With only 48 hours until Qualifying launches the second half of the 2018 Red Bull Air Race season in Kazan, the pilots have been taking off to test their latest modifications in Russian skies. Petr Kopfstein, Nicolas Ivanoff, Juan Velarde and defending World Champion Yoshihide Muroya were all rumoured to have made modifications over the two-month summer break. We caught up with them for an update...
Kopfstein's Team Spielberg had already implemented some modifications, such as switching sharkskin, before the June race in Budapest, and the pilot had been clear that refinements would follow. So what's new for the Czech team?
"We had the raceplane for quite a long while after the Budapest race, so we did huge maintenance – stuff that you don't really see, but that matters a lot," Kopfstein shared. "I mean small modifications that are under the hood as well as the interconnections between parts, like the connection between the wheelpants and the fuselage, so you have less screws and less drag. It looks easy, but you have to re-sand it and repaint it, so it's a lot of work."
The Czech pilot also took advantage of the break to spend almost 10 days flying and testing the raceplane in an effort to get as much data as possible before arriving in Russia. "We don't spend much time in the aircraft during the season, because the flights are super short. So I flew quite a lot of hours and just tried to feel the aircraft much more. We still have a lot of work to do, which we plan for the offseason," he explained.
Ivanoff was in high spirits, joking that his team took it easy over the break, working "only" 12-hour days. But he got serious when he talked about the cylinder work that Team Hamilton had conducted to help resolve his engine cooling issues, and the new winglets that he was testing one last time over Kazan before he gets a first run through the racetrack in Friday's Free Practice.
"It was a busy summer. We did some testing and training in France, and my test flight here went OK. Everything is good with the plane, and I hope the feeling will be good when we start Free Practice," he stated.
Spain's Velarde also arrived in Kazan with new winglets. "We did a couple of days of testing the new winglets in Madrid, and apparently they're a little bit more efficient than the other ones we had," reported the Team Velarde pilot moments after landing from his first Russian test flight. "The raceplane is behaving almost the same, but it has a little more aggressive wing stall. We'll have to see the telemetry, and once we're in the racetrack we can compare data. The feeling is good so far."
Every team keeps tabs on what opponents are up to, and perhaps no hangar was subject to more scrutiny than that of Japan's Team Falken. Currently in fifth place in the standings, the always formidable Muroya is ripe for a comeback, so when his Edge 540 V3 appeared festooned with airflow indicators, speculation about what kind of modifications he might be testing were off the charts.
Looking refreshed and eager to race, Muroya laughed and said, "The raceplane is too fast now, so we need to slow it down!" Then he continued, "No, we're just testing airflows, confirming that they're not going badly."
When asked whether Team Falken planned on switching back to the smaller tail that they tried briefly at their home race in Chiba, Muroya answered, "We'll stick with the larger tail for the rest of the season. The plane performance is really good."
With only four races left and 14 of the world's best pilots eager to get back into the racetrack, who will grab the momentum in Kazan?
The Red Bull Air Race return to Russia takes off with Qualifying on Saturday, 25 August, followed by Race Day on Sunday, 26 August 2018. Follow all the action HERE.