31 Mar 2022

By: Sport Industry Group

Originally created and organised by energy drinks Red Bull, the Air Race World Championship returns in 2022 with new management, technology and formats. We caught up with former Head of Aviation and Sport at the Red Bull Air Race and current Air Race World Championship Race Series Director, Willie Cruickshank, to understand what fans can expect from the re-imagined race series. 

Why is the Air Race World Championship returning in 2022?

The original intention was for the Air Race World Championship to commence in mid 2020, immediately after the end of the Red Bull Air Race which held its last race in Chiba, Japan in September 2019. Unfortunately, due to issues resulting from the impact of the global Covid pandemic, it was impossible for us to race in 2020 or 2021 and the start date for the fastest motorsport on the planet was pushed back to summer 2022. 

This is an incredibly exciting period for innovations in light aviation and the huge growth in the development of Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (EVTOL) air vehicles and other exciting personal air mobility solutions is set to transform the way we all commute and move around the planet – the future of urban mobility is in the sky, and we are here to make sure that Air Race fully embraces these developments to create the ultimate motorsport for the planet. We are already working with several leading technology partners operating in this space and, over the coming years we hope to evolve and transform the Air Race to ensure it remains on the leading edge of high speed aerosport. 

Can you give us an idea of how much work has gone into the championship so far?

Work to develop the Air Race World Championship started before the final race of the Red Bull Championship in 2019. Since then, a huge amount of work has been going on behind the scenes to secure the level of financial investment required to launch a new series of this scale and ambition and to lock-in the first venues of the 2022 Championship. Both key enabling activities were hugely impacted by the Covid pandemic which has resulted in it taking longer than originally planned to commence the series. 

How familiar will the Air Race World Championship feel to fans of the Red Bull Air Race?

Although this is a brand-new series, we are proud that the Air Race World Championship builds on the awesome legacy of the Red Bull Air Race which successfully conducted an amazing 94 races in 21 countries.  Most people involved in the new Championship, whether it be pilots, technicians, stewards, or operations crew were involved in the Red Bull series so there are lots of familiar faces that fans of the Air Race will recognise.Our racetracks are created using the airgates designed and developed by Red Bull. To begin with, race teams will be flying the same technical specification of race plane as before. However, we are not aiming to simply replicate the Red Bull model and as much as there will be many elements that are familiar, there will also be a great deal that is different and new.

What is Red Bull's involvement in the Championship?

Red Bull has absolutely no involvement in the Air Race World Championship. However, a few of the race teams that compete in the new series have retained their links with Red Bull and we are proud that some of the race pilots are recognised as Red Bull athletes.

Are there any new formats or classifications?

Yes, we have new classifications and formats.

The top classification of racing is the Elite XR1 race series which has 12 independently owned and operated race teams competing for the Championship. Each race involves a series of track sessions where the slowest teams are eliminated and the fastest proceed to the next round. All 12 teams compete in the opening round with numbers incrementally whittled down until there are four in the final.

The second series is called the Aero SR2 Championship. It provides us with the platform to develop young up-and-coming talent, while the best of the best will have the opportunity to progress into the Elite series. We are currently identifying and developing potential Aero SR2 race pilots in our Air Race Academy and will introduce them to the track as and when they reach the required standards.

What aspect of the Championship are you most excited about?

I am most excited about the new technology that we will be introducing to the Air Race over the coming years. These range from personal JetPacks to Zero Net Carbon fuel in the near-term and a whole new class of small EVTOL race vehicles which will come on-line in the next few years. 

Air Race is working with JetPack Aviation in California to introduce a world first; an Air Race series where pilots strap into a Jetpack and compete on a racetrack that puts their flying skills and courage to the test. Our first JetPack pilots will take to the track later this year. Marking a major step on our journey to become carbon neutral, Air Race is partnering with Prometheus Fuels which will use its Titan Fuel Forge technology to create ‘fuel from air’ by reclaiming atmospheric carbon through a proprietary process that strips carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules from the air and energizes them into hydrocarbons that are subsequently made into fuel. The electricity used in the process comes from renewable sources such as solar, wind, wave, and hydro, ensuring zero net carbon emissions resulting from the use of the fuel.

Prometheus Fuels has started selling regulator-approved gasoline for ground vehicles in its home state of California and will shortly be adding the production of diesel, jet fuel and aviation gasoline - known as AVGAS - to its zero net carbon fuel product range. Because Prometheus fuels are molecularly identical to those traditionally derived from fossils, it will use the same storage, delivery and combustion technology as is currently in place.

The advent of EVTOL is probably the biggest innovation in passenger air travel since the invention of the jet engine; it has the potential to transform the way travel and we are working with several partners working in this sector to ensure that when the technology is ready, and the aviation regulators are prepared to let us use it on the racetrack – we’ll make full use of it.

Which countries/venues will the air race visit?

We are holding five races in our inaugural season which are initiated in partnership with host cities around the world. As some partners are still preparing to announce the dates and venue for hosting the Air Race, I am not able to share all the details yet. However, I can confirm that our first race is taking place in the UK at Goodwood on 9th and 10th July.  To have our first race hosted at such an iconic and legendary home of motorsport is very exciting. I can also confirm that we are racing in Jakarta, Indonesia in October. More details about these and the other locations will be released very shortly through our social channels:

What are some of the challenges you've overcome so far, expect to experience in the future?

I think the biggest challenges that we’ve had to overcome as a team have all resulted from the global response to the pandemic. Launching a live international, travelling mass-spectator event is never easy but, as you can imagine, trying to do it in a period of colossal uncertainly where travel is very difficult and public health restrictions are being imposed around the world, is almost impossible. Like most businesses, modern communication over platforms like Zoom and Teams have become an essential part in the way we have conducted our business, however, when building new relationships there is nothing that compares to in-person face to face interaction.

If the last two years of black swan events are anything to go by, trying to successfully predict the challenges we can expect to experience in the future is about as likely as trying to successfully predict this week’s winning lottery numbers. What I can be sure of though is that there will be lots of them but with our amazingly resilient team of people and our can-do attitude, we will do our best to deal with every one of them as and when they present themselves.  

What do you hope to achieve in the first year of the Championships revival?

As the Race Series Director my number one concern is always safety so, for me, I hope to achieve a safe, incident-free first year of racing. Beyond that, I hope that this year delivers exciting and inspiring racing, providing us with a solid foundation on which we can grow the sport in subsequent series.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the fans – We intend to captivate and inspire our audience like never before. We are pushing the boundaries of modern aviation and technology and we’re bringing fans and spectators into the heart of the action - cameras will be rolling in team meetings, in the pits, practice runs and more. This is high speed, high G-force, hyper-agile air racing at its best – up close and personal.

For those not familiar to the Air Race World Championship, why should they be excited about its return?

The Air Race World Championship is the fastest motorsport championship on the planet where the best pilots in the world come together to compete on a racetrack flying only 20 metres above the surface. If you’ve never seen it before, now is your opportunity - prepare to be amazed.