Red Bull Air Race

High Flyers

Words: Ruth Morgan
Photography: Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool

A story in five pictures: On August 15-16, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship returns to the historic Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire for a second year. Will Bonhomme
make it two in a row? 


British pilots Paul Bonhomme (closest) and Nigel Lamb (yellow plane) lead German pilot Matthias Dolderer in a fly-by over the cliffs of Dover, ahead of last year’s Red Bull Air Race World Championship stop at Ascot. “We got up at 5am for the best light for this shot,” says Bonhomme. “The white cliffs of Dover are iconic. It was a great way to mark the start of our home race.”

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship

© Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool


Reigning champion Nigel Lamb aces the Ascot qualifying round at over 250mph, taking first place. “Air racing will always be impossible to predict,” he says, “but qualifying well helps. I didn’t manage a win that day at Ascot, but I went on to take the 2014 title on my seventh attempt. That was a sweet, indescribable moment. It’s a thrill for spectators too, whether they love planes or not. It’s man, machine, clock – the ultimate adrenalin sport.”

Hannes Arch flying high

© Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool


Austrian former champion Hannes Arch gets to grips with the Ascot course during training. “We learn the course in our minds for two weeks before a race,” he says. “Then we have around 20 minutes in total to test the course for real. For us pilots, the first training run is the start of the competition. With such tiny margins for error, we watch each other’s runs closely.”

Nigel Lamb leaving smoke signals

© Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool


“Air-racing tracks are three-dimensional,” says Nigel Lamb, pictured at Ascot. “Imagine a rope weaving between air gates – it can move in any direction. There’s no racing line marked out. It comes down to muscle memory and analysis. Hours are spent each evening, searching for the perfect line. If the wind changes on race day, so does the geometry of the track. It’s tough. Five pilots can be within 0.1 seconds of each other, so one wrong move ruins a run.”


World Champion Paul Bonhomme

© Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool


Two-time Red Bull Air Race World Champion Paul Bonhomme celebrates taking victory from Nigel Lamb by 0.2 seconds in front of 29,000 spectators at 2014’s dramatic Ascot stop. “I came last in qualifying,” says Bonhomme. “So for the race I thought, ‘Hell, I’ve got nothing to lose.’ Winning at home was special. It didn’t sink in until afterwards, when everyone else had left. I went to the top of the empty grandstand and watched the sun set over the grass.”

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