After a three-year hiatus, the Red Bull Air Race returns with seven competitions worldwide and some of the favorite pilots in the race’s eight-year history.
The Red Bull website said the company took the break to reorganize, “strengthen development and commercial aspects of the race.” In a statement released Oct. 8, the company listed a number of safety enhancements. "The high-G 270-degree 'Quatro' turn through a set of four pylons used in previous years has been eliminated due to the exceedingly high g-force it exerts on the planes and pilots," Red Bull said. In addition, competition aircraft will be fitted with the same powerplant combination, a Lycoming Thunderbolt engine and a Hartzell propeller; the pylons have been raised and are easier to tear if clipped by an aircraft; maneuvering is limited to 10 Gs; and the rules have been tightened "to help prevent any pilots from exceeding the set limits."
While the company was re-tooling its air race business and setting up 2014 locations, the pilots weren’t resting on their laurels. Many continued to perform at airshows, some returned to other types of flying (Paul Bonhomme resumed flying Boeing 747s), and they focused on staying in shape physically in hopes of the return of the rigorous Red Bull Air Race.
"I've missed the flying in the Red Bull Air Race because the competitive racing is just fantastic for the pilots," Bonhomme, the 2009 and 2010 world champion, said in a Red Bull press release.
U.S. pilots Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss are returning to the lineup.
Goulian told AOPA that "the world has been waiting for the race to come back." Goulian's Facebook page lit up with activity within minutes of the announcement. "The Red Bull Air Race puts an athlete in a machine competing against other athletes, which is really what the youth of America and the world love," he said. "They want to see drama, they want to see action, they want to see people pushing the limits, and the Red Bull Air Race does that."
Goulian performed 15 to 20 airshows per year during the three-year break from racing, which allowed him to keep his flying precise and his body tolerant of G forces. The precision required in his airshow performances also prepares him well for the race.
"When you fly in the air race, it's like trying to find the perfect route through the course," he said. "How do you fly as clean as possible. Every deflection of the control means a little speed degradation."
Chambliss, one of the most successful pilots in the history of the Red Bull Air Race with two world championships and eight race wins under his belt, has also been performing in airshows during the extended off season.
“We're all three years older now but if you want to stay competitive in this sport you definitely have to take care of yourself. I definitely want to repeat after winning the world championships in 2004 and 2006,” Chambliss said on the Red Bull website. “I'll be doing everything I can to make that happen."
The pilots already have started training for the race. In June they attended a training camp in Slovenia, Goulian said. "When I jumped back into the Edge, I was like, "'Oh, this is old hat.'" When Goulian races, he said on the Red Bull website that he tries to "make each run a little bit better than the run before. That’s the fun part of the sport for me.”
In addition to Bonhomme, Goulian, and Chambliss, other pilots on the 2014 roster are Hannes Arch, Peter Besenyei, Martin Sonka, Nicolas Ivanoff, Matt Hall, Nigel Lamb, Yoshihide Muroya, Matthias Dolderer, and Pete McLeod.
The 2014 season kicks off Feb. 28 in Abu Dhabi and runs through November where it ends in China. Other stops include Putrajaya, Malaysia; Gdynia, Poland; Ascot, United Kingdom, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Las Vegas. Ticket information is not available for all locations, but Red Bull’s website said tickets will be available for Dallas/Fort Worth, Ascot, and Putrajaya starting Nov. 1 and China starting Dec. 1 (although a venue has yet to be announced).
For competitive pilots dreaming of breaking into air racing, Red Bull Air Race is offering a new opportunity: the Challengers Cup.
Red Bull will offer training camps for new air racers throughout the 2014 season, giving pilots a chance to refine their racing skills. In addition, the pilots will be able to compete in an air race through the Challengers Cup to see what it's like.
"This stepping-stone competition will give new pilots valuable experience racing under less pressure on the day before the Red Bull Air Race," the company said.