The first-ever final of a Sailplane Grand Prix was held at Saint Auban in the southern Alps in 2005 so it was satisfying to see the final of the 5th series of the FAI Sailplane Grand Prix run nearby at Sisteron. This edition ended on Friday 16th May and was heralded a great success with 8 fiercely-contested competition days, a record number for a GP final.
From Day 1, this highly successful, sun-bathed championships looked like being a battle for first place between Didier Hauss of France, who snatched the two last days, and Sebastian Kawa, Poland, the reigning world champion and winner of the three first finals. Australia’s Bruce Taylor won Day 3 and climbed to third place close behind the leaders after winning Days 3, 5 and 6 and seemed a possible podium contender. Fellow Australian, Graham Parker, won Race 4, showing that the Australians have learned how to race in the testing mountain environment, so different from their native flatland racing.
The first two competition days were flown in mostly thermal conditions but from Day 3, the north westerly wind, a feature of the area, became strong and the races were flown at low levels using the energy available on the mountain ridges with three of the races won at average speeds in excess of 130 kilometers per hour. The fastest race was won by Bruce Taylor at 139kph and the slowest, on the very difficult second day, was won by Didier Hauss at only 65kph. The interesting and varied tasks really tested these world’s-best glider pilots who had qualified at sites around the world.
At the start of the last race, any of the top four pilots were in a position to win the title but Didier Hauss prevailed to win the day just ahead of Sebastian Kawa in a very tense and engaging race which was absolutely spell-binding to watch on the big screen back at the airfield, thanks to the tracking technology switching between 2D and 3D views of the flagged pilots backed by the scenery they were actually fighting over. Illuminating expert commentary by Shaun Lapworth, given further weight by former world champions Brian Spreckley (GB) and Eric Napoléon (France), added to the nail-biting tension especially at the crucial and difficult final turn-point. The cirrus which came through shutting out the sun and totally cutting off thermals in certain areas some two hours earlier than forecast, created a milky-white late-afternoon sky and some difficulties for late arrivers. Sponsors Breitling’s representative who was present was very impressed by the beauty and drama of glider racing at this level with the added enhancement of being able to follow the whole thing on the tracking system which has finally laid to rest the argument that glider competitions are of no interest to media or public because once they have flown away, no one knows what is happening till they come back!
Thanks are due to huge efforts by the local club, especially M. Aurélien Durigneux and President Georges Gonnet. There were record crowds on the first three days in an area well-used to gliding events as well as a satisfyingly large number, in the thousands, of followers on Facebook and Twitter.
It is clear that a good product, attractive to both media and public, has been created with the Sailplane Grand Prix format which is available for careful exploitation and further development.
Complete results are available at http://www.sgp.aero/results/overall-results
All the championship races are available and can be rerun at www.sgp.aero, “day’s highlights” videos and many photos of the event are also available on this site. The 6th series of the FAI Sailplane Grand Prix begins with a qualifier at Rennes in France on 7th June 2014. Follow all the action at www.sgp.aero or on Twitter using @faisgp.
The Mistral has lessened and turned more southerly, so the thermals are less brilliant and in fact, the arrivals took place against a sky milky with cirrus, making it difficult for late-arrivers. There were areas of completely stable air and, according to Brian, the cirrus came through at least two hours earlier than expected. This final trial was a long task, over 300km, with local knowledge making the difference in the closing stages. Absolutely thrilling watching the tracking sequences as the leaders scrabbled for advantage, and with the expert commentaries of former world champions Brian Spreckley and Eric Napoleon. The big screen really makes the difference - seeing where pilots are relative to each other and over what territory, snow, rocks, valleys, climbing well or sinking dismally, fighting strong winds or making steady progress towards a turn-point. Those of us on the ground were glued to their every move via the tracking and so absorbed, that when I stood up for a moment to disconnect my computer, there was a chorus of “O, Madame, we can’t see!”
Dr Tomasz Kawa, father of Sebastian, was remarkably calm – on the outside. A pilot himself, he gave away his emotion only by fiddling with laptop keys.
We heard the commentators tell us that, but for the cirrus layer, we could almost see the leading pilots now as they inched their way through the final turn-point heading home. We held our collective breath in collective wrapt silence as altitudes were seen to dive in clicking numbers on each pilots tag or soared again as someone fought clear of a valley or made it over a ridge.
It’s going be Didier, no, Seb is after him, it’ close.
Dr. Kawa senior rushes out of the Briefing room, abandoning his laptop, and springs on his bike like a boy after the ice cream van, heading for the runway.
Everyone follows. Then, cheers and clapping break out as Didier streaks across the Finish, the new World Sailplane Grand Prix Champion.
By a whisker, in a hard-fought fight where his local knowledge counted as his differing choices, seen step by step on the tracking, made clear.
M. Hauss, père, discreetly leaning on his car away from the crowd, with a happy smile, both proud and relieved, warmly accepts congratulations on his son’s victory.
Roland Stuck says Brian Spreckley has conducted the competition magnificently and the staggeringly beautiful mountain scenery, lying quietly under its Spring explosion of colour and leaf, touched throughout the event by brilliant sunshine and dazzling cloud formations, goes back to sleep till the next time.
(Article by Angela Sheard blending comments by Brian Spreckley, Competition Director, and Roland Stuck, FAI Referee; Photo credits: Victor Blin; Dorotéa Cousin)