By Tarryn Myburgh
The 23rd World Rally Flying Championships was held in Mâcon, France, from 31 July to 04 August 2023. A total of 45 teams from 12 countries were present, and South Africa was represented by 4 teams, Alewyn Burger and Steve van der Merwe, Tarryn and Iaan Myburgh, Tony and Pam Russell, and Apie and Frederik Kotzee. They were accompanied by team manager, Leon Bouttell and 3 international judges, Rob Jonkers, Martin Meyer and Barbara Frieböse. Hans Schwebel was also present as the President of the General Aviation Commission.
The competition kicked off on Monday with a challenging route to the west of Mâcon. This wine region is a mix of vineyards and disjointed forestry areas subdivided by numerous small agricultural villages and farm roads. Navigation is difficult and the route includes a scored away landing at Montceau-les-Mines as well as a scored landing at the home airfield, Mâcon Charnay. The South African team ended the day with mixed results. Alewyn Burger and Steve van der Merwe finish the day in 14th position. Apie and Frederik Kotzee had a difficult day where everything that could go wrong, did. A respectable navigation result from Tarryn and Iaan Myburgh contributed to South Africa now in 5th position in the Team Standings behind the Czech Republic, France, Poland and Spain.
The competition day on Tuesday had to be suspended due to a medical emergency for the Competition Director. Thanks to the speedy reaction from trained competitors a tragedy was averted, however, the organisers considered it prudent to cancel the day and reconvene on Wednesday for the second competition day.
High wind conditions started on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday as a cold front passed through the area. The Day 2 route took us to the west again. As the competing crews prepared for a challenging day, the organisers also included an adjustment to the timing of each leg to accommodate for the windy conditions. If the wind remained constant, the adjustment of 15 knots wind from 210° should have made the flight much easier as you now need to maintain your selected airspeed rather than ground speed. The wind certainly did not pay along, increasing in strength all day with strong gusts of over 35 knots. All the South African teams found the conditions extremely challenging, as was reflected by the scores for the day. As the wind continued to increase in strength and turn into a direct crosswind during the afternoon session, the landing scores at the home Mâcon Charnay Airfield also got cancelled for the day.
After the unfortunate cancellation of flying on Tuesday, Thursday would be the third and final day of competition. The route for Day 3 finally took us east and would include two scored landings, an away landing at Bourg on Bresse and a home landing at Mâcon-Charnay. The winds remained strong, but largely improved from the day before. Despite this, an adjustment to the timing was still made, this time for 10 knots from 250°. The South African teams all dramatically improved their navigation scores from the previous day but other mistakes for landings, altitudes or observation proved costly.
Alewyn Burger and Steve van der Merwe flew the South African flag high and finished in 3rd place overall for Landings. They accumulated a mere 40 penalty points overall for the 4 scored landings, resulting from one Bingo, two 10-pointers and one 20-pointer. This is only 20 points behind the winners from the Czech Republic, Lukas Behounek and Krystof Bobek, who scored two bingos and two 10-pointers.
The overall winners of the competition Petr Jonas and Marek Velat of the Czech Republic with an incredible total score of 553. They were followed by two French crews, Olivier Riviere and Jerome Jireau, and Alexis Fuchs and Jean-Baptiste Trouche. France was crowned the team winners, followed by the Czech Republic and Poland.
The next World Rally Flying Championships will be held in Ferrara, Italy in 2025. A truly unforgettable experience, we hope to see our many new friends there and fly the South African flag high once again.