Red Bull Air Race makes debut at IMS this weekend 

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107 years after the first aviation race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the ultimate motorsport in the sky returns to the Speedway this weekend. The first ever Red Bull Air Race at IMS will feature two days of racing, culminating with the Master Class Round of 4 Sunday afternoon.

What does a Red Bull Air Race entail? Racing against the clock, the world's top pilots navigate an aerial racetrack featuring air-filled pylons while attempting to incur the fewest penalties.

Pilots must complete three laps around a course that features multiple air gates, a chicane — a narrow twist in the track ­— and a vertical turning manoeuver. The pylons at these gates are only 75 yards off the ground, making for low-altitude flying where pilots regularly reach speeds upwards of 230 miles per hour.

"Usually there will be less than half a second between first and last place. That's how tight these times are. That's how great these pilots are," said Challenger Class pilot Kevin Coleman at a media event a week before the race.

Coleman, 26, is the first ever American to compete in the Challenger Cup, the sport's second division, and also the youngest pilot participating in the 2016 season.

The small time differential between finishing places puts a premium on running a clean race. Pilots can incur penalties for hitting pylons, having incorrect levels through gates or flying too high through a gate. Penalties range from one to three seconds, virtually eliminating the pilot in that round.

While hitting a pylon might sound dangerous, it's quite the opposite. Made up of material similar to light paper, pylons are designed to break apart if hit by a plane.

"Most of the time when you hit them, you don't even feel it. Red Bull Air Race has done such a good job of improving the pylons over the years. As a pilot, you know with all confidence that if you hit one, it's not a big deal," said Coleman.

It's one less thing pilots have to worry about in a sport where there are many things to worry about.

Like many other motorsports, G-force also plays a big role in the Red Bull Air Race.

"The G-force is the ultimate enemy in the cockpit. Not only are we flying 50 feet about the ground, trying not to pick up pylon hits, we also have to focus on staying awake, keeping all the blood to your brain," said Coleman.

Standing on Earth at sea level equals 1g, and 10gs is the maximum amount of G-force permitted during the race. Pilots reach that limit during the vertical turning manoeuver portion of the course. Located on the north end of the track, this portion is where a pilot can pick up the most time on their competition. It's also where they can make the most mistakes.

Pilots push their skills and bodies to the limit in attempt to shave off a valuable few tenths of a second from their overall time. The best pilots break the 10g maximum for an extremely short time span — not a penalty if kept under four tenths of a second.

The Red Bull Air Race in Indianapolis will feature a standing start, only the second race on the schedule where this is the case. Pilots take off from the infield and fly straight into the track.

"When we got our schedule for 2016 and I saw Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the schedule, I circled that one. If I'm going to win anywhere, it's got to be there. I keep up with all these motorsports and I know how special Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to the motorsports community," said Coleman.

Coleman is hoping to kiss the bricks and drink the milk like many champions before him.


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Brian Weiss

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