Red Bull Air Race World Championship teams had to work fast, as there is little offseason when it comes to tuning and modifying aircraft for the 2017 season that kicks off Feb. 10 and 11 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The scramble began as soon as the action stopped at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October, with each team allowed just six weeks in the shop before packing their prized airplanes in shipping containers for the journey to the start of a new season.
For two-time Red Bull champion Kirby Chambliss and his team, much of that time was spent sanding paint to expose carbon fiber. Chambliss is a veteran pilot, and his airplane is a veteran as well, originally painted blue and silver with a Red Bull paint scheme painted over that in 2014 as the series emerged from a long layoff.
“Because time was short, we also decided to build new wheel pants last minute,” Iscold added. “For that, the use of 3D scanning and CNC machines made a huge difference. Not only does the new design provide a perfect fit, they're now super light."
The team also modified the cooling systems, separating the oil and cylinder cooling systems to increase power and performance. Race engines produce peak power when operating within a narrow temperature range; Chambliss was disqualified at Indianapolis in 2016 for over-revving his engine in the first run after qualifying, so the balance between rpm, fuel mixture, engine temperature, and other parameters must be controlled with the same kind of precision needed to navigate the course.
“Again, I will not give away any numbers, but this is way better than it was for the 2016 season,” Iscold said. The team also modified the winglets to reduce straight-line drag while maintaining overall performance.
Fellow American Michael Goulian will join Chambliss and 12 other pilots attempting to wrest the world championship from Matthias Dolderer, who claimed the trophy in the second-to-last race of 2016, a Red Bull first. American Kevin Coleman will return for a second season in the Challenger Class, where pilots learn how to master the incredible challenges of navigating high-G turns and managing energy while flying with exquisite precision through the pylon course in a series where thousandths of a second can separate winners from also-rans.
The Feb. 10 and 11 event in Abu Dhabi will be the seventy-fifth Red Bull Air Race, and launch the tenth season in the series history. Tickets are now available online. The rest of the 2017 schedule will be announced later in January, Red Bull officials said.