Red Bull Air Race

Anyone would think I actually liked sport, the amount of international sporting events I’ve gone to this year. The truth is that I like international sporting events when they’re on my doorstep and The Red Bull Air Race is just the latest event that’s been attracted to Greenwich.

From last Thursday onwards you could hear them warming up – the noise those tiny little planes, designed to do things planes should never do, is really quite remarkable.

We had tickets (standing only – did you see the price of them?) for the Saturday qualifiers and a large bunch of us bowled up reasonably early round the side of the Dome to wait for “the show” to begin…

I felt rather sorry for any determined walkers – I imagined some poor sod who’d taken the last three weeks to walk from Clayfurlong Farm to the Thames Barrier, never deviating. This, in my fertile imagination, was their last day. All they had to do was make their way around the tip of the Peninsula and get to Woolwich to be able to say they’d walked the Thames Path. The proper route around the Dome was totally shut (was this legal?) and my imaginary hiker would have been forced to cross the Peninsula and never officially finish their journey. They’ll just have to come back next year when, presumably, the path will be closed off for the International Synchronised Swimming finals…

But back to the race. As you walked up you could see pictures of the pilots with various not-very-vital statistics. They all looked pleasingly grizzled – it’s rather good to see sportsmen who are neither about 18 years old and ridiculously muscular nor, if not the former, darts players. No food and drink was allowed in (which I thought was a bit off – they could hardly use the excuse that people might throw things at the pilots – I’d have given a prize to anyone who’d actually succeeded, given the speed they were going at) which meant you had to buy the usual overpriced festival food (nice to see Greenwich Inc cashing-in – always good to know we have our own local overpriced festival food) though at least it gave you something to do while you waited for “the show” to begin.

When it finally did begin, I rather wished it hadn’t. We had been hoping for a display of aeronautics or at least something to watch, but it actually consisted of the world’s most ignorant commentator (who freely admitted he wasn’t yet up to speed) yabbering on about utter crap, occasionally joined by an American who was at least enthusiastic and knew one end of a plane from the other. Just in case any of you lovely people weren’t there, I’ll give you a taster. Here are just some of the amazing facts I gleaned whilst waiting for flying to begin. I’d hate you to miss out…

1) London is 1100 years old. It could be even older.

2) Canary Wharf was ‘regenerated’ for the Olympics.

3) The Dome (“Tony Blair’s White Elephant”) was specially reopened for the Red Bull Air Race.

4) The Thames was closed for the race (that will explain all the flooding. The water had to go somewhere…)

But onto the race. Basically there was a series of inflated pylons making up the course, that the pilots had to fly through at various angles, doing loops and turns and flicking the plane from side to side for the slalom bit without getting penalties for “improper flight attitude” (mooning out of the window, perhaps?) It was, actually, quite exciting – and this is from someone with NO interest in aeroplanes, races or flying displays. Each of the pilots did a test flight round the course, and at this point the American who actually knew something was very useful in telling us who was who, and the planes were different enough to be able to remember.

It was actually quite easy to be able to tell who was going faster than anyone else and how they were doing (they went one at a time, of course – when you’re flying at speeds of over 400km you don’t want to clip a wing) so you could actually root for individuals.

To be honest I really rather enjoyed it – the only thing that drove me nuts (apart from the commentator) was the noise pollution. I’m not talking about the planes, of course. I’m talking about the god-awful cliched rock ‘music’ that blasted over the speakers every time a pilot began his little race for glory. Were they scared that some bloke risking his life to fly between tiny little pylons at stupid speeds wasn’t exciting enough? I’m getting so sick of the generic rock that clutters everything we have to listen to – from radio traffic bulletins to any kind of ‘extreme’ sport. It devalues both the concept of music – and whatever this rubbish is supposed to be ‘enhancing.’

It took until the second round to see what I’d really secretly hoped would happen – someone flying into a pylon. It exploded with a satisfying bang and the poor pilot was disqualified (though not hurt – it was effectively only a giant balloon bursting.)

But they’d made such a fuss beforehand about how quickly the teams could change a pylon I was desperate to see them in action. It took about two minutes to completely rebuild one. Most entertaining.

For the record an American called Mike Mangold in a souped-up aerobatics plane won (is this the equivalent of drug-taking, I wonder) but the British guy is overall leader of the series. But frankly I didn’t care. I just liked seeing planes going very fast round a circuit. Little things please little minds…

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