Reflection On Budapest
I’ve experienced some odd weeks in my time but that one just about takes the biscuit… For whatever reason I could not get “in the groove” with my aeroplane… I was starting to get really worried for Wade and Nigel because they’d got the team really well oiled (Wade with the aeroplane and Nigel with all the organisation and admin) and there was I, flying like a prat! Normally, I start reasonably well in a race week and then gradually improve to post some good times on race day… it started with first training and I was running in 3rd place. No great drama here because first training is always a tester for us to find out exactly how the track lies. Second training I ended up 8th after a two second penalty… 8th! This was definitely going in the wrong direction. Third training I was back to second, 0.46 of a second behind Mikey G… so not too bad and then onto fourth training where I found a two second penalty and ended up 5th… by now I was really starting to wonder what was up and annoyingly some other guys were posting some very good net times. And in line with the theory that a bad workman blames his tools, I was wondering if we had enough power…
Onto qualifying day and here we go again… Muppet features here managed to completely mess up the approach to the bridge in Q1 and I posted a very generous 1:17:26 which included two 2 second penalties and ended up after Q1 in 10th place! It was like I was “hour-building” as I did all those years ago in a Piper Cub over White Waltham… flying extra hours just for the log-book… Team Bonhomme, Nigel and Wade, must have been wondering where their pilot had gone because the look-alike they had this week, seemed not to know how to fly… Onto Q2 and I’m pleased to say I remembered where the controls were and steered my lovely aeroplane into 6th place. The concern here was that we were still 2 seconds behind Kirby’s 1:10:76 which he posted in Q1. It may have been to do with the wind changing but we suspected an excess of power under his cowling had something to do with it. At the same time Mikey G and Matthias had suddenly found some form and power was becoming the topic of the week.
At the same time, we were all experiencing problems with the speed measuring system. We are restricted to 200 knots or 370 kmph at the start. This speed is displayed on an instrument on the instrument panel and is also displayed in the race tower… if you enter the track over 370 kmph you get a polite message from the race director asking you to “sod off” back to the airfield… or “terminate terminate terminate” in racing parlance. Now I have got a little bit of experience in following speed readouts but I couldn’t master this at all… my most extreme problem was gliding across the Danube at 20 feet with the throttle closed with the GPS speed readout showing a fixed 210 knots. It didn’t budge for ages… when eventually it did move it then proudly announced that we were flying at 176 knots. Now I know that GPS has a delay but this delay was by far and away the most extreme I have ever seen. Why? Well we don’t know… was it a combination of duff GPS signal and wind around the Citadel hill… whatever it was, none of us mastered it and hence the unlikely DQ’s of Sergei Rakhmanin, Glen Dell and Nicolas Ivanoff. Please don’t try and tell me that a World Aerobatic Champion, a 25,000 hour aeroplane and helicopter pilot and a French Aerobatic Champion can’t fly at a fixed speed. Our pilot debriefing, not surprisingly, was mostly about speed measurement… the upshot during the race was that few of us dared to enter the track anywhere near the limit speed and therefore probably lost time in the process (except for Hannes who cleverly entered at exactly 370 kmph in the Super 8 round) … watch this space as the sport needs to find a reliable and robust way to limit our speed at the start. By the way, the reason for the limit is to satisfy Civil Aviation Authority rules on crowd separation and the speed at which we fly… the faster you go, the more separation you need and most tracks don’t have the room for us to fly over 200 knots which then needs 200 meters clearance between planes and people.
As for the race… well, what a lovely day out for Team Bonhomme… I briefed myself just to have a nice day and try and fly three solid runs. I managed that and it rewarded us with a second place thanks to a small mistake by Hannes (giving him a 2 second penalty) and Kirby not quite replicating the blistering run he flew in Q1… and congratulations to Mikey G who flew steadily all day and took his first win. So amazingly we’re back at the top of the leader board by one point… not something I would have forecast in the middle of the week.
We’ve got some work to do because despite my atrocious flying, we still need more power… we’re looking into some tweaks before Porto which (fingers crossed) will help us go faster… And once again well done to Wade and Nigel who incredibly did not lose faith with me once during the week… Cheers!