Abu Dhabi is now famed as the season opener in the Red Bull Air Race. Held over the Corniche, the UAE capital's skyline provides a stunning backdrop for the first dose of high-G action. And while the pilots can prepare mentally, physically and technically for their inaugural race of the season, there's one aspect that remains unpredictable – the weather.
Abu Dhabi is known for year-round sunshine and gentle sea breezes – perfect for the holidaymaker, but an extra challenge for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship pilots.
The heat can affect the power of the engine and the wind is very unpredictable something the pilots have to consider before every run. "The wind is changeable in Abu Dhabi," said 2014 World Champion Nigel Lamb. "Trying to find the perfect line is a challenge in the circuit, staying on it with strong wind is even harder. You need to be a savvy pilot, but the wind is the wind, we can't make any changes to the aircraft – he who doesn't pay attention to the wind will suffer."
Pete McLeod, who finished third in Abu Dhabi last year, added: "I've seen all conditions at this track. I've seen the wind blow in off the desert, off the sea, and we've had it really calm – but it's not new. These conditions will rough up the timesheets, so you can't count on what will happen on Race Day."
The new racetrack layout for Abu Dhabi in 2016 will once again feature the high-G vertical turn after Gate 3. And while the Abu Dhabi track is one of the fastest in the race calendar, it's also one of the more technical tracks.
This year, speculation is that the race could be won or lost at the third and fourth Air Gates. With faster raceplanes, increasing agility and streamlining, even the smallest mistake or adjustment will count, so getting those race lines and angles perfect before Race Day has never been so important.
"If you look at a slalom skier, they will look ahead and work out the best angle at which to hit the next gate before they've gone through the current one," explained Race Director Jim DiMatteo. "This is exactly what the pilots will do, they will need to work out what's the best racing line for them. We're expecting a close race which will make it very, very exciting," he concluded.