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Presidents Trophy Air Race 2022 – New Tempe Bloemfontein

By Garth Calitz

For many years the PTAR contestant's standard answer as to when the race was to be held was, “The coldest weekend of the year” the 2022 edition of this prestigious air race definitely lived up to its reputation. South Africa was plunged into extreme cold and wet weather by an unseasonable “Cut-off low-pressure system” that fed icy cold wet weather to the interior of the country. The extreme cold however did not dampen the spirits of the thirty-four teams that made their way to the country’s judicial capital.

PTAR 2022 was always destined to be smaller than we have seen in the past as the fuel price soared and the post-Covid lockdown economic crunch set in. Originally thirty-six teams entered but two teams were forced to withdraw as they felt it was unsafe to n the inclement weather from the Western Cape and North West province.

I arrived in Bloemfontein on Thursday afternoon to a beautiful sunny winter's day but sadly that was about to change. When the prerace briefing started the temperature was falling fast but the spirit of competition was hotting up with the humorous banter between teams keeping everyone entertained.

Rob Jonkers, the race director, after seeing the forecast supplied by SA Weather Services decided to move the morning briefing from 8:30 to 7:30 in an attempt to capitalise on a foretasted window in the weather for race day. The participants moved to the Bloemfontein Flying Club's newly revamped clubhouse where the camaraderie and banter continued late into the night.

At precisely 7:00 on Friday morning the heavens opened up, destroying any hopes of anyone getting airborne. The official call was made at 10:00 to abandon race day 1 as the weather was definitely not going to improve. PilotInsure hosted a fairly well supported PTAR quiz, the quiz is bound to become a standard feature at future races.

Race Day 2 arrived and with it came improved but far from perfect flying weather. The morning briefing was held at 8:30 and a decision was made for an 11:00 start, a window of flyable weather was predicted until about 14:00. The customary starting grid was not possible as the airfield was waterlogged and a decision was made to let the teams taxi to the start from their parking positions once they collected their papers from the officials. As it sometimes happens, this method seemed to work better and will probably be used in future races.

The first aircraft, the father and son team of Hendrik and Juandre Loots got airborne right on time. On day 2 of the PTAR, the slowest aircraft lead the pack away with the faster aircraft chasing them, if all the aircraft fly a perfect round right on their handicap speed they should all reach the finish line at exactly the same time.

With the fastest aircraft still on the ground, the slower competitors started reaching the cross-over point which is more or less the halfway mark. Soon after the first aircraft passed overhead the Lancair 2000 of Dieter Bock and Brendan Boraine thundered down the runway and the race was on.

In an attempt to make Air Racing a more spectator-friendly sport twenty of the thirty-four aircraft were issued with live tracking devices so spectators could watch the action online and on the big screen in the briefing hangar. In addition to the live tracking, PilotInsure had joined forces with Backsport, a live streaming media company, to produce a live stream video of the day's proceedings and judging by the comments on the feed it was a great success bringing people in their homes to the race.

As if on cue the first aircraft appeared exactly on time, it was the Bosbok of Apie And Frederick Koetzee last year's joint winners followed by the Piper Comanche of Stefan Lombard and Martiens Marais. For the next few minutes, it was a constant stream of aircraft all pushing as hard as possible to make up a few positions in the dying seconds of the race.

Crossing the finish line first does not mean that the team has automatically won the race, loggers have to be downloaded to see how accurately the course was flown as well as the take-off delays calculated. The aircraft take off according to their handicaps but sometimes there is more than one aircraft with very similar handicaps, they are then slightly delayed for safety reasons.

Once the crews had parked their aircraft and handed in their loggers to the officials the long wait for the gala dinner started, the results would only be made public then. The Bloemfontein Flying Club bar became the destination of choice to sit and enjoy a drink after a long day of racing, everywhere one could hear crews dissecting their flights and comparing notes with each other on the course.



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