Reno Thrills Air Race Fans

Strega pilot James Consalvi (top) and Voodoo pilot Steven Hinton had a race for the history books in Reno. Kristoffer Glenn Pfalmer

In one of the most exciting finales in years, legendary P-51 race airplane Strega, piloted by James Consalvi, beat Voodoo to claim the coveted National Championship Air Race trophy in the Unlimited class Gold heat. Voodoo, flown by Steven Hinton, beat Consalvi (then in Czech Mate) last year by 10 seconds, was a step ahead throughout the race. Consalvi tried several moves to get ahead, but being forced to fly the outside line proved too difficult. The two ultra-fast airplanes, which both flew the course beyond 480 mph on average, passed the third-place contestant right before the home pylon, when Consalvi was able to barely shoot ahead of Hinton.

The Jet class also put on a good show, with Zachary McNeal, flying a Vampire named Stealth, and David Culler in an L-39 named American Patriot giving Rick Vandam in another L-39, American Spirit, a battle in the initial laps. However, Vandam proved significantly faster in the end, pushing right around 500 mph around the course.

There was also great excitement in the Gold heat for the T-6 Class. Similar to the Unlimited race, Six Cat, flown by Nick Macy, which finished first in all preliminary heats this year and has won the trophy many times in more than three decades of racing, was barely ahead of Radial Velocity, flown by John Lohmar. Macy and Lohmar flew wing to wing around the pylons with Lohmar barely inching ahead to a photo finish, 7 hundredths of a second before Macy.

The Sport Class Gold race offered a different kind of excitement. Andrew Findlay, flying One Moment, an orange Lancair Legacy with chainsaw wings sponsored by the main event sponsor Stihl, was gaining on Jeff LaVelle, who dominated the qualifying heats with a speed of 401 mph, when he experienced engine trouble and had to pull out of the race. LaVelle stayed ahead with Vicky Benzing who claimed the second place in Lucky Too, a recently restored Super Legacy that brought the fastest time ever recorded by a Lancair Legacy in the qualifying heats at the National Championship Air Races — 377 mph.

Pilot Rick Vandam flew a tight line and reached speeds around 500 mph in American Spirit to capture gold in the 2017 Jet Class. Reno Air Race Association/Facebook
Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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