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The Pilot Insure Witbank Speed Rally – Competition is Heating Up

After the long festive season break the Speed Rally teams were “chomping at the bit” to get out and get racing.  Witbank Aeronautical Association hosted this instalment of the ever popular PilotInsure Speed Rally series, Witbank Airfield proved to be a wonderful venue with everything that is needed to make it a huge success and the enthusiasm of the WAA team ensured the bar was raised for the rest of the 2019-2020 season.

A number of competitors were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to make it to the Speed Rally as they are based at Wonderboom Airport which was shockingly closed on Thursday afternoon due to unsafe conditions created by the inability of the management to maintain the airport. The grass alongside the runway had grown out of control and was obscuring the runway and approach lights, fortunately the tenants undertook to have the grass cut and the closure was overturned. The final entry list for the event numbered at a very encouraging thirty-four aircraft a testament to the popularity of this format. Flight schools are also showing interest in Speed Rally’s which is wonderful as the students that take part brush up on their “Old School” Navigation skills, a discipline that is largely ignored in the digital age.

The Speed Rally committee identified a few inconsistencies in the handicapping system after the PilotInsure Springs Speed Rally, a few tweaks were made essentially to normalise ensuring slow or fast aircraft types have equal chance in scoring for navigation accuracy, also scores are counted for both Navigation & Handicap where before if you won in the handicap class in the first three places, the scores were excluded in the accuracy class.

Rob Jonkers set up a very interesting route for this rally, for the first time in a speed rally there was a cross-over included in the 146nm course, this added greatly to the spectator value of the event, the slower aircraft were passing overhead as the faster aircraft were still waiting to be set off by the starter. The competitors left Witbank Airfield to the North-West for the first section of the course, an anti-clockwise routing, then  they crossover the airfield and enter the longer clockwise section to the North-East of the Mpumalanga mining town. 

Speed Rally’s are generally a two day affair with the Friday set aside for flight testing and this weekend the weather gods delivered almost perfect conditions. The flight testing is done to determine the handicap that will be applied to the aircraft for the race, EAA National Chairman, Sean Cronin, offered his services to assist Mark Clulow with the flight tests.

The Friday evening briefing took place under the directorship of the new Race Master, PilotInsure’s  David le Roux, Rob Jonkers provided a briefing on what to expect for the next day in terms of the planned route, how many turn points, distance, departure and arrivals protocol, and also how the scoring system worked in terms of penalties as well as the expected weather conditions, which was predicted to be clear with a light and variable wind from the east swinging north-east.

Once the formal section of the briefing was out of the way it was time to get the “Party” started David then introduced all the rally competitors and issued them with their race numbers for the following day. Frans Smit, CEO of PilotInsure the main sponsor for the series, has been working hard behind the scenes to raise awareness for this exciting format. Frans introduced representatives of the latest sponsor Warwick Financial Maturity, a short presentation of Warwicks core business was offered.

Saturday morning dawned with perfect flying conditions, a clear day with virtually no wind, once the morning briefing was done the wind had picked up slightly and unfortunately it was south-easterly. This created a bit of a challenge as the route was planned to utilise runway 04 and the wind was starting to favour runway 22, the cross over was on the threshold of 04 and it wasn’t  safe to have aircraft flying directly into the path of passing aircraft. By the time the briefing was done the wind was already showing signs that it would swing and the rally could go ahead as planned, a big Thank You must go to Deon van der Mescht, arguably the best aviation weather forecaster in SA, he assured all that the wind would behave as previously predicted.

All the crews made their way to their aircraft to wait for the scrutineering team, Chareen, Lizelle, Karen, Ardyn and Alex, to seal up all portable GPS capable devices and make sure all aircraft were brimmed and ready to go. Once again Centaury Avionics team of Mark and Shane made sure that the onboard GPS systems were sealed up and where necessary discontented, Century have become regular supporters of the speed rally series and they do it at no charge at all to SAPFA.

The competitors receive their papers and loggers twenty minutes before their take-off slot, that’s when “stuff gets real” very quickly. The teams start planning their routes as they taxi to the starting point where Mark Clulow and Christian du Plessis were waiting to send them on their way at the exact time.  

Watching the slower aircraft crossing overhead while many of the faster guys were waiting for their take-off time to arrive made the rally very exciting. All the aircraft started to arrive exactly on cue at 11:30 and for a while Witbank Airfield became a very busy airfield with thirty-five odd aircraft arriving within a few short minutes.

After all teams having returned and safe on the ground, the scoring team got to work to analyse the results, with the tracks for a number of competitors being quite accurate, although some had wobbles, only two got a bit lost.

Getting the results out on time proved to be a challenge, with changes in the scoring system there were some gremlins that had crept in and had to be eliminated. Some of the competitors decided to forgo the prize giving to miss the expected bad weather creeping in from the South-West. Eventually at 16:00 the results were correlated and could be announced.

Race Master David le Roux and our main sponsor Franz Smit from PilotInsure handed out the trophies, first up being the winners of the most accurately flown with father and son team Hendrik & Jandre Loots in their Sling ZU-IHK, in 2nd place another Sling ZU-JAR with David Ross & James Braid, and in 3rd place son and father team Quintin Kruger & Johan Whiteman in their Cherokee 235 ZS-FVV.