What exactly is Parc Ferme?

And what’s its role in the Red Bull Air Race

Reed in Parc Ferme

At the recent race in Abu Dhabi, Martin Sonka was disqualified for infringing on the race rules and when this was explained Technical Director Jim Reed talked about inspecting Sonka's raceplane in 'Parc Ferme', but what exactly is it?

All motorsports have their own Parc Ferme – literally translated as 'closed park' in French – as does the Red Bull Air Race. It is a separate part of the race airport where inspections take place. Each raceplane and pilot is weighed there before and after each flight as well as a number of inspections.

"Parc Ferme is a general term we use to describe a couple of inspections that happen during the Race Day," explained Red Bull Air Race Technical Director, Jim Reed. "Firstly there is a period of time that starts one hour before the first 'engine on' for the Round of 14. Secondly there is an inspection of several aircraft immediately after the race is concluded, but there are other inspections that occur during the day as well," he added.

The inspections take place as follows, and in chronological order:

One hour pre-race to first engine on (all aircraft)
There is a Parc Fermé period of one hour, starting prior to the first "engine on" on Race Day. During this time, no maintenance may be performed on the raceplane unless approved by the Technical Director. The technicians can only clean, polish, wax or apply tape to the aircraft.

Immediately pre-race session inspections (Round of 14 and 8)
Before the start of each session and with the raceplane race-ready, the following inspections are performed on all participating Race Aircraft:
- Aircraft with all pilot equipment will be placed on the scales and weighed
- Radio, transponder and race specific are checked and in working order
- All required safety equipment is present (harness, helmet, parachute, spare air)

Immediately pre-Final 4 inspections (All Participating Aircraft)
Immediately prior to the Final 4, race stewards verify that the minimum fuel level and smoke oil have been added to the race aircraft, but there is no time to weigh them and get them back to the race box in time for the TV broadcast. Instead the technical team verify the race teams have met the minimum weight using on-board fuel flow and smoke flow data once the race has concluded.

So what happens after the race? After the race four raceplanes are checked. The pilots who finished first, second and third will have their raceplanes checked as will one that 'finished lower than third', which means it won't necessarily be the raceplane that finished fourth. "This takes place immediately after the race has concluded and can take two-to-three hours to complete," explained Reed. "To ensure we have a fair check of the raceplane Members of the RBAR Technical Team, as well as Representatives from Lycoming and Hartzell are at the inspection as well as the race team technician," he added.

The checks after the race for the winning aircraft include weighing the aircraft and adding the fuel burned and the smoke oil used during the Final 4. Reweigh the plane and pilot to ensure the minimum weight requirement is met. The technical team then inspects the cockpit and fuselage for prohibited installations or systems, unannounced modifications, or other technical infractions, verification of all engine anti-tamper seals, engine ignition timing check, fuel nozzle size verification, inspection of the fuel and smoke oil system for prohibited installations. And finally, a fuel sample is drained at a port located after the pump and filter in the fuel system and directly from the fuel tank. These samples will be checked for density and additives.

So you see in the Red Bull Air Race, there's always someone watching...