Spielberg's hidden pylon challenge

Spielberg is preparing for the arrival of the ultimate motorsport in the sky next week, when the Red Bull Air Race World Championship rolls into town. Fans will be able to witness the low altitude action up close and personal next Saturday and Sunday, but there'll be a whole lot of groundwork going on beforehand to get ready for a weekend of high-adrenaline racing.

Racetrack Ops will be on site earlier in the week to undertake the racetrack build – a mighty task that falls to the specialist team of Airgators. The Airgators are responsible for the pylon construction, repair, maintenance and disassembly, and along with the rest of the Racetrack Ops team, are typically at each race location for up to two weeks before and one week after each race.

For land-based tracks like Spielberg and Ascot, it takes around six to eight hours to set up the Air Gates. But with a difference of around 65m in the Red Bull Ring's ground-level track elevation, and a requirement that each Air Gate needs to be perfectly level and parallel, the Airgators will really have their work cut out in Spielberg.

The 1.5m pylon bases and 23.5m high pylons must be constructed to exactly the regulation 25m level Air Gate height. On undulating and uneven ground, this is achieved by placing the feet the pylon bases on spindles, which can be raised or lowered. One member of the team will then adjust the spindle, and another will use a spirit level on the horizontal beam of the frame to make sure it's perfectly flat.

Once a pair of pylons has been constructed to make a complete Air Gate, it's not just a case of 'job done'. As each pylon can create up to an incredible 1.5 tonnes of force, the Air Gate team needs to make sure each base is also secure. Each pylon will have eight tones of weight to stop it moving – that's 16 tonnes of anchoring weight per Air Gate – which is done using ballast, or around 36 110cm specialist nails. The nails are equivalent to around one tonne in weight.

One challenge remains for the Airgators – changeable weather. On land-based tracks, thankfully this is less of an issue than with floating pylon barges. But regardless, all eyes will be on weather forecasts in Spielberg next week ahead of what promises to be a full-charged, thrilling weekend of racing. Check out the action live via redbullairrace.com/live on 23 and 24 April.

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