Sixteen wingsuit pilots ripped through the cloudless skies of the Arizona desert today in wildcard qualification heats for the third edition of Red Bull Aces. In a new format for the wingsuit four-cross race, 24 pilots were pre-seeded for Saturday’s final bracket of 32 while the remaining eight positions would be determined in a battle of the 16 wildcard pilots.
With speeds reaching well over 140 mph, leads changed from moment to moment and some finishes were so close that only the high-tech GPS system could determine the results. At the end of the day, athletes from Australia, the Netherlands and the United States had claimed the available spots in the race-day lineup.
Designed to find the world’s best overall wingsuit pilot, Red Bull Aces draws the top athletes in the sport. However, nearly half of the wildcard contenders were new to the discipline of wingsuit four-cross, making some of them — like Australia’s Chris Geiler — relative unknowns with the potential to shake up the top seeds.
Geiler recently earned the world championship in a different wingsuit discipline. And with a confident win in his Red Bull Aces qualification heat, he’ll be one to watch in the opening Round of 32. Geiler and the other seven wildcards will face athletes from 13 countries, including two-time Red Bull Aces champion Andy Farrington.
"Qualification was like a final already," said Geiler. "But it felt super-smooth. Once I saw that my suit could hold the line in the first gate, I just carried it through. I’m happy and stoked for tomorrow."
Even the wildcards who didn’t move on appreciated the chance to participate in a kind of flying that only an elite few get to experience.
"It was awesome. These were the best two days of my life," said newcomer Per Björn Poulsen of Denmark, who just missed a slot in the finals. "I learned a lot from every single jump, because here you’re not just flying the suit, you’re chasing something. You beat everything out of the suit that it has to give at every second. I noticed that I was almost upside down through the turns — and so is everyone else because they’re being so aggressive. I loved every minute of it."
Top 8 Wildcard Finishers, Red Bull Aces Qualification 2016:
Jarno Cordia (NED)
Micah Couch (USA)
Justin Duclos (USA)
Chris Geiler (AUS)
Carson Klein (USA)
Marshall Miller (USA)
Jeff Provenzano (USA)
Mike Steen (USA)