National Rally Flying Championships 2023 - Leg Two - Brakpan
By Pam Russell. Photos by Willie Bodenstein
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Competition Director / Route Planner - Pam Russell
Safety Officer / Scorer - Antony Russell
Landing Judge / Jury - Frank Eckard
This year, the 23rd World Championships in Rally Flying will take place in Macon, France. SAPFA announced earlier this year that the qualification "Nationals" would take the form of two separate events, in the Western Cape and in Gauteng.
Qualifying for the 22nd World Championship which took place in Brits last year, was a three-year slog of selections and postponements. So, I can only speculate that the motivation was to make it easier for teams to participate. As someone who flew to Gauteng dozens of times last year, I know that I certainly appreciated it. I am sure the many teams who made regular trips to Stellenbosch in 2020 and 2021 also welcomed it.
It wasn't a decision that came without complications, though, and it did mean double the planning from organizers. Still, if the goal is to allow the greatest opportunity for qualified teams to show their preparedness, then the effort is matched by the reward.
I was to be a participant in Stellenbosch, and route planner for Brakpan. As a fairly junior route planner I got going early. The plan was to send my routes to Frank & Callie for vetting to ensure they matched the level of difficulty of their Stellenbosch routes. We can't change the terrain, but we can plot the same number of TPs and make the clues of the same complexity. Needless to say, flying the earlier competition sent me back to the drawing board for some adjustments before sending the routes for vetting.
Huge thanks to Callie and Frank for their inputs, and to Mary for a run-through of each route as well.
The Brakpan event was scheduled for Friday and Saturday 24 and 25 March. Entries for the Nationals (both days) were received from five teams, and Leon Bouttel who had already competed with his partner Marko Nel at the Stellenbosch event, found a pilot from the local flying school to join him on the route, flying in the Fun category.
Apie and Frederick Kotzee
Fanie Scholtz and Herman Haasbroek
Hendrik and Jeandre Loots
Iaan and Tarryn Myburgh
Jonty Esser and Sandi Goddard were flying when the photos were taken
Brakpan's famous breakfast, well worth flying in for
On arrival, pilots and organizers found the flying club ready to welcome us with a hearty breakfast and plenty of space for us to set up operations. We hit our first snag with a printer issue which left us unable to print timesheets. While Tony and Iaan battled the gremlins, the weather cleared sufficiently to allow the final pilots to arrive. So, while the briefing was a little on the late side, first papers were issued on schedule.
The route took crews to the south and then eastward before looping back to Brakpan. Plotting seemed to go smoothly for all the crews. Pictures were a mixed bag, with some crews doing well on en routes only to struggle with turn points, or vice versa. Overall, the performances were good, with everyone doing as expected or a little better. This bodes well as selection is just the first step in training for Worlds, and Nationals performance is the foundation each team will build on over the next several months.
Jonty and Sandi's bingo
The landings were impressive as well, with three teams scoring bingos. This is an "odd" field for spot landing, because the grid is in the middle of the runway. Pilots need to "unlearn" the tendency to fly their normal approach which would cause them to arrive somewhere in the vicinity of the threshold rather than the landing box. The day wrapped up with some hangar talk, before everyone drove or flew home for the night.
The sound of falling rain can be beautiful. It's a lovely way to wake up on a lazy morning when you can just roll over and let it lull you back to sleep. It's less delightful on day 2 of a National Championship. Still, there's nothing to do but head out to the airfield and wait. And eat breakfast. And wait. And drink coffee. And wait.
As the hours rolled by, we pushed back the briefing a few times, and kept in communication with the competitors. We got updates and reports from each field where a crew was cloud-watching. The group was larger than for Friday and reports were coming in from various distances and directions. The organizers discussed various plan B options and strategies as time went on.
The rain continued, and reports suggested there was plenty more where it had come from. So at around 11:30am it was decided that (a) by continuing to wait we were simply inviting competitors to strand their aircraft at Brakpan in the unlikely event they did find a gap in which to get there, and (b) the only way to get the cloud to lift was to throw in the towel and call it a day.
The rules recognise one completed route as sufficient to declare a championship. This meant it was just our fun that would be spoiled by not flying. Our job had been done. This was of course disappointing both to pilots who didn't get to fly and to organizers who didn't get to see pilots and navigators coming in exhilarated after their flights. But it was the best decision in the circumstances. We relayed this in person to each of the Nationals crews and announced it over WhatsApp. Our far-flung pilots stood down, disappointed but safe and hopefully somewhat dry.
Now it was time for the scorers and selectors to get to work. The Stellenbosch results had been held back from publication until joint results were available. Flying two routes in Stellenbosch and one in Brakpan was now adding a level of complication.
It was decided that the fairest option was to halve the total scores of the Stellenbosch participants. With that done, it did look like there was balance between the routes, with the Cape Town participants spread through the field.
The overall podium spots were taken by Tarryn and Iaan Myburgh (FABB) in third, Jonty Esser and Sandi Goddard (FABB) in second and Alewyn Burger and Steve van der Merwe (FABS) in First with a very spectacular and definitely world class score of just 274.
The landings should have been easier to collate, since the Stellenbosch event also only managed to get in one set of landings. The teams weren't all about making life easier for the judges though. In Brakpan three pilots binged their landings. Considering that one team had also scored zero in Stellenbosch, we had a four-way tie. This sent the officials to the rulebook to establish a winner - a very deserving Fanie Scholz.
The first seven teams (from the combined events) qualified for selection. The selectors have invited each of them to state their availability and the National team will be announced in due course. Then the hard work begins!
Congratulations to everyone who took part in the competitions, and to all of the organizers who help make it possible for us all.