What Happens At A Typical Sport 40 Meeting?

A Day At The Races - Pylon Style
By Dave Sawers in his capacity as Sport 40 News Letter Editor.

What Do You Need To Go Racing ?Sport 40 Pylon Racer
No special equipment is required before you attend your first Sport 40 pylon meeting. Most events can cater for a sports model section so you only need to bring along any model/engine combination you are comfortable with. The first thing to learn is how to fly the course, it's not as easy as you might think to do it accurately. Once you have done that, you may want to spend some money on a faster model or engine, To enter an event, you must ring up the organiser at least one week before. For combined Sport 40 and F3D events, at least two weeks notice is required. You usually need to give your name, your car registration number, and the names any passengers you may be bringing. This is essential for sites such as active airfields where security need to know who they are inviting. Most importantly, the organiser needs to know which frequency you intend to fly on. This is necessary to make up heat sheets so that there are no clashes of frequency to sort out at the event.

You need to bring the following items:

  • Your model, fully charged and ready to go.
  • Transmitter and alternative crystals if possible.
  • Flight box with the essential tools and spare parts to keep you flying all day.
  • A hard hat (Building site or motorcycle helmet).
  • Something to eat and drink.
  • Some money to cover the entry fee.

Fuel and other necessary items will be provided by the organisers. Once you have been to a meeting or two and had some practice, you will want to go faster. By then you will have seen what others are flying and have some idea how different models and engines perform. There are many kits or plans to choose from and an up to date list of allowable engines is given in the current rules.

FAI Start Line - Hard Hats Must Be Worn For ProtectionSafety
Like all forms of racing, pylon racing can be dangerous. Models fly fast and usually quite low. When something goes wrong, there is little time to correct the problem. Mid air collisions and radio failures happen occasionally and models out of control could go anywhere. Everyone on or near the course must remain alert at all times when racing is in progress. Everyone on the course must always wear hard hats for protection. The Sport 40 Association are acutely aware of the importance of safety and so far have never had an incident at a Sport 40 race meeting resulting in injury or damage to property. We hope that this situation will continue by encouraging the diligence and safety awareness of all involved.

Dangerous flying such as over flying the course or the pits or flying too low will be penalised. Models should always fly higher than the height of the pylons (around 20ft). A pilot deemed to be flying dangerously will be warned by the starter or contest director. If it happens again, a cut may be awarded or, in extreme cases, the pilot may be grounded.

The Course
Sport 40 pylon races are held over ten laps around an elongated triangular course. The course is 180m long and 40 m wide at the base of the triangle. The course is set up with the number one pylon exactly upwind of the start line whenever possible so that take off is directly towards the number one pylon and directly into wind. The start and finish line is marked 30m in front of the base. The pits area is either sited a safe distance away in a position where it won't be over flown or (for smaller meetings or restricted sites) is sited inside the course. Since no one is allowed to over fly the course, inside the course is usually the safest place to be. The landing area is always outside the course on the opposite side to the pits. The Sport 40 course is exactly the same as the F3D pylon course and regular combined meetings are held when both classes are run. Races are run anti clockwise, so you always turn left around the pylons.

Pylon Racing Course
Pylon Racing Course

The Races
Each heat is held between three or four models at a time. Heats have a staggered start to reduce the danger of mid air collisions at the number one pylon on the first turn. Racing is against the clock, with each models clock being started when the starters flag drops for that model. The clock is stopped when the model crosses the start line again after completing ten laps.

At the beginning of a heat, each model in turn is held up for identification by one of the flagmen at the number one pylon. During the race, the flagman will drop his flag when the model he is watching passes the number one pylon. The pilots assistant (or caller) will shout out the instruction to turn and the model will turn and head back towards the number two pylon. Pilots usually fly around the number two and three pylons without much from their callers. However, some advice on the best line into the turn is useful, especially for beginners in the event The start is made with the models stationary on the ground. Each model is held by the pilots caller. The starter drops his flag for each model in turn. The caller releases (or pushes) the model and the race is on. If a model cuts inside one of the pylons, a cut is called and the recorded time for that model is increased by 10%. This is to simulate the flying of a penalty lap to make up for the short one. If a model cuts twice, no time is recorded for that heat

After the heats are complete, each pilot will have flown around six heats. Sometimes it's more, sometimes less. It all depends on the weather, the number of entrants and the slickness of the organisation. If six heats have been run, each pilots two worst times are dropped and the remainder added up to see who the fastest are. Usually, the four fastest go on to a final. Finals are run with a simultaneous start and the first home (if without cuts) is the winner of the event. Sport 40 is organised into two groups of pilots, group B for beginners in the event and group A for the more experienced. Finals are usually held for both groups. Sport 40 Pylon RacerPromotion from group B to group A is made when a certain qualifying standard is achieved. Currently this is done at the end of the season in which the pilot first achieves a four heat combined time at one meeting of 450 seconds or less. There is no provision for demotion from group A to B.

