Courtesy of Red Bull Newsroom
‘The Quick Corsican’ like an artist in the sky as he approaches landmark birthday.
The clock is ticking to Nicolas Ivanoff’s landmark 50th birthday, the Red Bull Air Race pilot having spent virtually half a century in flight.
Ivanoff will blow the candles off his birthday cake in three months time but there is little suggestion he is about to hang up his jumpsuit any time soon on the eve of racing this weekend in San Diego, a venue that accounts for one of his victories in the series.
Instead, he talks about flying with the passion of a newcomer, and is akin to a pilot philosopher likening each flight to an artist’s brush strokes.
“I like the idea that we’re artists in the sky,” says a pilot labelled ‘the Quick Corsican’. “The big reason some days I don’t do things very well is a bit like telling an artist to every day do the same painting. I like this idea because sometimes he won’t feel right. Me too in flight.”
Ivanoff’s results have been prone to fluctuation during his time in the Red Bull Air Race Series.
His former rival Nigel Lamb in his pre-season predictions likened him to the French rugby team, adding, “you never know which Nicolas Ivanoff is going to turn up”.
Lamb said: “He has enormous talent and when he’s like that, he’s virtually unbeatable but, most of the time, his mind seems to be elsewhere and he’s midfield.”
It is an analogy that Ivanoff not just accepts but also fully embraces.
“I’m really glad to read something like that from someone like Nigel,” he adds. “And he’s right because, when I have a good feeling, everything is right but sometimes it’s just not right.
“I’m working on that and I need to find the right way to get the good feeling in the plane always.”
It is telling that Ivanoff boasts nine podiums from his time in the series but, of that nine, five have been race wins.
The most recent came in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of last season, while the United States has habitually been his best stomping ground with successes in San Diego, which hosts this weekend’s round, and Texas Motor Speedway.
The idea, though, that victory in the past in San Diego can spur him on to further success at the venue this time around does not resonate with him.
“I wish,” he says somewhat wistfully. “Yes, I have won there before and, yes, I hope to win there again but it’s not always so easy. For one, the race track is not always the same and the feeling is never the same.
“And you can maybe go well in the qualifying but not the race. Abu Dhabi is a good example. I won there last year and felt great in the race but this year I just could not get back that same sensation. Of course, that is a little disappointing.”
At times, Ivanoff talks like he is on a quest to untap his true potential, a search he is more confident of achieving this year than ever before.
“I feel like a child just before Christmas with all the gifts,” he says as he approaches his 50th birthday. “I feel just like I’m beginning again. I still have a lot to race, and I want to compete all over again.
“For sure, the title is possible this year. We have improved our team members and this could be the year for me. In my mind, I may be approaching 50 but I feel better than 10 years ago. I’m still like a teenager and I feel like I can do this for 10 more years.”
The Corsican is still driven by a thirst for speed. Growing up, that had initially been in motorsport, his aspirations to race in Formula 1 or else the World Rally Championship.
He admits he was probably not good enough for either, while his mother did not want her son pursuing such a dangerous career. So instead he took to the skies, and has made the sky his home ever since.
“I have a small home but I travel so much I am not there very much so it does not feel like a real home,” he says. “So the sky is my home, and I like to move around.”
Up in the air, he still has plenty to achieve and rectify.
First and foremost, he aims to be less conservative in 2017. “Too often I try to be more safe in races to avoid mistakes,” he explains. “There’s not enough risk taking. I need to fly more with feel and not be conservative.
“Sometimes your mind wants to do something but your body says ‘no’. That needs to change.
“But I have time. Flying is still a big part of my life. I cannot think of not doing it and not racing against the best.”