Designed to win – behind the look of the raceplanes
There is a lot to consider in a raceplane design: Will it be instantly recognisable to fans? How will it contrast against the global backdrops of the Red Bull Air Race? And does it clearly represent what the team is all about?
Victoria Griffiths, team coordinator for #11RACING piloted by Mika Brageot, sums up what may be the most important objective of all: "We wanted to look different – totally different from the rest of the aircraft flying in the race."
For his first Master Class campaign in 2017, the French pilot pulled off a cool retro style. But heading into their second season, the team wanted a look that represented the energy and potential of Brageot, who at 30 is the youngest pilot in the World Championship.
The answer was a paint finish never before seen in the sport's more than 80 previous races. "We were going for a young, futuristic feel. Mika had the idea of using a black chrome effect, so we set out trying to find a company that would be able to put this plan into action," Griffiths explains. "We also needed an entire rebrand, so we sought help from French designer Adrien Paviot."
The unprecedented chrome concept was a risk, but the team was in good hands. Paviot is well known for motorsport liveries like rally superstar Sébastien Loeb's Pikes Peak-winning Peugeot 208. Team #11RACING gave the designer additional input on what they were hoping to achieve: "We wanted a scheme that would be sleek and classy, but still give a race-y feel," Griffiths relates.
Like Brageot, Chilean pilot Cristian Bolton envisioned a new look for his raceplane in his own second full season of racing this year. He collaborated with Juan Pablo Manterola and Travis Earnest of Florida's Pro Racing Group to bring his ideas to life. "We worked really hard designing a new livery during the offseason," says the only Latin American pilot in the Red Bull Air Race. "Our goal was a dynamic design that represents the speed of this raceplane and makes the most of the power of the green colour we had already been using."
The striking result for Cristian Bolton Racing is an abstract pattern of geometric shapes that practically look like they are moving even when the raceplane is standing still, as if they are streaming off the fuselage and wings. Bolton smiles, "The reaction from fans has been great!"
The 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany also decided to invest in a redesign in 2018. Much of his fuselage needed repainting anyway after aerodynamic improvements, and the fresh design would prominently feature a new team partner. But he also wanted to retain the recognisability that his team had built over six previous seasons. "As always, I tried to stay very clean with our design. Also I wanted to keep our white background colour," Dolderer describes. "We worked with Mirco Pecorari from Italy. He's very well known in the scene and designed my first aerobatic aeroplane in 2008."
With the raceplanes in transit among international stops throughout the year, once a design is realised, it can be difficult to make additional paint changes later in the season; so Dolderer used stickers to create his sharp black-and-red design against the white paint. "There are several reasons, but first of all, we can change it easily if we are joined by another new sponsor or partner," shares the German pilot.
The new look that Dolderer debuted at the second stop of the season in Cannes, was also a reminder that when a team's design changes, the raceplane is just the tip of the iceberg. "With a design concept, it's always a question of what you want to change, so we changed the hangar design, the flight suit, the autograph cards, everything," Dolderer outlines.
And for Brageot and #11RACING, how did the aesthetic gamble on a mirror-like chrome finish turn out? "The response has been very positive. Because it's so different, it's very recognisable and draws quite a bit of attention," Brageot says. "We love how the pylons reflect on the wing as the plane passes by, and how, when it reflects the blue sky, the plane comes to life like a chameleon!"
Next week, Part 2: How can a redesign affect raceplane performance? And what happens when it does not go as planned?