It's here! The 2018 season has started and the Master Class pilots have flown into the track for the first two practice sessions. Here is what all 14 pilots thought of today's flying...
"The track was good and it felt nice and comfortable out there today. It's always good to fly last in the session. It means you're in first position overall and it means I don't have to worry about what the other pilots are going to do. The track looks simple but there are many tricks to it; all the teams will be working on their lines this evening."
"Today was about testing different setups and trajectories. It wasn't bad, but there are still many things to adjust. I hope I have enough time to get faster. There's still one more session before Quali, so still time to test some things. Now we analyse, but apart from the pull up I don't think there are many places to make the difference. I think most of the guys will be flying the same lines tomorrow."
"It's always great to be back in Abu Dhabi because it means we're back racing and it's the start of the season. Every race I'm excited to show up and race. Last year was good, so we'll try to build on that. I think this track has been over simplified. Last year it was simple and this year it's been straightened. Gs are a problem and there aren't a lot of places out there where you can make up time. You'll see a fast aeroplane do very well in the track. The hardest part is trying not to over-G. It's worse at Gates 6, 7, 8, you've got a little less control because you're committed to the gate, you've made your turn and you have to make that gate. At Gate 3 and 10 you can change your G and turn, but it's easier as you don't have to have a gate to go through."
"Other than the over-G it's going fairly well, we need to figure out where we can find another half a second, so we'll see what happens. It's a little bit different from last year, but it's basically the same. I didn't know I'd over-Gd and Jimmy [DiMatteo] started talking to me. I was like, 'why is he talking to me?' and I couldn't understand why, but I'd exceeded the G-limit. I was 12.2G. if I was 11.9G I would've pressed on. I didn't mean to, but it happens."
"The track is pretty easy but we've just found a new way to fly and we're going to look at our lines. We're having a problem with some of our systems that we're working on and hopefully they'll be ready for tomorrow. If the wind shifts, our lines will be different but we think we know what's working."
"The track was a lot nicer than yesterday when it was pretty rough and bumpy, so today it's a nicer track. And I think the weather is going to get better as the race goes on. I have to get used to the entire plane again. With the new paint scheme, the centre of gravity has changed, and the controls have changed so I have to relearn how to fly the plane again, but we'll get there."
"I tried to do generally the same thing in the afternoon [as in the morning flight]. We are always pulling to the maximum G we can, and of course sometimes you have to do an inspection because you go over 12G. That's the third time for me this week. This just happens if we go to the limit, it's motorsport. I'll be trying to avoid that of course in the next few days, but overall I'm confident; I'm happy with the plane. I like the track and am happy with my flying except the over-Gs. As we know, you need consistency, you cannot make any mistakes. But being fastest is the most crucial, and we go from here."
"We've had some up and downs today. In the earlier session we didn't do as good times as yesterday. So we've analysed our lines and we got a little better, but we can still improve. We're playing with the wind. At the VTM everyone is doing different things – some go left, some go right and others go vertical. A few different options and we're just testing at the moment. I think we can get on the podium again, the team is working really well, the raceplane is well tuned. We're in a good place and we'll see what happens."
"We've settled down into a rhythm now. With the training and practice we went out this afternoon and tried some things to see if we could gain some speed. We're still learning, but we have a solid plan for the track and the plane is running awesomely; it feels really nice. It's the little things that make the difference, and the mix of our team works. With Emily here, Pablo is able to concentrate on the tactician stuff and Steve at home helping. Warren has been working on the plane like he did all winter and all the pieces have fitted together. We can't say we've always had that, but we have now and that feels nice."
"I feel a lot of difference with the raceplane because we worked a lot on the aerodynamics, from the spinner to the tail. We've changed many parts like cowling, air intakes, filled all the gaps that were creating drag, rebalanced the aircraft to get more efficiency in the turns, and we reduced the weight as well. So of course we can feel the difference first in the handling, but also in engine performance and cooling. It's nice to jump in again and see that we have done some improvements. That gives you a cool head before going to race for the first time this season."
"Today in the new plane I actually felt better than yesterday, because the weather conditions were better – less wind, less bumpy. I have to get comfortable with this plane, especially the vertical turning manoeuvre and also Gates 6, 7 and 8, because I still don't feel completely good there and can't find the best line for this turn. Also, before I used to fly with a sound for the G meter so I could calibrate the pulling with the sound, and I don't have that in this plane. We have to learn the plane like that, without the sound, which takes time. It's not so easy to change to this plane, but step-by-step we should be OK."
"In the second run of FP1 I hit Gate 2C on the second lap as I was trying to cut a bit of the angle, but it's part of the Air Race. I feel very good, I put down a time almost two seconds faster than my training camp time, so we're finding the line. The net time is very good. Gates 6, 7 and 8 are quite tricky, the angles between those gates make it a good challenge for the pilots, especially with the changing wind. The plane is running well, it's faster and lighter."
François Le Vot
"I've always liked being here, it's a little bit of summer in winter and I do like summer! My culture is the sun, the sea and the heat. The track layout is nice and so is the environment. I'm having a lot of fun in the track and we're trying lots of different tactics and as always, I'm very happy as I'm following the gameplan, which is allowing us to collect data. Toby [Odewald] is very experienced and I've known him for many years. We have always planned to work together and we're all getting along well in the team. My hope for this weekend is to not be disappointed or frustrated at the end of the race. So I have to work hard, stay focused and not make stupid mistakes. And I can feel my confidence returning."
"We had a good day and have been surprised. With a new team and a new aircraft we fully expected to be a few seconds behind, but after the Free Practice sessions, to find ourselves in the pack was a very pleasant surprise. Overall it's been a fantastic start and we couldn't hope for better. As a team we've all been working hard in the offseason, so we've arrived here as prepared as possible. All the team members are working well, so for me as the pilot, I can concentrate on that. There's good feeling in the hangar. We're not being cautious, but we know our advantage lies in a clean round."
The action heats up even more tomorrow with Qualifying, catch all the live action right HERE.