Text by Rob Jonkers. Photos by Rob and Willie Bodenstein
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This year's President's Trophy Air Race was held at New Tempe Bloemfontein and although traditionally held on the last weekend of May, but with the Botswana Air Show also taking place on the same weekend, it was decided to move it a week earlier. If we all had the perfect hindsight and with that event not happening, we could have held it on its traditional date and subsequently avoided these last few days of the most unseasonal weather that befell the race weekend.
We have had many of the planned aviation events disrupted by wet, cold, windy weather systems with the most bandied about term of "cut-off low" being used to describe the weather situation. This weekend, none the less, had a very large cold front coupled with an intense low-pressure system over the centre of the country which would affect the race.
I arrived on Wednesday in excellent weather conditions and started setting up for the race, mostly the race control room and preparing for test flights as some of the early competitors also started to arrive at the field. Thursday saw most of the aircraft arrive although some of the Cape based teams first had to wait for the front to pass before setting off, arriving just before dark. Most of the day was taken up by flight tests and registrations while also monitoring what the weather would be doing for the next day as the front was approaching.
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During the first extensive Thursday afternoon briefing, which also included the SA weather services team being on hand to give us the best outlook, it appeared that there might have been an early morning flyable gap, thus the day was planned with an early 07h30 start. As Friday dawned, it looked promising: - the cloud base was at a reasonable 1000 ft and we proceeded with the pilot's briefing. We also sent the turn point marshals to their locations, this being particularly important to get weather condition updates from them at the outermost corners of the route.
As the morning progressed with a planned 10 am first take-off, the news from the turn points was not good. Light rain started and it was decided to scrub Day 1 with a debrief at 11 am to plan for the next day. The prediction for Saturday would be that the weather would improve from midday onwards. Everybody dispersed for some rest for the day.
Saturday dawned with flyable conditions and in fact, the window opened up from 11h00 onwards and the first take-off was planned for 11h00. The turn point marshals were sent out and who, from the previous day's rain, had the challenges of negotiating almost impassable roads to get to their intersections. Fortunately, they all sent in confirmation of being in position prior to the first take-off
Race Director Rob Jonkers during Saturday's briefing
The competitors at the briefing
Faces in a crowd-some of the competitors during the briefing
The days' route
A group photo of the competitors
The father and son teams
This year's field attracted 37 entries, which is very low by PTAR standards and which would normally have had 60+ competitors. This year, the cost impact would have affected most would be competitors, given that the fuel price had virtually doubled compared to that of last year at the same time. Three competitors had to withdraw mostly due to not being able to get to the event on time and we thus we had 34 starters.
The temporary control tower and emergency vehicles
Emergency personnel being briefed
The Century Gazebo was used on Saturday as the operations centre for the live broadcast of the race.
Some of the exhibitors and competing aircraft on the apron
With the airfield being water logged, we decided not to move the aircraft from where they were parked and carried out scrutineering in-situ and changed the papers' times to allow for a few additional minutes for the crews to collect their maps and route envelopes, which worked out well.
Some of the competitors hard at work plotting
The start line personnel
The ground marshals were also very efficient in getting the start order taxying out at their allocated time. With the race under way and having to cross over route, we could all watch how the order of the aircraft would be coming back over the field, which was at around one third of the race distance.
First away was father and son team of Hendrik and Jeandre Loots in their Sling 2
Followed by another father and son JPM (Kassie) and JP Kasselman in their Piper PA 28-140
Third away was Leon Boutttel and Martin Meyer in the Evektor Harmony
At 13h48 the Kotzee's who had taken off at 11h14 and Stefan Lombaard and Martiens Marais who had taken off at 11h52 in the Piper PA24 250 as well as...
....John Sayers and Dion Raathe, who flew the T-6G Harvard and had taken off at 12h00 and Johan van Zyl and Eric Addison, who in the Vans RV 7, had taken off at 12h01, crossed the finish line almost simultaneously.
Some landing photos
Although the traditional race finish would be at 1PM, and given the weather window having a later than normal start, the finish was planned for 13h45. As the time got closer to finish, the weather threatened to deteriorate with sudden cold and dark clouds forming just east of the field, but which fortunately stayed away. The line finishers were close between Race #2 Bosbok, Race #14 Piper Commanche and Race #45 Harvard. With spacing between aircraft at the start being required to keep a safe distance, the finishing order became Race #45 Harvard ZS-WSE, Race #9 RV-7 ZU-VZJ and Race #14 Piper Commanche ZS-NXG, who were the handicap winners.
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Prize-giving was held at the Windmill Casino, which had laid out an excellent banquet hall for all the teams, club members and officials to enjoy. The evening started with a short debrief of the race and some of the best and "interesting" tracks being displayed. Race #19 had a "long" day, having lost their way at turn point 1 and who continued northwest for 20 nm, before realising their error. They had the presence of mind to return to the first turn point and continue from there to fly a good race and only picked up one penalty, but of course added almost 40 minutes to their time.
Some of the dinner guests
After the main meal, David le Roux, the Race Master, started proceedings for the rest of the evening. First up was Franz Smit, who introduced and thanked all the sponsors in supporting the race comprising Holborn Assets, PilotInsure, Aircraft Finance Corporation, DJA Aviation, Century Avionics and all the local Bloemfontein sponsors. Leon Bouttell was up next as the SAPFA Chairman, and at this point, announced that Rob Jonkers would be standing down as Race Director with the baton being handed over to Iaan Myburgh.
Rob took to the stage and thanked all for their support since 2018 when the race was handed to him and at the same time, described the evolution of the format. This has evolved into today's format of a 10 turn point race, limited to 300 nm, with an accuracy component added as well. There is still much discussion about this race format and its merits compared to the traditional 4 corner race and this topic will be for the next race team to formulate, together with the racers for their input. Just as Formula 1 evolves with technological improvements and advances, so must the PTAR evolve to take into consideration changes in technologies utilised, such as GPS based heading reference devices, different engine types that have variable power settings as these all affect the handicap speeds and course accuracy.
MC David le Roux and SAPFA Race Master Rob Jonkers
Rob went on to thank all those involved in the race organisation, particularly the Bloemfontein Flying Club under key organiser Andre Grobler as well as the experienced PTAR event coordinator, who had provided the ground marshals, turn-point marshals and catering at the airfield. Nigel Musgrave, the Safety Officer with the ATNS team of Ricardo Afonso, SA Weather Services, ARCC, the Bloemfontein Emergency Services team of Braam van Zyl, the CAA Special Air Events team, the local Municipality & SAPS were all acknowledged and thanked.
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After this, the long awaited prize giving was held, with 24 trophy categories being handed out, up until the top 3 places. Third place overall was awarded to Race #9 RV-7 ZU-VZJ with the crew of Johan van Zyl & Eric Addison. Second place was bagged by Race #45 Harvard ZS-WSE with the crew of John Sayers & Dion Raath doing duty. Finally, the PTAR trophy was awarded to Race #14 Piper Commanche ZS-NXG, which was crewed by Stefan Lombard and Martiens Marais.
1St place winners Stefan Lombaard and Martiens Marais.
2nd place winners John Sayers and Dion Raath
3rd place winners Johan van Zyl and Eric Addison
After this, the PTAR flag was handed over from BFC Chair Deon Loots to Jock Nel, the Chairman of the Middelburg Aero Club, which will host the 2023 PTAR event. Thanks were extended to everybody who made this event a success, especially the volunteers, who take time out to assist as well as the media, who are key in promoting the PTAR.
2023 Hosting Club. Middelburg
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