are the rules?
There are new rules for 2014. This year will see the introduction of standardised engines, propellers and exhausts to level the playing field. Pilots must fly in the upper 40 per cent of the air gates, and get a two-second penalty for flying too high.
How it works
Pilots take part in at least two training sessions on the two days preceding qualifying day. The starting order for the training sessions is defined by the results of the previous year’s race, with the highest ranking pilot starting first. The starting order for new race pilots is determined by a draw.
The pilots’ times in the final training session determine the starting order for qualifying. Qualifying Day is the day before the race, and includes two mandatory qualifying sessions. Only the pilots’ best time counts.
On Race Day, the pilots compete in heats, then the fastest eight compete in Super 8. The fastest four advance to Final 4, which is a contest to place 1st, 2nd, 3rd. The fastest pilot becomes will win most points towards being Air Race World Champion, the winner will be crowned after the last race.
Feb 28-Mar 1 Abu Dhabi, UAE April 12-13 Rovinj, Croatia May 17-18 Putrajaya, Malaysia July 26-27 Gdynia, Poland Aug 16-17 Ascot, UK Sep 6-7 Fort Worth, Texas, USA Oct 11-12 Las Vegas, USA Nov 1-2 Shanghai, China