Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service Team
When the Red Bull Air Race World Championship debuted in France on 20-22 April, the new dimension in motorsport was a big draw for the stars of four-wheel racing.
Among the familiar faces from Formula One was two-time F1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen from Finland, as well as Scotland’s David Coulthard and Austria’s Alexander Wurz. In the relative calm before Qualifying. Coulthard and Wurz brought their families to explore the Race Airport hangars.
“I’ve always been impressed with how skilled the pilots are, and I think for anyone that has a pilot’s license, this is the ultimate in terms of competition,” said Coulthard, who finished on the F1 World Championship podium five times. “What’s really hit me here is to see how much the sport has grown.”
Wurz, too, was captivated. “Ever since I saw ‘Top Gun,’ I’ve been infatuated with flying. The speed is fascinating, and I love the planes and the pilots. For me, it’s the definition of cool,” said the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, who offered a comparison of his own when he described Cannes as the Monaco of Air Racing. “This is a brain sport, and you need the support of a strong team.”
The world of rally was well represented at the Race Airport by three French athletes: nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb; five-time Dakar Rally motorcycle winner (and current rally car driver) Cyril Despres; and Luc Alphand, who converted a champion World Cup skiing career into success as a Dakar Rally-winning driver.
“This is close to the kind of motorsport I do – you work on the engine, you work on the chassis and you race. You have to train a lot, you have to be concentrated and you must have quick reactions. And first, I think you have to have a good feeling in the car, or the plane,” Loeb stated.
Alphand expressed, “I’ve seen the Red Bull Air Race on TV, but being here you truly realize how complex it is to fly through the track. I think it’s great to have this huge event in France.”
Nodding in agreement, Despres noted, “The Côte d’Azur is a monument for the international world. To be here in this place, it’s just incredible.” On the subject of the sport, he commented, “This looks similar to mine. You have the technology, the trajectory, and the power. Maybe here it’s a little bit faster, and maybe a little more adrenaline when you are a home pilot flying over this beautiful bay!”
Young rallycross charger Cyril Raymond (2017 GRC Supercar Lites champion, two-time World RX2 champion) was in his element. “I live near Cannes, and it’s very special to be here because it’s my first time to see all these machines, the grandstands, the atmosphere, everything,” he shared. “I’m very impressed by this motorsport. Very.”
Two Formula E stars even took the opportunity for a G-Flight in a two-seater raceplane piloted by Challenger Cup champion Florian Bergér of Germany:
Jean-Éric Vergne of France had never before taken a G-Flight, but he did not want Bergér to hold back. “It was a completely new experience for me, and I absolutely loved it,” said the former Formula One driver. “We do feel Gs in our racecars, but nothing like what we feel in this plane. Not everybody could do what these pilots are doing.”
Meanwhile his Formula E teammate, the 2012 World Endurance Champion and three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner André Lotterer, was a G-Flight veteran. “I took G-Flights at the Red Bull Air Races in Japan and Budapest, and when I had the opportunity to take one here I didn’t hesitate, with the beautiful scenery of the Côte d’Azur,” said the driver, whose background is German and Belgian. “It always impresses again and again – and this experience was even stronger. There are a lot of parallels in our motorsport worlds, and the pilots are interested in our cars and their aerodynamics.”
Thinking a moment, Lotterer confided, “Now it crosses my mind sometimes to get a pilot license. Who knows?”
Six races remain, and Japan is next: For tickets and all the latest news about the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, visit www.redbullairrace.com.
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
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
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 370 kmh 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.