Designed to win – Behind the look of World Championship raceplanes – Part 1: Aesthetics

Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service Team

Details of the race plane of Mika Brageot of France seen during the first stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on January 28, 2018. –
Photographer Credit:
Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Every team in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship wants to stand out, right down to the visual motif of their raceplane. In the first of a two-part series, we look at the creative process behind these unique designs.

There is a lot to consider in a raceplane design: Will it be instantly recognizable 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 of France, 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 color 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!”

Matthias Dolderer of Germany performs during qualifying day at the second round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Cannes, France on April 21, 2018. –
Photographer Credit:
Mihai Stetcu/Red Bull Content Pool

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 recognizability that Matthias Dolderer Racing 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 color,” Dolderer describes. “We worked with Mirco Pecorari from Italy. He’s very well known in the scene and designed my first aerobatic airplane in 2008.” With the raceplanes in transit among international stops throughout the year, once a design is realized, it can be difficult to make additional paint changes later in the season; so Matthias Dolderer Racing used stickers to create their 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, France, 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 recognizable 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?

Mikael Brageot of France performs during qualifying day at the first round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 2, 2018. –
Photographer Credit:
Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
20-22 April: Cannes, France
26-27 May: Chiba, Japan
23-24 June: Budapest, Hungary
25-26 August: Kazan, Russia
September: TBA
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
November: TBA 

About Red Bull Air Race
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held more than 80 races around the globe. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.


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