Building A Dream Team
Success in any major motorsport means having a crackerjack team. Here is a rundown of the key team members you will find in every Red Bull Air Race hangar, as exemplified by Australia’s Matt Hall Racing.
“My dream is to become World Champion,” says pilot Matt Hall, who has been chasing that very goal since first joining the Red Bull Air Race in 2009.
Three second-place overall finishes in the past four seasons show just how close Matt Hall Racing may be to realising the dream. But success in any major motorsport means having a crackerjack team, and 2019 marks the return of the same crew who helped Hall come within three-tenths of a second of the title last year. As the pilot, Hall is in the spotlight, but his team are working equally has hard behind the scenes…
Here is a rundown of the key team members you will find in every Red Bull Air Race hangar, as exemplified by Australia’s Matt Hall Racing:
Technician: The Technician keeps the raceplane safe and running optimally. In addition, the Technician assembles (and disassembles) the raceplane at each stop, attends to the engine between rounds of the race, executes careful yet rapid inspections whenever the pilot pushes too far over the G-limit, and makes repairs on the fly. Technicians can also suggest raceplane modifications and work to implement them. Matt Hall Racing’s Technician, David Finch, possessed more than two decades of aviation experience when he joined the team in 2018.
Tactician: The Tactician works with the pilot to find and train for the best lines in the racetrack across a variety of conditions. Tacticians not only develop data analysis systems and simulators, but they must suggest lines and strategy in a “language” the pilot can understand; in fact, many race tacticians are pilots themselves. Peter Wezenbeek, who has been Matt Hall’s Tactician since 2014, is a pilot as well as an expert in engineering and data acquisition and management, with the pedigree of having contributed to the World Championships won by Fernando Alonso on the Renault Formula 1 Team.
Team Coordinator: “The TC, sometimes we say it’s like being a duck,” shares Andrew Musgrove, the Team Coordinator for Matt Hall Racing since 2017. “You’re pedalling really fast under the water, and everything’s smooth on top.” Team Coordinators are the glue that hold a team together, taking care of everything from logistics to media requests, and managing all potential distractions calmly and efficiently so that team members can focus. Musgrove is a former competitive athlete possessing substantial expertise in public relations and communications. Going back to the duck analogy, he says of the TC role, “If the team think we’re not doing much, then we’ve done our job well.”
When a team works together seamlessly, their efforts can produce brilliant results – and also make tough times easier. Matt Hall Racing, for example, experienced engine problems at the 2019 season opener, yet managed to salvage fifth place. “If you have all your regular race week jobs under control, it allows you the time and ability to then devote your attention to items that do occur unexpectedly,” notes Finch. “For us, it’s important that every team member knows their role in critical situations. The person with the hardest job is Matt – naturally he wants to spend time at the hangar working on the issue. Late-night problem solving at the hangar is detrimental to Matt being at his best come Race Day, so his role in those situations is to remove himself and focus on the end game of delivering a strong result in the track.”
Finch concludes, “What Matt can do is work with Pete and I to describe how the plane felt when he was flying, and we can match that up against data and find where an issue lies. Our engine troubles in Abu Dhabi meant long working days, but this is racing. The field is incredibly tight, and you need to commit those sorts of hours. When you sign up to work on a race team, you sign up for the good times and the difficult times. It’s all part and parcel of what we do.”