Motorsport legends look to the skies

Drivers and riders converged on Cannes to see the Red Bull Air Race

David Coulthard speaks to Matt Hall

At the recent race in Cannes, motorsport legends who usually work with two or four wheels, arrived at the race airport to see what they might be able to learn to help their own disciplines of racing...

There are plenty of differences between the Red Bull Air Race and other motorsports, but there is also a lot of similarities and the drivers and pilots could learn new tricks to improve their season.

Among the familiar faces from Formula One was two-time F1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen from Finland, as well as Scotland's David Coulthard and Austria's Alexander Wurz. In the relative calm before Qualifying. Coulthard and Wurz brought their families to explore the Race Airport hangars.

"I've always been impressed with how skilled the pilots are, and I think for anyone that has a pilot's licence, this is the ultimate in terms of competition," said Coulthard, who finished on the F1 World Championship podium five times. "What's really hit me here is to see how much the sport has grown."

David Coulthard (l) talks to Felix Baumgartner and Mika Häkkinen talk at the race. ©Vincent Curutchet/RBAR

Wurz, too, was captivated. "Ever since I saw 'Top Gun,' I've been infatuated with flying. The speed is fascinating, and I love the planes and the pilots. For me, it's the definition of cool," said the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, who offered a comparison of his own when he described Cannes as the Monaco of Air Racing. "This is a brain sport, and you need the support of a strong team."

Wurz meets with Petr Kopfstein. ©Predrag Vuckovic/RBAR

The world of rally was well represented at the Race Airport by three French athletes: nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb; five-time Dakar Rally motorcycle winner (and current rally car driver) Cyril Despres; and Luc Alphand, who converted a champion World Cup skiing career into success as a Dakar Rally-winning driver.

"This is close to the kind of motorsport I do – you work on the engine, you work on the chassis and you race. You have to train a lot, you have to be concentrated and you must have quick reactions. And first, I think you have to have a good feeling in the car, or the plane," Loeb stated.

Loeb talks with Mika Brageot. ©Daniel Grund/RBAR

On the subject of the sport, Despres noted, "This looks similar to mine. You have the technology, the trajectory, and the power. Maybe here it's a little bit faster, and maybe a little more adrenaline when you are a home pilot flying over this beautiful bay!"

Young rallycross charger Cyril Raymond was in his element. "I live near Cannes, and it's very special to be here because it's my first time to see all these machines, the grandstands, the atmosphere, everything," he shared. "I'm very impressed by this motorsport. Very."

Cyril Raymond (l) with François Le Vot, Cyril Despres and Luc Alphand. ©Predrag Vuckovic/RBAR

Two Formula E stars even took the opportunity for a G-Flight in a two-seater raceplane piloted by Challenger Cup champion Florian Bergér of Germany: Jean-Éric Vergne of France had never before taken a G-Flight, but he did not want Bergér to hold back. "It was a completely new experience for me, and I absolutely loved it," said the former Formula One driver. "We do feel Gs in our racecars, but nothing like what we feel in this plane. Not everybody could do what these pilots are doing."

Meanwhile his Formula E teammate, the 2012 World Endurance Champion and three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner André Lotterer, was a G-Flight veteran. "I took G-Flights at the Red Bull Air Races in Japan and Budapest, and when I had the opportunity to take one here I didn't hesitate, with the beautiful scenery of the Côte d'Azur," said the driver, whose background is German and Belgian. "It always impresses again and again – and this experience was even stronger. There are a lot of parallels in our motorsport worlds, and the pilots are interested in our cars and their aerodynamics."

Thinking a moment, Lotterer confided, "Now it crosses my mind sometimes to get a pilot licence. Who knows?"

Motorsport stars on the Red Bull Air Race