Presidents Trophy Air Race 2019 – Back on Track

8 May 2019

 The PTAR 2019 was held at Saldanha Bay Airfield from 2 to 4 May and was nothing short of a remarkable success. Before the event many people were saying that this would be the “Make or Break” PTAR with dwindling numbers over the past few years and much criticism regarding the handicapping system. The new committee under the guidance of Rob Jonkers went to work to save this prestigious race that has been run annually since 1937.

A completely new format for the race was developed and was intensively test in a series of Speed Rallies that were held across the country, many Speed Rally contestants decided to take part in the PTAR swelling the numbers to over fifty entrants. The field would probably have been much larger if the Race had been held in a less remote location but nevertheless it was a great turnout and the PTAR’s future seems very secure once again.

Teams started arriving as early as Tuesday morning with many of them still having to have their aircraft test flown to determine the race handicap. The bulk of the contestants arrived on Wednesday some of which had to divert to airfields on route as Saldanha was misted in for most of the morning, the mist did lift at about midday but unfortunately it was short lived and by 16:00 the conditions were unflyable once again. Some of the crews decided to overnight wherever they were and make the final leg in the morning. Another welcome return to this years Race was the professional commentary  team of Brian Emmenis and the guys from Capital sounds.

Thursday morning brought with it the weather everyone had been hoping for and the remaining  aircraft arrived except for a few teams that decided to return home due to the unpredictable weather. Test flights were flown through out the day and the handicaps calculated; the general feeling was a positive one with many of the crews voicing congratulations for the revised format.

The Pilot and Navigators Briefing was held on Thursday afternoon in the main Marque tent followed by a navigation training session by Mary de Klerk, Mary explained the system that she makes use of when flying a Race, she also stressed that her method is by no means the only one and each crew should do what they feel comfortable with.

After the formalities it was time for the presentation of the official race numbers in true Jonty Esser style, lasers, smoke and music. Each team was called up to the stage and a short video clip was played introducing the them to everyone. Most of the crews headed off to bed for an early night and to prepare for race day one.

Race Day 1

Arriving at the airfield on Friday morning one could feel the anticipation in the air, the weather at Saldanha was wonderful with a few high clouds it seemed that the race would go ahead on time, unfortunately the weather gods had other plans as the weather to the North-East of the field wasn’t good at all and the start of the race was postponed pending reports from the officials manning the turning points.

As the day progressed it seemed less and less likely that there would be any racing, finally at about midday Rob Jonkers and his team decided to call off Day ones racing as it wouldn’t be safe. The bad news was communicated to all the pilots in the marque and immediately the proposal was made that both Day One and Day Two’s legs get flown the following day. Rob promised to come back with an answer on this later in the day.

All the crews made their way to the marque at 17:00 for a briefing, the briefing ended up in a debate about the possibility of running two legs in one day. There were people for and against the two race day idea but after a long discussion a call was made to only do one route as pushing for two would be very tiring especially on the slower crews, some of which will have flown almost six hours by the time they reached the end of the second leg. A decision was taken to make it a one day race, the competitors were given the maps of race day one so they could study them and get a basic idea of what to expect the following day.

Race Day 2

Saldanha Airport was a hive of nervous activity with teams polishing their aircraft to get that last knot of speed out of them. The weather looked good with a few misty spots that the locals assured us would burn off very quickly, a few hours later a brisk and icy cold Southerly wind started blowing which cleared the air quickly and the race was declared “ON”.

The aircraft were parked in the race order from slowest to fastest at the threshold of runway 20 ready for the start which was scheduled for exactly 10:12, this time was calculated so that all the aircraft would reach the finish at 13:00 if they flew a perfect track at their handicap speed.

Exatctly on time Hans Potgieter gave the signal for Race #27 to start their take-off roll followed 12 minutes later by the two Sling II’s  Race #36 and Race #23. For almost an hour and a half aircraft were released with varying intervals until there were only three aircraft on the start, at this time the lead aircraft crossed over head from East to West they had finished approximately half the route of 270 nm. While the field crossed overhead the Race #10 the final aircraft got airborne and the race was on.

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