[Courtesy of Paul Naton [natona "at" proaxis.com], October 8, 1999, as posted on RCSE]
Some Simple Truths about Racing and Going Fast
Its good to see some racing discussion after a few years of hiatus.... Wisdom from an aging slope racer............
Truth 1: Its not the plane, its the pilot. Everyone worries way to much about having the latest trick plane (thermal or slope) believing that that alone leads to better contest results. I have never seen a slope race won by superior technology. I have never won a race because of my plane. I have done consistantly done better because I have had my racer well prepared. In my long racing career I can say with pride I never missed a heat because of a mechanical failure. (Midairs not counted!) Some have missed heats due to loose wires, bad batteries, servos that should have been changed out etc. Having your plane prepped to perfection does much for your state of mind. The only time I saw a new plane really shake things up is when Charlie Richardson raced the first all wood Renegade prototype in the 60" class. This plane was so much faster and better turning than the stuff we were racing that it rendered everything else instantly obsolete. I do not see this happening again anytime soon.
Truth 2: Racing is not only about plane speed. It is about skills.
Racing tests the following skills:
1. Plane preperation. The mechanicals......from the right ballast to checking the wires.
2. Handling skills. Even the start launch is very important. You must maximize height and energy and fly quickly to the point of maximum lift on the hill smoothly. This some times requires excellent thermaling skills (yes you slopers you must learn to thermal like a master if you want to race well on inland slopes. Get a HLG) You must utilize the lift within the start time and maneuver your plane over the start gate with max height and a steep on-time approach. This alone takes lots of practice and skill. A SUPER plane will not help you here.
3. Again, Plane Handling Skills: Once on the race course, you must be smooth. This can be done with practice and radio set up with minimal throws. You must be able to feel the energy level of the course. Flying in the fastest lane is the key to winning. A straight line is not always the shortest distance between the 2 poles. Feeling the "Flow" on the course is vital: you can actually gain speed during the race and even if the conditions change you can stay fast. And turning, and artform in its self. Only mastered by doing 15,000 or so practice versions. Turn sharp and fast and bleed speed or apex the turn and maintain the same energy level.........it can be a different call on each turn, condition dependent. A sweet flying plane can help here, but practice and proper tuning of what you have and many air hours will pay off bigger dividends than anything you can "buy".
4. You have to land. Another skill. I have seen more slope planes wrecked and damaged during landing than I have seen in on-course crashes. Who cares how much you spent on that plane if can't land it with 2 lbs of extra ballast in high winds on that razor-backed ridge. You most likely will not have 2 high end racers..........
5. The mental game. I know many guys you can really fly and can keep up during practice sessions but totally turn to mush when that start horn blows. We were or are all that way. That stable plane suddenly bucks up and down, he knows the far turn real well but then cuts it by 40 feet on the first lap. He suddenly over rolls and hits the ground. He's 10 seconds late to the start. Its the planes fault! Ya.......... You only start doing well when you have flown enough so actually flying the plane becomes automatic, kind of like driving is to you now. You can only start thinking about strategy and feeling the energy on the course when the flying becomes second nature. This only comes with time my friends.
Truth 3: You do not have to have the latest plane to win races. If you are in the very top 10 guys of racing, a micro edge in pure plane speed can give you slight advantage. However, all of those skills tested and aquired will make a much bigger difference in the end. I think there is about 1% difference in pure speed among the top 60" race planes; this would be about a 36 foot advantage on a 1200 meter total 6 lap race. That would be in perfect conditions with a perfectly flown plane. It does not happen that way of course. It is true that some designs are optimized for certain slopes and air conditions. Some designs are faster in light air, some faster in heavy, some are easier to tune and some harder to fly to its maximum performace.
Your FLYING TECHNIQUE is way important to how fast you go around the course. If you overrun a pole by .5 seconds, that's about 20'-30'+ over at normal speeds; then you have to fly back, that's another 20-30'. That's some serious distance that cannot be made up by pure plane speed. Being late on the start can throw away 50'. Not being as high up or not having the same speed as your opponent at the start can set you far enough back that you would not ever catch up no matter how fast your plane or how fast you can fly.
Some advice: Buy a used slope racer. Ther are lots to be had............ Race anything around a course........foamies, HLG's what ever; that's air time. Light wing loading planes are great for learning the flow of the hill. Start slow then work up to faster planes. Learn to thermal. Can't go wrong here. Great slope pilots can thermal.
Practice Practice Practice Fly with some good pilots. Pick their brains. Watch the best............
Quick story.......We invite Daryl Perkins down for a 60" race. He's good you know. But races big planes. We loan him a beat up old Renegade, all wood, most likely the sorriest plane out there. He flys real aggressive and smooth, makes no mistakes agianst us seasoned 60" racers, wins all but one race, takes 1st over all for the day. He flew this crap plane for a total of 12 minutes all day, only added 2 quarters to the tail for tuning.
There you go............... Comment appreciated...................
Racer X (and I mean X)
-- Paul Naton president - Radio Carbon Art