To become a Red Bull Air Race pilot takes skill, time and a whole lot of dedication. And it's a huge step up from the Challenger Class to the Master Class.
Since the introduction of the Challenger Cup in 2014 there have been five pilots move up into the Master Class. Francois Le Vot and Juan Velarde were the first in 2015, Peter Podlunsek and Petr Kopfstein at the start of the 2016 season and Cristian Bolton for the last two races of this year.
After a whole season in the Master Class we spoke to Podlunsek and Kopfstein about their experiences in the elite class of the Red Bull Air Race and what a learning curve its been for them...
How did you find the step up from the Challenger Class to the Master Class?
Petr Kopfstein: The step was bigger then expected, especially in managing the team, finding the right set ups for the raceplane, etc. The flying itself was not big problem but I still need get used to the raceplane more and spend more flying time in the track. We also have to work on the plane constantly and we need to get it faster for upcoming seasons.
Peter Podlunsek: The step up was honestly quite stressful. Besides that it wasn't a sharp one – the step up has lasted all season and it's not finished. We worked on the raceplane from the moment we got it and we are still working on it. This work is constant and will never end. As for the team, the step up was a smooth one, I have an amazing team! And finally, the step up for the pilot was quite tough. My colleagues would know how giant the step from the Challenger plane to a raceplane is. A whole different story...
What did you learn throughout your first year?
PK: We gained a lot of experience, but we did not fly as much as we hoped at the beginning of the season. The weather was not really favorable this year but we are getting more familiar with our raceplane with every single race.
PP: The list of things I learned throughout first year is too long to list them all, but let's say that I mostly learned how to be patient, prudent and wise enough not to allow the external factors to affect my focus and enthusiasm.
What advice would you give to a new pilot entering the Challenger Class and a new pilot entering the Master Class?
PK: First of all focus on safe flying and do not let the distractions get in your way. The rest will come with time and experience.
PP: I would advise him or her to take it step by step, nice and slowly and especially not being impulsive about anything. In other words: don't dive in head first!
Are you changing anything for the 2017 season?
PK: We are working intensively on the aircraft. We have changed a lot on the raceplane but I will leave it as a surprise for Abu Dhabi...
PP: You have already seen all our revolutionary changes in our first season. Now the focus is flying, without excessive stress and not thinking "we need a faster plane". Now our raceplane is fast and let's see what can we do with it.