The role of the Race Director
Former Red Bull Air Race winner Steve Jones, and ex-US Naval aviator Jim DiMatteo are the two Race Directors of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
"In the run-up to the flying over a race week we keep a watchful eye on the organisation to make sure everything is in order," said Jones. "It's making sure everything is going to work as it should. We're looking out for issues that other people may not have spotted. We're there ultimately so on Race Day everyone can race safely and fairly," he added.
The role of the Race Director doesn't just begin in Race Week though; they are involved with many other aspects as well, including dealing with each country's aviation authority and the design of the racetrack. "We like to make sure the track is a good and challenging one. We also say if we think it needs to be altered," said Jones.
A lot of the race locations are held in restricted airspace, meaning the Race Directors have to work with the local aviation authorities to allow the flying to take place. "We work with the aviation authorities on the flying days. Ascot is a classic example where our entire race operation is contained in a bubble that's entirely surrounded by Heathrow Controlled Airspace. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority has done a great job allowing us to fly within that bubble, but we have to make sure we stay in it – or we're all in trouble," explained Jones. "We also try to make the procedure of flying from the airport to the racetrack as simple as possible for the pilots so they can concentrate on the race. Even though they are some of the most experienced pilots in the world we still want them focused on the race," he added.
The Race Directors are based in the Race Tower although they have to visit the race airport to chair the pilots' briefing every morning before the flying begins. "All the pilots will offer their opinions on the track one way or another," said Jones. "We always listen to them because they are very experienced, but they can all offer different point of views. So we collate what they have said and make changes if necessary."
During the racing Jones and DiMatteo have to make sure that the race is fair, that the pilots are navigating the track correctly and not incurring any penalties. "To make sure everyone is flying correctly we have very good judging cameras. We have at least two at every gate that are entirely devoted to checking that the aircraft is complying to the rules," explained Jones. "In addition to that we have very experienced pilots or ex-pilots out on the track checking that the competitors don't cross the safety line – it's mainly for aviation authority compliance. In Budapest the pilots had to stay a certain distance away from the river bank so we put experienced judges with a radio who could speak to the Head Steward to let them know if a pilot had crossed the safety line or not."
The Race Directors' role is essential for the smooth running of the Red Bull Air Race, and it takes two very experienced aviators in Jones and DiMatteo to make sure everything runs as it should. In doing so they have helped create one of the most exciting seasons so far in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.