(Photo: Steph Raddi)
Mankind has always dreamt of flying like a bird especially those soaring birds you see lazily circling on a summer’s day. Modern sailplanes now make soaring flight possible for man and in them he can fly higher, faster, and farther than the greatest of birds, using only the energy in the sky.
Soaring pilots can stay airborne for hours by flying through air that is ascending as fast or faster than the glider itself is descending, thus gaining energy, they can convert this energy into speed to cover great distances at remarkable speeds.
The rising currents are created by the suns energy warming the ground and the air adjacent to the ground. The warmed air rises in columns with enough volume and energy to carry a sailplane up with it. To stay in the column of rising air the sailplane pilot will circle constantly adjusting his circle seeking the best part of the thermal.
Once the pilot has gained all the available altitude he flies on his course looking constantly for more energy to help him make efficient progress. In favourable conditions long lines of energy may form enabling the glider to fly for prolonged periods without having to circle.
The essence of racing soaring flight is to find the most energy and use it as efficiently as possible.
Soaring offers a sense of freedom unique in the modern world a soaring pilot is no longer earthbound, they will constantly look for lift clues in the air, such as birds and cumulus clouds; that can help you to meet the continuing challenge of staying aloft.
The intellectual challenge of soaring is its main appeal to many glider pilots. Gravity tells you that you and your machine, which together may weigh 500 to 2000 pounds, have no business staying aloft and that your place is on the ground since you have no engine to stay airborne. You know that the sun and the wind are providing an invisible force frequently far stronger than the force of gravity, but it's up to you to make the most of that force through your interpretation of it and of your own pilot skills. The best combination brings the longest flight, the highest altitude gain, or the fastest speed in a contest.
For sheer beauty, the sport of soaring is unsurpassed. Sailplanes may vary widely in design but they are all graceful - especially when moving through the sky.
A fast demanding and highly competitive race between beautiful and highly developed sailplanes using only the sun's energy as their power source.
Grand Prix racing in sailplanes is the most competitive, exciting and exhilarating form of sailplane racing, it requires great concentration and skill to seek out and make the best use of the available energy in the air and at the same time employ tactics to gain an edge over the other competitors.
Each race takes place around a closed course of about 200-300 km and usually takes about 2 hours depending on the weather conditions in the race area with up to 20 gliders competing simultaneously.
A contest will normally be over five or six days allowing the pilots the opportunity to compete in different conditions. Each race starts with the opening of a 5km long start line by the race director. The start provides an exciting spectacle with all the competitors streaming through the start together. Once across the start line the pilots choose their own route seeking out the best energy to each of the mandatory points they must pass. The successful passage of these points is verified by information from flight recorders carried in each glider. Having passed each point they must cross the finish line to record their speed.
The race winner is the pilot who has selected the best route and made most efficient use of the available energy in the sky and having completed the course is the first across the finish line. This requires excellent piloting skills to identify and use the thermal currents that will give them altitude that is then converted into speed. The energy availability is constantly changing, requiring the pilot to continually evaluate his tactics both in relation to the energy conditions and his position relative to the other competitors.
Winning the race requires a pilot to formulate a strategy that suits his/her competitive style. Some like to race ahead whilst others may wish to fly more conservatively and wait for the leaders to make a mistake. There will be many critical decision points giving each pilot the opportunity to gain an advantage when he makes the right decision and fall behind if he makes an incorrect assessment of the conditions.
Each race is a test of the pilot’s patience and tactical ability. These qualities combined with his piloting skills and ability to choose the optimum route will determine his performance. The pilot who successfully implements his chosen strategy and uses the most appropriate tactics to achieve the fastest speed will be the winner.
On each of the race days the top nine pilots are awarded points according to their position, the pilot amassing the most points by the end of the contest is the winner.
Each Sailplane Grand Prix has between six and ten qualifying events culminating in a World final to find the World Sailplane Grand Prix champion. The World final competitors are the winners and runners up from all the qualifying events.
The first experimental Sailplane Grand Prix events were held in January 2001 in Gawler, Australia and in June 2003 in Saint-Auban, France.
The first official FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix was held from the 2nd to the 11th of September, 2005, in Saint-Auban, France.
The second FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix was held in December 2007 in Omarama, New Zealand.
The third FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix was held in January 2010 in Santiago, Chile.
The fourth FAI Sailplane Grand Prix was held in August 2011 at the Wasserkuppe, Germany.
1st FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Saint Auban - France 2005
2nd FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Omarama - New Zealand 2007
3rd FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Santiago - Chile 2010
8th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Santiago - Chile 2018
10th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix St Auban - France 2021
9th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix La Cernaya - Spain 2019
7th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Potchefstroom - South Africa 2016
6th FAI World Sailplane Grand PrixVarese - Italy 2015
5th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Sisteron - France 2014
4th FAI World Sailplane Grand Prix Wasserkuppe - Germany 2011