The voice of Red Bull Air Race director Jimmy DiMatteo over the loudspeakers entices the crowds to crane their necks skyward, their eyes tracking a small racing airplane pointing its nose toward the inflatable starting Air Gate. A white line of smoke appears behind the airplane, indicating its twisting track around the highly technical course. In the span of about a minute, the airplane goes through a chicane slalom segment, vertical turns comprising half Cuban eights to bring it back into the course, and several Air Gates (two parallel pylons through which the airplane has to fly, wings level, at a specified height).
The pilot is not just fighting for the win in this race. They are also pining for points toward the ultimate prize — standing atop the podium of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship — based on the annual points accumulation of eight races at scenic urban locations around the world. When each race is over, the top 10 racers get points, ranging from 1 to 15. Whoever has earned the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion.
Each competition starts with qualifying heats, followed by competitive eliminations. In the Round of 14 and Round of 8, the faster of two paired airplanes moves on to the next round. Watching the races beside the big jumbotrons adds to the excitement; the racetrack of the paired competitor can be seen as a ghosted band with a flag indicating the racer’s nationality and whether they’re trailing or leading the pilot flying, giving an instant visual representation of who is likely to win the heat. In the Final 4 round, the fastest racer wins. The competition is fierce, and sometimes the winner and loser are separated only by a fraction of a second. To ensure accuracy, the timing is measured with laser technology accurate to 1/10,000th of a second.