The high-flying “Air Race 1 World Cup” took to the skies this weekend over Pattaya, Thailand. It was a first of its kind event in the country and could pave the way for more to come.
CGTN’s Martin Lowe reports.
It’s fast and it’s furious, with the howl of racing engines and the smell of burning aviation fuel. Eight small planes twist and turn through the sky. First past the post is the winner.
The event, at U-Tapeo Naval Air Base in Thailand, puts the country firmly on the international sporting map. Following the success of a test meeting 12 months ago, this is the first time competitive air racing – with planes dicing wingtip-to-wingtip around a course of pylons – has taken place anywhere in Asia.
Most competitors are airline or ex-military pilots, while the performance aircraft are purpose-built racers.
“The part that can get the most exciting is passing,” former US Navy Pilot Ryszard Zadow explained. “Getting behind somebody in their wake turbulence, 30 feet off the ground going 200 miles an hour, the airplane can get thrown around by the other guy’s wake, and next thing you know you’re upside down!”
Enthusiasts call “Air Race 1” the world’s fastest motor sport. Unlike other events – in which planes fly one-at-a-time against the clock – these aircraft compete together. They race at speeds of up to 450 kph, often just a few meters above the ground.
“Actually, we’re expecting there to be a huge appetite,” Air Race 1 CEO Jeff Zaltman said. “The spectators in this part of the world, not only in Thailand but all across Asia, they love sport. They love motorsport, both participating and enjoying as a spectator, so we’re trying to tap into that.”
Thailand has expressed interest in staging a Grand Prix motor race for some time. The success of international events like this, can only strengthen its case.
The Air Race 1 championship at the moment consists of a single three-day event each year, but if the sport can regain past popularity, more races may be added. Organizers are considering making Thailand a regular venue for the sport.