IT’S hard to imagine that the gliders used in the early days of the Bathurst Soaring Club 50 years ago could still be racing competitively among the skies in the modern day.
But the upcoming Formula 1.0 GP at Leeton gives three of the club’s pilots a chance to race their vintage gliders in a competition that combines excitement and affordability.
Angus Stewart, Aaron Stroop and Armin Kruger will be representing the Bathurst club at the Brobenah Airfield over December 29 to January 6.
Stewart is once again a part of the organising committee – as he was for last year’s inaugural event at the same venue – and said it was hard not to get swept up in the atmosphere.
“I think I was kind of taken in by my own propaganda in many ways,” he laughed.
“The competition was set up for gliders that were affordable, in a fun environment that was also spectacular. It’s great to watch for the spectators on the ground.
“People are coming in quite fast and at a moderate altitude which makes it great to view.”
The competition has even drawn competitors from the UK, USA and Germany to the skies over the Riverina.
The most thrilling aspect of the event is that it is a race against other pilots at the same time, not against the clock.
With many gliders taking to the sky at the same time it makes for a great spectacle.
“The format is fantastic,” Stroop said.
“It’s a different style of racing. Normally when you’re racing in something like the multiclass nationals, which are currently on, you don’t normally have that racehorse start because everyone takes off when they think it's appropriate.
“You never know whether you’re in front or losing but in this format it’s very obvious because you’re all starting together.”
Entry in Formula 1.0 events is restricted to a list of 21 glider models, most built between the mid 1960's to the early 80's.
Bathurst’s three entrants will be racing in three different models.
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Stewart will be racing in his Open Cirrus, Stroop in his ASW-15B and Kruger in a Hornet owned by club president Charles Durham.
“The courses we race depend on the weather but mainly, for these gliders, they will fall between 180 to 400 kilometres,” Stewart said.
“Gliding in Grand Prix is fast, and not usually focused on distance unless it’s a very strong day. It’s designed for who can get around the turn points most efficiently.
“The reception we got from this event last year was fantastic. The rest of the gliding community are starting to take on our format and roll it out.
“The recent Queensland state competitions used the Grand Prix format, which is very new. People are seeing that its a very fun way to run gliding events.”
The vintage gliders will rarely travel beyond 90 knots (around 166 kilometres an hour) between thermals, whereas modern machines cruise beyond 130 knots (240km/h).
The Grand Prix breathes new life into those vintage models.
The gliders all fall on or around a 1.0 handicap, making for a virtually level playing field.
Stewart said the cheaper entry point makes the competition accessible to many more pilots compared to other events.
“It can cost you over $200,000 if you want a glider that will be competitive at nationals,” he said.
“Most gliders in this can be picked up for somewhere between 10 to $20,000. They’re older, but a lot of clubs have them lying around so this competition was a great way to revitalise the older clubs.
“It’s encouraging people to get out an use these aircraft in a fun but competitive environment.”
Technology allows spectators to follow the action in the skies.
All gliders carry GPS trackers which relays their position on the course, helping those on the ground gain a better understanding of how the race is playing out.
“Some of this technology came from the same person who did this system for the America’s Cup,” Stroop said.
“When they ran one of these Grand Prix races they originally had helicopters chasing us around but they couldn’t keep up with us.
“When we got that technology that was the first time that glider racing became a spectator sport.”