14 Oct 2016

Red Bull Air Race 2016: What Nigel Lamb said to Mika Brageot...

As one of the longest serving Red Bull Air Race pilots in the sport, Nigel Lamb is something of a legend in air racing circles. A longstanding Breitling Racing Team pilot, the British pilot was Red Bull Air Race World Champion in 2014 – and 2016 was his ninth season competing.

Las Vegas however is set to be his last ever race – after this one he is retiring. Aged 60, he says it’s a good time to hang up his air racing wings.

In his footsteps though comes one Mikael Brageot from France. Almost exactly half Lamb’s age at 29, Brageot won the Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class last year. Since then he has been on Nigel Lamb’s team, as part of a unique mentoring programme aimed at preparing Brageot to, hopefully, join the Master Class next year.

We caught up with the pair at their hangar as they prepared for race day in Las Vegas. What, we wondered, has the master been teaching the younger pilot?

“Mika is a very experienced guy who has his own style and vision,” Lamb said, “and I can see they are incredibly sound. I’ve just tried to be there, and let him observe.”

He adds: “We’ve shared some advice on some occasion, but he’s integrated with the team and the track analysis side and has watched what I do with that information.

“It’s then up to him to decide how to build a team in his own style. I haven’t had to say too much to Mika. It’s mentoring but in a subtle way.”

Brageot agreed: “When you are a Challenger pilot you can never really see what goes on in these hangars. So it was a real opportunity for me to jump in the hangar and of course the aircraft. Having Nigel as a godfather was a unique opportunity. He was the best man possible, for sure.”

The pair share a link in that both are sponsored by Breitling. “We had a lot of things to share, and the mentoring programme was such a natural way to do it. We shared the aircraft and the team, it’s a general package.”

Mentoring between the two pilots has never been about teaching flying skills, says Lamb. “At this level you have to have all the skills necessary to navigate the track without thinking about the controls. It’s instinctive.”

Brageot proved he had that instinct by winning the Challenger Class in 2015, said Lamb. “At that level flying the track is not that difficult. But beating the clock is phenomenally difficult.

“To do that you need a team, people surrounding you that help you in the lead up to the race, so you are fully focused.”

So will Brageot be flying in the Master Class next year? “I would like to see that, but nothing has been announced yet,” Lamb said.

Brageot himself is a dedicated competition aerobatics pilot as well as an air race pilot. He is committed to both and works hard to balance his year between flying competition aerobatics, training, flying for Breitling and flying in the Red Bull Air Race.

With next year’s calendar still to be confirmed he hopes it will work out so the Red Bull Air Race and the FAI World Aerobatics Championships in South Africa won’t clash. “I would love to compete in both, and have the time between each to race, rest and prepare.”

Meanwhile, as Brageot plans his next season, Lamb the mentor shows no sign of giving up early. He is in fourth position in the overall Red Bull Air Race World Championship ranking for this year, a handful of points behind Hannes Arch, who sadly died in a helicopter accident in September this year.

“I’m competing to try and win my last race here in Las Vegas, which would be an amazing way to sign off,” Lamb said.

“I feel very motivated to do that. But ultimately if I can end up on the podium, then, well, that would be good.”


Photo: Nigel Lamb, left, and Mika Brageot at the Red Bull Air Race in Las Vegas, October 2016. Credit: FAI / Marcus King