The 21st World Rally Flying Championships took place at a small airfield in Dubnica, Slovakia, The town is located about 130 km northeast of Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic.
The airfield is situated close to the boundary with Czech Republic, in the western part of the Slovak Republic.
The South African ANR Team was represented by 4 Teams of Pilots + Navigators, 1 Team Manager, 5 International Judges and 2 Supporters.
Mary de Klerk : Team Manager
Frank Eckard : Pilot
Cally Eckard : Navigator
Jonty Esser : Pilot
Sandi Goddard : Navigator
Rob Jonkers : Pilot (Captain)
Martin Meyer : Navigator
Thys van der Merwe : Pilot
Ron Stirk : Navigator
Hans Schwebel : International Judge
Jacques Jacobs : Chief Landing Judge
Ursula Schwebel : International Judge
Barbara Frieboese : International Judge
Leon Bouttell : International Judge Observer
Vera Jonkers : Supporter
Alex Meyer : Supporter
4 Stages of approximately 160nm are flown over 4 consecutive days. If all 4 Stages are completed successfully then the first stage is dropped and only the last 3 stages are considered for the results. Most teams therefore consider Stage 1 as an Official Practice Day. However, there were some errors found in Stage 3 and therefore the entire day was cancelled rendering the 1st stage eligible to be included in the final results.
According to the new rules, the crews are given 2 minutes per leg to plot the route so 15 legs equals 30 minutes of plotting time. They are also given 18 photographs which have to be identified en route and plotted correctly onto the map. In addition 5 ground markers are laid out en route and these have to be spotted and recorded on the map by the crew. Each Turn Point has a photo which may or may not be correct. These have to be recorded once the a/c has past overhead each Turn Point. Incorrect identification of en route photos, ground markers or Turn Points incurs maximum penalties.
Each aircraft has to perform a single normal powered approach landing once the route has been completed. Maximum penalties are incurred for landing short of the “zero” line with lesser penalties being incurred for every meter touched down after the “zero” line.
This year 15 Countries participated with 49 teams of Pilots and Navigators. The event was directed by Jan Chudy from the Slovak Republic with Ralf Grunwald from Germany acting as Chief Judge.
The South African Team arrived a week early in Slovakia hoping to put in some solid practice in order to familiarise themselves with the difficult terrain. We had flown a previous World Championship at the same airfield in 2010 and recalled only too well the level of difficulty with the terrain. The airfield is situated in a valley with an elevation of less than 1000’ and is surrounded by mountains topping 3500’. We hired 2 x C172’s from Slovakia (OM – DCD and OM – SNA). We had 3 practice routes to fly during the practice week. These were of the same standard to be set during the actual competition. After flying the first practice route the teams soon realised that the task ahead was not going to be easy.
The weather was perfect for flying, even though temperatures soared to the upper 30’s during the day. The Teams completed all their practice routes and were keen to put in more hours of practice but the exorbitant costs unfortunately precluded additional hours of practice. The aircraft were rented at Eur130 per hour dry, but the fuel cost was Eur2.80 per litre. With each a/c burning approx. 30L per hour we were looking at Eur220+ per hour total. At the current exchange rate of 1Eur : R16 this amounted to R3520.00 per hour. At the end of week 1 practice were facing a bill of almost R150 000.00 ….. and the competition had not even started yet!
Most of the crews were accommodated at the comfortable Hotel Elizabeth which was about a 30 minute drive from the airfield. This meant that each team had to provide their own transport for the week prior to the competition. Hans Schwebel of the South African Team and his wife Ursula, both International Judges, drove their trusted VW Micro Bus all the way from Frankfurt to Dubnica via Austria (approx. 1 000 km) in order to ferry the team from the Hotel and Airfield on a daily basis. Others hired private vehicles.
