The world’s best wingsuit pilots have been chomping at the bit since the end of the inaugural Red Bull Aces event in October 2014 to once again get their four-cross racing on. They finally got their chance as the training day commenced for the 2015 event, and it’ll only get better from here.
On a brilliant October day, 40 wingsuit-clad athletes heard the words they’ve been waiting for: “Skids up!” [Editor's note: That's skydive speak for a helicopter takeoff — see our guide to wingsuit terminology.] That magic phrase was called throughout the day, each time a helicopter took off with a load of athletes for training runs ahead of Qualifying and Race Day at Red Bull Aces 2015.
As Red Bull Aces returns in a new Northern California location, it’s got all the excitement of last year’s 160-mph, four-at-a-time racing event, plus improved technology.
“Today was all about dialing it in,” said Aviation Director Luke Aikins. “This year we have a new location, new course and new aircraft, and our GPS systems are enhanced for precise real-time judging. Plus, while about half of the athletes are returning from last year — including all the podium finishers — we’ve also made room for new pilots to give more top athletes experience with this format.”
Watch the Red Bull Aces teaser below:
The pilots arrived at sunrise for their briefings before suiting up and taking off in practice groups. With the action visible from the ground on an ideal day, those who weren’t in the air were watching the lines of their competitors, shouting out loud whenever pilots managed to overtake each other or execute a close finish.
“I like the new venue — on the ride to altitude we can see all the way to the coast,” said South Africa’s Julian Boulle, who finished third in 2014. “And everybody from the organizers to the helicopter pilots to the athletes have found solutions already on day one for questions that come up, like how far to spread the course. By the time qualifying starts, we’ll be able to go out and race as safely as possible with as little stress as possible, and really give it a go.”
Each athlete had two chances to train on the course in actual four-cross heats, with the finishes getting breathtakingly tight as the day went on.
“It was awesome. There were a few growing pains, but then it was exhilarating zipping by those gates — pretty heart-pumping,” said Jon DeVore, one of the USA’s foremost wingsuit pilots, who is competing in Red Bull Aces for the first time. “My goal for qualifying and race day is to make every gate, have clean runs and stay safe first. Then it’s go fast!”
Stay tuned for photos, video and results from Red Bull Aces qualifying and race day.