The Race of Champions format generally comes about over a lunch or dinner conversation between Steve and I and perhaps another pilot or two. This year’s team idea came from Filippo Oppic who, being an Italian, is very familiar with cycling races. Unfortunately, Filippo had a crisis at work and had to go home and miss the entire event. What a disappointment, especially when the Race came off so incredibly well. Although I heard from a few competitors that the format was quite frustrating, for all of us on the ground, Task 2 was just about as exciting as it gets in our sport.
Going into the second and final day of the Race, the Italian Dream Team (Christian and Davide) were just sixty points or so in front of Felicione Team (Pedro and Tullio) and the Moyes Boys (Jonny and Andre), so it really was still anyone’s race to win. With a forecast much like the previous day, but with some possibility of cu’s, the task committee decided for something a bit longer and called a 117km triangle.
Although not all of the pilots have trackers, enough did so that we could sit in the air conditioned FBO and at least know where half of the field was. As it started to look like most guys had rounded the second turnpoint and were headed back, we made our way outside and started scanning the sky to the southeast in search of the first ones. Excitement built with 15 minutes of searching before we finally spotted the first glider – but much to everyone’s surprise, he was so far up there that we couldn’t even make out who it was – easily 3000 feet high as he crossed the goal line, with not another glider in site. What was going on?? It only took a split second of wondering why on earth anyone would come in that high before it hit all of us that it didn’t matter. With this format, a single pilot on his own is pretty much irrelevant. All that matters is when his teammate arrives or when another team gets there. Coming in a solid 20 minutes before anyone else was cool, but wasn’t going to win the Race for him. As he circled and got lower, we could see it was an Icaro glider and knew it was Christian continuing his domination of this entire competition. We learned by radio that Davide was coming in, but they were discussing whether Cris coming in early and taking a lot of speed points would help or hurt Davide’s score (the only one that matters). It’s an interesting question and we didn’t know the answer.
A solid 15 minutes later, James Stinnett arrived completely ecstatic about winning the day – not seeing Christian still cruising around at cloudbase over our heads. Oh well, he was still thrilled to have done so well and coming in second to Christian this week is nearly a day win anyway considering how he has crushed everyone on every task.
But, perhaps the most exciting finish came shortly after James. The aptly named Young Guns – Mike Bilyk and Florian Gostner arrived incredibly fast and together again, looking like they would take the day win….if only Florian made it across the line. Mike arrived at a reasonable altitude, but Florian was grazing the treeline 1 kilometer out and we all cringed watching him glider in from soooooo far, low and seriously looking like there was no chance he would make it. He tucked it into ground effect and floated across the plowed field heading straight toward the fence line of the airport. We knew there was no way he would get over the 2 meter fence. But, we quickly started to see that he was angling toward the parking lot – pretty full of cars!! Like a slalom ski racer, he weaved his way between the cars barely eeking his way across the 400 meter cylinder line, running about 10 meters just to be sure ;-). I have never seen two pilots so excited about a day win. Both Mike and Florian are pretty new pilots in general and particularly new to competitions, so pulling off a day win in a field of top pilots is pretty impressive and they’re still young and new enough that they didn’t mind showing their thrill for winning! What fun for all of us!!
This team format may not turn out to be 100% ideal, but for most of the competitors and ALL of the spectators today was incredibly fun! It works like this: We have 24 pilots made up of two-man teams. Teams choose each other -organizers have nothing do to with the pairings. There is a single race start and the team score is made up of ONLY the slower of the two pilots. Our idea with this format was to encourage serious team flying. If your teammate is low or behind the pack, there’s no point in doing anything but sticking around and helping him out.
So day 1, the task committee originally set a 97km triangle coming back to Americus. About a half hour before launch, they started to get concerned that they were overcalling the day – the forecast was for total blue and the sky looked quite stable. Just to be sure, last minute they removed the second turn point and went with just an out and return of 75km. But, watching the spot trackers, we quickly started to see that the original task would have been fine – they were moving pretty fast!
About 4:30 or so, we all headed out to the goal area to search the skies. When they started to appear on the horizon, we could see that nearly half the field was coming in together. No one was surprised to see Christian blast into goal first…and, just a few seconds behind him was his teammate Davide! You can call it luck all day long, but there’s no denying that Christian has dominated this competition – he has won EVERY SINGLE day that we’ve flown here! It’s pretty impressive.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a high percentage of pilots in goal and I don’t recall everyone being as excited with a task in ages. It’s fun to try something new and even if we never do this again, this task won’t be soon forgotten.
A giant congratulations to Christian Ciech in 1st place, Jonny Durand in 2nd and Andre Wolf in 3rd. All three pilots flew amazingly consistent all week and we hope they’ll be back again next year!
But first, they’ll be competing for big prize money at the Flytec Race of Champions this weekend. Best of luck to all three!
I sincerely hope the less than ideal weather conditions we had this week won’t discourage pilots from coming out to Americus again next year. Although we flew 6 out of 7 days, we have had nicer conditions on previous years coming through here.
Everything else about this beautiful little country town has been perfect. Having never seen hang gliding in this area, everyone we encountered was thrilled to see us and I can’t imagine how the townspeople, local businesses, Chamber of Commerce and especially the airport managers – Frankie & Stephanie Williams – could possibly have been more hospitable. The airport treated the pilots to a pizza lunch yesterday – every other day, we had a local BBQ joint that delivered lunches to pilots before launch time. Even on the day when the President of Bolivia flew in to meet with former president Carter, no one asked us to get out of the way, or shut down towing or anything of the sort. Many of us took pictures with the Bolivian secret service and a few even popped into town to meet the the President himself and take pictures with him. A few Italians looked at me when the presidential jet was landing and just shook their heads and said “this would NEVER” happen in Italy. Well, I don’t know of any other place in the US where this would happen either!!
Everyone from the airport management to the tourism board and the county fire chief are talking to me about what they can do to get us to come back next year. We’ll definitely be back…we love Americus!
Today’s forecast called for fairly strong wind and some were a little concerned about towing conditions. But, it’s hard to turn down a flight when the sky is perfectly filled with little cu’s that looked nice and high. With the strong wind, the task committee called a long (non-BBQ) downwind task of 171km to the southeast – similar to the epic task we had from Americus to Vidalia two years ago.
But, by the time we were wrapping up the towing, it was already apparent that a new airmass was moving in. The clouds were thinning out as the sky dried up. As towing was finished, I jumped in the car to head toward goal only to find complete blue around the airfield. I could see the clouds remained good in the direction of courseline and hoped that the entire field would be riding the line of clouds all the way to goal. It’s always so much fun to go on chase thinking everyone will get there. But, as is often the case, I was overly optimistic. Following the trackers on my iPad I could see that those who left on the first starts were making really good time across the ground and those that got stuck or left later were super slow moving. Dustin and Glen had a tough time at the start and didn’t get away when the lift was good. Dustin whined that he fought low in broken, weak lift until he just couldn’t hold on any longer and landed short of the halfway point. Aside from the expected goal finishers (Christian, Jonny and Andre), there were several others that were super happy to be there.
Well, no one has quite figured out yet if it’s the glider or the pilot, or some combination of both, but Christian seems to be blowing them all away here winning day after day. A tougher than expected out and return and Cris was the first among only 6 pilots making it in. The rest were sprinkled all along the route.