As predicted here in Japan, the weather changed between Free Practice 1 and 2. But the experience of the Master Class pilots came to the fore. Here they share their thoughts on the day...
"Between the two sessions the wind really picked up and it takes up a lot of effort to work out your race lines and angles through the gates. The track isn't difficult to fly, but it's difficult to fly the fastest lines. The wind can be difficult; it's something you have to react to. You have to think really fast and make the calculations, and with all the turns in this track you don't have a lot of thinking time."
"Today the first flight was good with OK weather, but I made some mistakes. So when I went out for Free Practice 2 I wanted to improve, but the wind was up, which made me think it would be difficult to better my first time. But it was OK and not bumpy. I keep making the same mistake on the second vertical turn, it's quite a complicated track."
"I was happy to get my over-G out of the way in the first practice session, but it's very easy to do on this track – I wasn't surprised that it happened. I'm looking for the rhythm and the flow of the track. You can't afford to lose energy because it's so fast you won't be able to get it back."
"The wind picked up in the second session, but it wasn't a problem. I like the track, I think it's better than last year. It's going to favour the faster raceplanes as it's a long straight track, but if the wind picks up it could work better for us. I've been surprised by the amount of pylon hits there have been so far on this type of track."
"Today's conditions were perfect for flying. There was hardly any wind at all, but when it does start to blow there are a couple of places where it'll get really tight. I'd always like to shave some seconds off my time, but the engine is good and we're hoping everything else is good as well."
"Free Practice 1 wasn't very good for me, but you cant really take anything from the first session in the track. I'm happy with my time in the second session, but they weren't error free. I had to make corrections, which scrubbed off speed. So there are improvements to be made; I need to see what my analyst says."
François Le Vot
"It was as expected today. I had learned and rehearsed the track very seriously. And I know it worked because I had only one penalty in six runs. That shows that I was well prepared. I am satisfied with my work and my preparation. But I am disappointed with my timing because once again we are at the end of the row by an average of three seconds – which is better than last year. Now we are struggling to catch up with the timing. We need to develop the aircraft, but that is not for now. No pylon hits and no mistakes, so I'm happy."
"It's getting windy out there, but we're happy with how it went today. We often fly well in the first session and we did that in Free Practice 1. We had the lines prepared and they worked out. In Free Practice 2 I was slightly more conservative but only 0.5s off the pace. The best news is my back feels good. I was nervous coming here because I wasn't sure how it would be, but I feel really confident after today."
"I didn't have any trouble with the track today. I thought it would be harder. But there are a lot of places you can get the raceplane out of position. You have to enter the vertical turns in the right place to set yourself up properly for the next gate. You can't get that wrong."
"The two vertical turns are really tight, but the rest of the track is very fluid. I'm struggling with the vertical turns as I can't find any margin to get the right line for the next gate. The raceplane is flying very smoothly but we need to get a little bit more from it."
"I was flying back and I didn't even realise I was the top in Free Practice 2, it's good to know! I think the track is a good setup and it felt like we were just cruising around, so tomorrow we need to do the same cruise. This is different to last year. We have been able to train and set up the raceplane, it's still difficult but I think it's alright for now. All the pilots are good and I hope the fans will come and watch!"
"It's a nice, interesting track that's definitely fast. I'll have to be careful of over-G at the vertical turning manoeuvres. It was perfect conditions out there today and we'll have to see what the wind does tomorrow – it will make it a different track. The raceplane is much better than in Abu Dhabi, but we still need to improve it a little bit."
"It's a tricky track, but very interesting. There are three parts where the line could become really difficult depending on the wind. We've had light wind today but the forecast for tomorrow is 20kts, so the lines will be completely different and Gates 8-9 will be really tight in those conditions."
"It was good out there today. I made a clean run in Free Practice 2. We're flying exactly how we want and changing small details. My times are getting faster and faster with each run. Tomorrow will be windy, but that could help us as we need the track to be tricky for us to be even more competitive."