What does it take to produce a Red Bull Air Race where it has never been done before? For the first time ever, the internal Event Production department reveals how they bring the new dimension of motorsport to a new location, with a countdown to the thrilling debut in France on 20-22 April.
Since the inaugural Red Bull Air Race in 2003, organisers have planned stops in more than 35 global destinations across five continents – each offering its own special flair, and each serving up fresh surprises and hurdles.
"There's so much time and effort involved," says Mike Hoehsl, Head of Event Production for the Red Bull Air Race. "That's what makes it so unique in every sense of the word. The motivation comes from that challenge every single time."
Among the eight stops in 2018 is the sport's long-awaited premiere in the skies of France, at the glamour spot of Cannes. Here is how a new race comes together in terms of event production, step by step.
Countdown to Cannes: Race minus 12 months
Like every location, the process starts when top executives from the Red Bull Air Race discuss the possibility with a host city partner.
"The host city partner can be anything from a single company to an official city entity like a tourist board or a mayor," Hoehsl explains. "It could also be a collaboration of stakeholders who join forces to bring a race to their location."
With all parties aligned, it is time for the "Feasibility Check." That is when the Director of Series, Head of Production (Hoehsl) and the Head of Aviation visit the location, studying it through the lens of their particular areas of expertise and responsibility.
Hoehsl describes, "We identify strong points and potential difficulties, and raise questions. Then we start a Feasibility Report to take back to our departments."
Their internal teams further research the location, producing an expanded report in less than 48 hours. With that information, the top executives meet and determine that Cannes is indeed a viable race location, and they identify a preliminary scope of work.
"We look at the whole business model in detail early on, because the necessary budget can be affected quite quickly by unforeseen changes," Hoehsl notes.
Minus 8 months
After pre-planning at headquarters in Salzburg, Austria, the next big milestone is the Site Visit. For two days, Red Bull Air Race staff at the operational level explore the Cannes area and meet with local agencies that have experience in producing large-scale events.
"Cannes is used to hosting world-class events, but even for this city, hosting something on the scale of the Red Bull Air Race is new," Hoehsl states. "Since we are producing an event in the air, we are adding a third dimension. Also, we produce a high-quality TV product that is broadcast around the world live, adding another layer to the production."
By the time the site visit is done, Red Bull Air Race Event Production has forged relationships in areas such as temporary infrastructure, security, traffic management, construction, office space, satellite signals and much more. (And Red Bull Air Race Aviation has done the same for the flying side of the equation.)
Next, it is a dive into documentation. The team maps the ideal place for the racetrack and its surrounding safety zone, public viewing, Sky Lounge (VIP hospitality), food and beverage vendors, a Media Center for journalists, the TV production compound, a variety of offices and – because a whole weekend of activities and attractions surround the race – the areas where spectators can enjoy all the other opportunities on offer.
After the first draft of the documentation is finished it is shared with local counterparts. It will be an ever-growing and evolving template.
Minus 5.5 months
With that template in place, it is time to heighten the conversation with internal departments including the Red Bull Air Race TV production team, the Commercial unit that creates ticketing packages, and the Communications team that distributes information about the race.
Meanwhile Event Production is fine-tuning their requirements list, such as looking into modes of transportation for internal team members and an extra crew catering area.
Also to be solved: Cannes' Palais des Festivals and des Congress convention center will be a key resource for the Red Bull Air Race, but because the race is sandwiched between a media industry event and Cannes' renowned film festival, the usual time for Red Bull Air Race setup and takedown is drastically reduced. Plus the race in Cannes is the first in the history of the sport to offer spectators a third day of ticketed attendance, tightening the schedule even more. Adding night shifts is the answer.
Minus 4 months
The permissions process is reaching its conclusion after working closely with representatives from the city/region. Discussions get down to minute detail, and by the end of January, everything from flight timings to the maximum seating capacity has been agreed upon and documented.
"When it comes to the Red Bull Air Race, we feel it should be about more than simply applying for permissions. It's connecting with people, educating them about all aspects of the event and creating best practices," Hoehsl comments.
Minus 3 months
In the midst of planning for Cannes, the Event Production department is in Abu Dhabi, producing the season opener. Hoehsl describes, "We invited production partners from Cannes to attend the race so that they could experience a similar setup. That's an invaluable level of education which really helps their understanding."
Minus 10 weeks
Another landmark is reached with the Virtual Walkthrough. Event Production gathers all their maps and plans, brings everyone from the Red Bull Air Race offices together in one room, and goes through "every single detail" of the infrastructure and event.
Minus 4 weeks
By mid-March, everything is in place and firmly scheduled, from hotel accommodations to arrival dates for equipment. The position of the anchors that secure the racetrack Air Gates has also been finalised – which required special innovation in Cannes.
A special environmental plan for the Bay of Cannes protects seagrass that covers 85% of the coast. To safeguard the delicate ecosystem, Red Bull Air Race collaborated with a European company to sonar-scan the French bay, creating a 3D image of the sea floor that shows exactly where it is safe to position the roughly 50 anchors needed for the Air Gates.
"At this point, all teams are up to date on what to expect, and there's not really much to be changed," says Hoehsl.
Minus 3 weeks
Event Production and Logistics personnel are in Cannes to organise the equipment and supplies where they will be needed throughout the city.
Minus 2 weeks
A core internal group of 100 people arrive and the build is on!
Minus 1 week
Now 700 people are working on site, across all areas of the event.
Minus 1 day
Red Bull Air Race pylons are inflated in France for the first time!
The culmination of over a year of work: Spectators arrive and the flying begins on Friday, accelerating through Qualifying on Saturday and right up until the winner is crowned on Race Day, Sunday.
Hoehsl smiles. "Cannes is just the second stop of the season! We dismantle in less than a week and ship everything to the next location, which is Chiba, Japan at the end of May. In other words, our first teams will be going to set up in Chiba just one week after the last plane crosses the Finish Line at the Croisette in Cannes. It's back-to-back, and no two races are ever the same."
Make sure you don't miss the first ever Red Bull Air Race in France on 20-22 April and get your ticket HERE!