Red Bull Air Race

The excitement of the Red Bull Air Race with Juan Velarde in Budapest

4 minutes

Juan Velarde, now in his third season in the Red Bull Air Race, continues to break barriers with the fastest planes in the world. The only Spanish pilot in the prestigious competition tells us all about his experiences as a pilot, just before leaving for Budapest, where he will once again compete for the podium next weekend.

The excitement of the Red Bull Air Race with Juan Velarde in Budapest

We are travelling at a very high speed, approximately 100 metres per second.


Juan Velarde

Hello to all the Box Repsol friends!

First of all, I’d like to say that it’s a pleasure to be able to share with you my experiences in the Red Bull Air Race, the most prestigious air sports competition. Many of you have never heard of it, so I would like you to learn more about this spectacular competition as I’m sure that you will like it.

The Red Bull Air Race is the most cutting-edge air sport competition. The two categories, the Challenger Cup and the Master Class where I have been competing for the past 3 years, have many of the best aerobatic pilots. It is an honour for me to compete alongside them as one of the 14 fastest pilots in the world.

I’m writing to you just as I am about to leave Spain for Hungary, where I plan to train for a few days before the race in Budapest on Saturday. Ted, our team mechanic, travelled 10 days ago to get the plane ready, and we hope to have a few days of training before the competition at an airfield in the South of Hungary.

The race ahead is unique, as we will be flying over the Danube River. Five of the eight races this year have been over water: Abu Dhabi, San Diego, Chiba in Japan, Oporto and now this one.

Personally, I prefer flying over water; I find it easier to get visual references if there are no colours to distract me. Remember that we are travelling at a very high speed, approximately 100 metres per second, and the gates are 200 or 300 metres apart. That’s 2 or 3 seconds between each gate! At that speed it’s essential to see the references as clearly as possible, and it’s easier if we are flying over a uniform background such as the blue sea, with a horizon free of lampposts, signposts and other distractions.

Juan Velarde del Equipo Repsol Honda

The Red Bull Air Race consists of a pure speed race with chronometer-certified movements. A circuit marked out by pylons has to be completed in the shortest time possible, and there is a long list of rules which must also be observed.

One of these is the start speed limit. We cannot enter the circuit at more than 370 km/h, but once we have crossed the start gate this restriction is lifted and our speed is only limited by the g-forces (the force of the pressure borne by the pilots).

Nor can we cross the gates when climbing or descending, the plane has to be level, at an angle of less than 10º.

Generally, a mistake means a time penalty, for example hitting a pylon adds 3 seconds to the final time. Sometimes it’s impossible not to hit them, because we are constantly adjusting the entry angle and you don’t pass the gate perfectly perpendicular.

Although it’s annoying to get a time penalty for a mistake, exceeding the g-loads means instant disqualification. The ‘g’ is the force applied by gravity on the pilot and the aircraft, and this increases when climbing or turning sharply.

For safety reasons, we are limited to 10G, and while you are flying it is really difficult to know whether you are close to the limit as the manoeuvres are very fast. We have two visual aids in the cockpit, a screen which indicates the g-force we are under, and a circle of lights which indicates when we are close to exceeding the limit. However, when we are flying, we don’t have time to look at the instruments panel, as we have to concentrate on the sensations the aircraft sends us. That’s why the most useful aid is a buzzer in our helmet which increases in volume with the g-force.

Juan Velarde del Equipo Repsol Honda

My role in the competition today is a medium- to long-term move. This is my third season and we are consolidating the work of recent years. Now is the ideal moment to start to achieve significant results. I have a team which works very well, I have the support of Repsol, and all of this gives us very serious possibilities of winning races. Our objective is to be World Champions and this is the line we have drawn.

Juan Velarde

Repsol Pilot in the Red Bull Air Race

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