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!!