The recent race in Abu Dhabi was the first time we got to see the Challengers racing in their new planes, the Edge 540 V2. After four years of racing with the Extra 330LX, it was decided that the Challengers should fly a raceplane that would help them should they progress to the Master Class.
The new Edges for the Challengers are the same as some of the Master Class planes, but with slight tweaks. "The new raceplanes have the same engine and propeller as the Master Class pilots – but with slightly different restrictions. They will have slightly less power and some other small changes," Wade Hammond, Technical Manager for the Red Bull Air Race explained. "They've all been given new engines, new components, new wiring and we've also added new wingtips."
So after several years flying the Extra, what do the Challengers have to say about the new machine? Daniel Ryfa who has been part of the Challenger Class since the series began in 2014, has more experience than most in the Extra, but instantly preferred the new plane. "The Edge is awesome; it's the perfect tool to race with. I've had very little time in it, but I'm comfortable already," he explained.
Luke Czepiela, who finished third in Abu Dhabi explains what excites him about the new raceplanes: "With the Extra we were 10 seconds behind the Master Class pilots' times, now we're only three or four seconds behind."
New Challenger Patrick Davidson is no stranger to flying different aircraft, he has logged more than 2,500 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, so knows how to acclimatise to a new plane. "I'd only flown the Edge once before Abu Dhabi. I fly a lot of different aircraft at home, which helps me adapt quickly. The Edge is unique, it maintains its speed through the corners incredibly well, which is something to get used to," he explained.
Although the pilots loved flying the new raceplane, there comes learning. With more power and agility there is more chance of the Challengers picking up penalties, which means they have to adjust their flying styles. "The Edge brings so much more energy, which will bring problems with over-Gs" said Czepiela.
Daniel Genevey also said he needed time to appreciate how to fly the Edge. "The Edge is fantastic and we're going a lot faster, so we have to work out the G-meters and it's just a question of practice," he explained.
Race winner Florian Bergér, who struggled at first in the Edge, managed to get comfortable in it for Race Day. "I like the new plane a lot. It's a lot nicer and faster, but I over-G'd a lot at first, I will have to work on this," he said.
So it seems a unanimous decision, the Edge has not only made the Challengers happy, it's made them more competitive and the 2018 season will be tighter than ever.