The sole purpose of running the heats is to decide who gets a place in the final. It is more important to be consistent at this stage than to be the fastest. Anyone who gets more than two no times is automatically out of the running. If you set your engine too lean just to try and go a little faster, you are unlikely to finish the heat and could blow your chances of qualifying (as well as wrecking your engine).

The Officials
The officials running the meeting are usually competing as well. Obviously they can't officiate whilst flying so the various jobs are spread around all the competitors. Typically, the entry is split into two halves. The first half fly three or so heats each whilst the second half officiate and then they switch round It will be a very rare meeting where you are not called upon to do something around the course so it is useful to know what needs to be done and how to do it

Although it may seem rather complicated just reading this account it all falls into place at a meeting. Come along and see.

The Contest Director
The contest director is in charge of the event. Usually he will have organised the venue and obtained the necessary permissions As director, he is responsible for resolving any disputes that may arise or for any interpretation of the rules that may be required.

The Starter
The starter is responsible for everything that happens on and around the start line. At the beginning of each heat, he will make sure the right pilots are in the right place and that timekeepers are available. He will conduct the process of identification whereby each flagman at the FAI Start Linenumber one pylon knows which model he is flagging for. He will ensure that each model is on a different frequency, that transmitters and receivers are switched on and that there are no radio problems.

When everyone is ready, the starter will announce a one minute start up time. Pilots and their callers then have 60 seconds to start engines and get ready for the start. Once the minute is up, each model is flagged away in turn at about 1 second intervals. If you are having problems starting your engine and are late for the start, you are still allowed to take off until the leading model has crossed the start line on its way back from the number one pylon on its first lap. If you can't get away before that time, you must stop your engine and retire from the start line. When the heat is over, each pilot must land as quickly as possible so the next heat can start. It is strictly forbidden to land inside the course (by flying between pylons 2 and 3) or between the course and the pits because there will be people moving about in those areas. The landing strip is usually sited just outside the course on the side furthest away from the pit area. During the pilots briefing, this area should be pointed out to everyone. If in doubt, ask. When everyone has landed safely, models recovered and radios switched off, the next heat can start.

The Timekeepers
Each timekeeper is responsible for timing one model over the ten laps. The start is staggered, so the watch is started when the flag is dropped for that model. The timekeeper must count the laps and when the ten laps are complete, should shout to the pilot/caller to let them know they've finished. The timekeeper must look out for any cuts made by his pilot and note them and the time on the master time sheet.

Number One Flagmen
Waving a flag at the number one pylon is a very important and quite demanding job. Flagmen have to be alert and organised if they are to treat each pilot fairly. There is one flagman for each model in each heat.

When the models in a heat are identified, each model is held up in turn so that the appropriate flagman knows which is which. When he is confident that he can recognise the model, the flagman waves his flag as a signal to the starter. When the heat begins, all the flagmen raise their flags. When their model passes the number one pylon, they drop their flag smartly as a signal to the pilot/caller. If a model cuts inside the pylon or turns back the wrong side of the pylon, the flagman should wave his flag above his head for a few seconds as a signal. If there is a cut hoard provided, the cut marker should be placed on the board. As your model rounds the base pylons, your flag should be raised again ready for the next lap.

At the end of the heat, any cuts are signalled to the base by the appropriate flagman holding his flag aloft and waiting for an acknowledgement. If there is a radio link provided, this is an easier way of communicating with the base. To ensure fairness, the flagmen should flag each model at the same point. Usually, a landmark on the horizon at 90" to the course will be chosen and the flagmen will stand in a line so that they can see both the pylon and the landmark. As the model crosses this imaginary line, the flag should be dropped.

Base Flagmen
Usually one flagman is positioned on each base pylon. His task is to identify if any models cut inside the pylon. If this occurs, a shout or a blast on an air horn is usually sufficient to inform the timekeeper and,caller/pilot. At the end of the heat, any cuts should be specifically mentioned to the timekeepers so that the correct time is put on the master time sheet.

The Callers
Callers assist the pilot during model preparation, engine start, launching and advice on where to fly. When you are starting out, it is best to have a caller who knows what he is doing and has done it before. He will help to calm you down and make sure you haven't forgotten anything. Any experienced competitor will be more than willing to help out a newcomer, so you only have to ask.

See also 'The Ultimate Adrenaline Rush - Pylon Racing!'.

This page has been contributed by UK Pylon Racing