The Red Bull Air Race returns to San Diego for the third time next week at San Diego Bay in-between two great Aircraft Carriers: the USS Midway and the USS Ronald Reagan.
Over there, the 15 best pilots take on each other and a track that has a relatively straight-forward design.
Recap of Abu Dhabi
To recap though, the Abu Dhabi race a fortnight ago saw a new system implemented whereby the five slowest pilots have a chance to fight it out to be the top two fastest and move on into the Top 12. This basically allowed for the slowest to redeem themselves on raceday.
In Abu Dhabi, defending world champion Hannes Arch took the Red Bull Air Race hat trick by winning one point on qualifying day by setting the fastest time, setting the course record on race day, and finally winning the race.
Championship runner-up Paul Bonhomme had to settle for second while Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff took third place. Nigel Lamb was fourth after what seemed like a hopeful start to his 2009 season just did not pan out.
Further down the field, the Americans Mike Mangold, Kirby Chambliss, and Michael Goulian just had no luck this time. 2007 champion Mangold finished in seventh due in part to a heavy plane while Chambliss finished in ninth. Goulian took no points and finished 14th.
Goulian had some trouble on qualifying day when his onboard computer which recorded g-forces and other such information wasn't connected to the aircraft's antenna. This would enable race control to have all sorts of information delivered to them live.
As a result, Goulian was disqualified from the second qualifying but took part in the Wild Card round.
The rookies were a mixed bag. On the upside, German Matthias Dolderer took his first world championship point beating out sophomore Glen Dell by 0.19 of a second! Dell is still looking for his first points in his air racing career.
Even higher up, Australian Matt Hall impressed everyone by not only making it into the Top 12 on qualifying day, he also made it into the Super 8 round but missed out on the Final Four. The former top gun came fifth overall in his first race!
On the downside, Japanese Yoshi Muroya just couldn't find the speed and ended up in an unlucky 13th place while Canadian Pete McLeod made a "rookie mistake" and hit a pylon.
He ended up making an SCO because there was still parts of the pylon on his wings thus creating a lot of drag for him. He came 15th overall.
Abu Dhabi was an eventful race and set the standard for what the season should look like.
Introduction to San Diego
San Diego Bay is the world's largest naval station with many ships calling it home. The Red Bull Air Race will be taking place in the thick of this area.
The track hasn't changed a lot over the past three years. Even though it lacks a half-Cuban eight, there is still a lot of room to either capitalize or make a mistake.
Starting off is pretty easy as the pilot comes in through the start/finish Breitling gates and encounters the chicane.
Afterwards, the pilot makes a sharp S-turn which puts a lot of g on the body to go through a pair of blue gates horizontally.
He will then make a 180 degree turn into another pair of blue gates located nearby, righting himself almost immediately and head towards the quadro.
The pilot will need to execute the quadro in a knife edge, make a 270-degree right turn to go through the gate again, and get back to the start/finish Breitling gates to do it all again!
The final turn in the lap is a very tough turn to make and Nicolas Ivanoff fell victim to a pylon hit last year.
Even though the high-g half-Cuban is lacking from this track mainly due to the compressed space, San Diego is a technical track to be dealt with. There are different lines and approaches which can be taken so it's not an easy textbook (if there is such a thing) race for the pilots to fly through.
A visual diagram of the track provided by the Red Bull Air Race's website should give an indication as to how difficult San Diego really is.
Will Mike Mangold, the hometown hero, have luck this time around; will Paul Bonhomme make it a hat trick in terms of wins here in California; or will Hannes Arch continue his domination? We shall find out in one week!