Our team is fly…
WOW. I can’t believe how long it has been since I wrote a Blog. We need to get a bit more into this don’t we!
So here it is. Basically, update time. We’ve been working with our new plane, testing new parts and getting it to a race winning point. Importantly our team has hit the sweet spot. We are all proficient in our areas of expertise, have humility and most of all are enjoying racing.
For us to have reached this point, a lot of hard work has gone on and it all started by knowing from the start of the year that we were highly unlikely to contend for the world title. There were definitely fantasies of winning races straight up with our new plane, though the reality is that we were playing catch up with an aircraft the other teams have been developing for years.
As far as the Edge is concerned, I have loved flying it since the day I took delivery of it at the factory. It is a great plane, though very different from what I was used to in the MXS.
It’s much noisier, has less visibility on the ground – but better visibility forward while in the track – and needs larger stick movements for action. They’re all things that take a while to get used to, but the good news is, I am starting to get the hang of it. Oh, and we’re also making it fast.
For the first half of the year, we decided to do testing and evaluating. This was not just of the plane, but the team as well. We knew we had a rare opportunity (glass half full kind of team) to use a full race year to test and train with whatever we wanted to, without the pressure of trying to win the world championship.
So, we made changes to the race plane at every race, getting a feel for what works, and what does not work, on an Edge. Some of the items we were testing were directly off the MXS, some were new. Every test had results we were not exactly expecting. All good stuff.
Same with the team. We worked with a number of technicians this year. While they were all good in their own right, we had to make sure we found a technician that was good for the team, the plane and most of all, my mentality. It is no easy task to train new team members during the season, though we have trained new people four times now…even that is getting easier!
But the effort I believe was worth it, as from Porto, Portugal, onwards we have been working as a team that has world title winning potential. We only got there after a few very big and progressive lessons in Porto.
How do I know it’s a good team? When we first worked together in Porto this year, it was an unusual race. We did the rebuild of the aircraft at a remote airfield, then flew down to the race airport on the Thursday. A few aircraft from other teams were damaged on landing due to the runway and conditions.
Not a good start to the week for the Red Bull Air Race series.
On the Friday, we flew the aircraft back to the remote field for training, then brought them back to the race airport on the Saturday.
There were more damaged aircraft.
We then moved the planes back to the remote field on Saturday afternoon for the Sunday race.
Now, consider this is Ron’s first exposure to the air race…ever. For our team coordinator Andrew, it was just his sixth race, ever. There were so many changes, moving parts, uncertainties, that there was serious potential for errors in judgement and action.
Due to the inexperience of our team specifically, in RBAR, I stepped in and took control of the team for a few hours. Doing that is something I really try to avoid doing after my experiences in Windsor 2010 (that race I spent the majority of my time trying to lead the team, rather than letting them lead and allowing me to just fly the plane – we’ve all seen that video).
This time around my effort to lead the team was short, concise and I simply gave some clear thoughts, concepts and general direction on how we needed to manage the constantly changing situation in Porto. Then I handed the reigns back over to the team and we then had a great race.
Now I am not saying that me stepping in was the reason we had a great race.
To the contrary, it showed strength in our team. We have a group of people who are very proficient in their area of expertise, but who also have the humility to recognise when they can lean on the experience of others. In Porto, there was no complaint and no eye rolling when I had my say. On that day, I had was able to contribute a little more to our situation, there will be many days when it is one of our other team members who does that. That’s teamwork.
The ease at which we overcame the challenges of Port was my first indication that we were onto something good as a team.
In our race debrief, I apologised to the team that I felt the need to step in as I did, though thanked the team for being so professional in stepping up to the next level to make it work. I reminded them that if I make a habit of trying to take control, they are free to put me in my place and tell me to go and concentrate on the flying bit.
Next up was Lausitz, Germany and everything went right.
It was Ron’s second race, but you would not have known it. The team was where I needed them, there was nothing missed. I never had a single doubt that the team was ahead of the game, ready to not only do their job, but to pick up any distractions that popped up, which meant my eyes and brain never registered that there was a potential hiccup during the weekend. I had the most enjoyable race I have had in years, and we had our best result yet in the new aircraft…1st in qualifying, and second overall on race day. Teamwork!
We debriefed this race as always, and funnily enough, everyone felt the same way. We all had a great time, we all knew where the goal posts were, and we all trusted each other to get the job done. I felt at home.
As with everything we do, we like to learn from our experience. Here’s what I learnt.
I know that I have personally come a long way since I started racing. I thought I was a leader while I was in the RAAF. I have learnt more since then, and am proud of both myself and the team at being able to be flexible in roles, procedures, when to talk and when to listen. I truly believe that this flexibility is the difference between a good team and a great team, and when it works, some of it comes from the top down, but the majority of it comes from the bottom up, and that happens with the right people.
So, we are moving now into the final race of the season. We are out of contention for the world championship, as we knew we would be from the start of this year.
Our goal at the start of the year was to be able to have a race winning aircraft and team by the end of the year. The results in Lausitz proved that we are there, so the last thing on the list for us is to actually go out there and try to win a race, something we have not actively attempted this year. Keep an eye on us, and jump on board for 2018, it’s going to be fun!
Chase your Dreams!