The Opening Ceremony was held at the Hotel Elizabeth concurrently with the Official Opening Briefing. All 15 Countries donned their national colours and proudly entered the briefing room sitting together in their individual teams. The 21st Word Rally Flying Competition was officially opening by the Competition Director and details were shared about the forthcoming competition. This was followed by a lavish dinner in the hotel.
Day 1 dawned and the crews were split into 3 groups. Group 1 and 3 alternated daily and comprised of twice flyers while Group 2 consisted of single flyers. Our SA teams were split into the following:
Group 1 : Frank Eckard and Cally Eckard – OM DCD
: Rob Jonkers and Martin Meyer – OM SNA
Group 3 : Thys van der Merwe and Ron Stirk – OM DCD
: Jonty Esser and Sandi Goddard – OM SNA
flew the Green Route. All 4 SA teams struggled with the foreign landscape and results were not what we had hoped for:
32nd : Frank and Cally
40th : Rob and Martin
43rd : Jonty and Sandi
46th : Thys and Ron
flew the Yellow Route and the SA results were not much better:
32nd Frank and Cally
37th Jonty and Sandi
41st Thys and Ron
46th Rob and Martin
flew the Red Route but was unfortunately cancelled due to some errors in the plot and incorrectly placed en route pictures. This augured badly for the SA Teams as they were finally starting to show improvement in their results.
flew the Blue Route and the SA results were as follows:
37th Frank and Cally
41st Jonty and Sandi
43rd Rob and Martin
47th Thys and Ron
OVERALL INDIVIDUAL LANDING RESULTS:
South Africa has always taken pride in our ability to perform well in the landings. Ron Stirk and Frank Eckard have both won Gold Medals with Hans Schwebel and Mary de Klerk winning Silver Medals in previous World Competitions. This year was almost going to be a repeat medal winning year but we fell short by only 1 metre.
Germany took the Gold with only 10 penalties across all 3 landings
France took the Silver with only 20 penalties across all 3 landings
Slovakia and Spain tied for Bronze in 3rd position with 30 penalties
Thys van der Merwe tied in 4th position with 40 penalties
Jonty Esser tied in 6th position with 60 penalties.
The Closing Ceremony was rather unceremoniously held in a hangar at the airfield. A Local band played Slovakian music while the teams feasted on local traditional food.
FINAL TOTAL RESULTS:
Individual Results (including Landings):
34th Frank and Cally
39th Jonty and Sandi
45th Rob and Martin
46th Thys and Ron
The total scores for the top 2 winning teams per country are taken into account over the 3 events. They were:
1st : Poland 367
2nd : France 547
3rd : Czech Rep 565
4th : Slovakia 1037
5th : Spain 1339
6th : Germany 1355
7th : Austria 2622
8th : Russia 2945
9th : Norway 4144
10th : South Africa 5034
11th : Switzerland 6499
12th : Italy 6773
The following Teams were not eligible for Team Positions as they only had 1 team represented:
3. Great Britain
Looking at the final results, it becomes quite apparent that the teams that take home the trophies are without doubt the teams that are sponsored by their National Aeroclubs. Some teams even get sponsored up to 12 weeks of practice prior to each World Championships and this includes aircraft hire, fuel, ferry, accommodation kit etc. Without this kind of support it is extremely difficult for South Africa to adequately perform on the world stage. The cherry on the top becomes really apparent when one hears that some National Aeroclubs even reward the winning teams with large financial rewards.
The total SA Entry Fee for the Team of 16 which included Crews, Manager, Judges and Supporters amounted to R175 000.The Flying Teams then had to fork out a further R200 000 to cover the costs of the aircraft hire + fuel. Closing in on a R400 000+ bill which excludes all the pre event training in SA, one can appreciate the desperate need to find suitable sponsors to support the SA Rally Team in order to improve the overall results with additional practice.
The 22nd 2020 World Rally Flying Championships will be held in Stellenbosch South Africa and already has all the ingredients of being the Best World Rally Flying Champs ever to be held.