Bethlehem was the chosen venue for the fifth Speed Rally, when clubs were approached to host this amazing new format of air racing Bethlehem Aero Club immediately put up their hand. The Speed Rally format has proven to very popular amongst aviators all over the country and as a result the “cap” on entries was lifted from thirty to forty for this round.
Friday morning saw most of the teams arriving and those that needed to teat fly to determine their handicaps were very quickly sorted out by the team of test pilots. Generally, everyone was satisfied with the handicaps they were given, and it looked like a great race was on the cards for the following day.
Mary de Klerk shared some of her vast knowledge of rally flying with the newer members of the of the Speed Rally Fraternity in the hangar before the briefing got underway.
At the formal briefing Rob Jonkers explained the rules to all the contestants and also shared some pointers that would definitely help to minimize the penalties accrued race. Danie Heath from the ARCC gave the contestants a short briefing on what to do in an emergency, something we hoped would not be necessary at anytime during or after the rally.
As darkness fell on a rather icy Bethlehem it was time for the briefing on steroids by Race Master Jonty Esser, this has become part of the Speed Rally build up and I personally believe it builds the competition levels for the following day. Each team is called onto the stage and to collect their Race Numbers from main sponsor Frans Smit, and while they are there a short introductory video is shown on the big screen this all is accompanied by music, lights and lasers. The friendly banter between the teams really gets the competitive juices flowing.
After the briefing everyone enjoyed a braai, prepared by the Bethlehem Aero Club members and of course a few beverages were enjoyed. Despite the near freezing temperatures, the comradery around the fires was definitely the type of thing that will inspire aviators to get involved in this fast growing aerial sport.
Race Day dawned and fortunately the cold weather had loosened its grip slightly, all the pilots got together in the main hangar for coffee and muffins before the morning briefing got underway. After roll call was held Rob Jonkers the Race Director once again outlined the basic rules and wished all the competitors a safe flight. The teams then went to their aircraft to await the scrutineers, teams had to disable all onboard navigation aids and all portable navigation devices, including cell phones and smart watches were placed in a bag and sealed. As all aircraft have to compete with full tanks the scrutineers also checked all the fuel levels.
The aircraft were parked in sequence from the slowest to the fastest down both sides of the grass runway, this is also the sequence in which they will take-off. The slowest handicaped aircraft would be the first to leave as they were all released for take-off so they would arrive back at the same time if they managed to fly a perfect route.