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Manfred Ruhmer’s diary: The Red Bull Speed Run 1999

Friday 13 August, 1999


This is what he’s talking about… Manfred Ruhmer races a skier at the Red Bull Speed Run 2001

Manfred Ruhmer reports from the Red Bull Speed Run 1999 in Kitzbuhel

The RedBull SpeedRun took place in Kitzbühel, a famous ski resort in Southwestern Austria, from 1-3 July 1999. This competition, new for most of you, has a story behind it which I would like to tell.

The ‘Hannenkam’ is a mountain in Kitzbühel which has a good take off and a quite nice place for safe toplandings. This, was the beginning of an idea which would only totally materialize in 1999. The idea was to have a one to one race taking off simultaneously, flying a small distance – so the spectators could observe the whole race – crossing the finishing line and landing back on the top of the mountain. The winner would pass on to the next round and fly against the other winners and so on until the grand final. This all included spectators and sponsors.

In 1994 Josef ‘Seppi’ Salvenmoser organized the first ‘Parallel SpeedRun’, it was a very small comp, new for everyone. Even then, it was possible to see how easy it would be to have an audience and TV coverage…very promising! Seppi assured that the SpeedRun would be a big event some day. In 1995 it was organized again, still quite small, but unfortunately the weather was terrible not allowing us to fly. For a couple of years nothing seemed to happen and, finally this year, Seppi was able to get the sponsors, the TV and organize the competition he had dreamed of.

In the meantime SpeedGliding also became quite popular. It consists on flying a hang glider at high speeds through a set course of gates, low to the ground -somehow similar to downhill skiing-; it requires concentration, skill and guts…the concept fascinated me. Since the ‘Hannenkam’ holds, every winter, a world known downhill ski contest the SpeedGliding discipline was added to the Parallel SpeedRun!

This year RedBull took part as the strongest sponsor, supplying good prize money as well. Ulrich Grill, renown free flight photographer, was in charge of directing the photography and TV recording. Two huge ramps were built -same height, same slope- to ensure fair take off conditions for every participant…now you know how it all began!

I arrived to Kitzbühel three days in advance in order to get comfortable with the site and the SpeedGliding course. After Seppi explained the course and I flew it once, some parts of it appeared to me very unconventional and not safe enough. We discussed about it, with other pilots as well, and finally decided to make some changes. After a couple of flights down the new course, I felt totally comfortable with it and was very satisfied.

The competition was supposed to start early on July 1st; but since several participants only got there until the night before, it was decided to make an official flight to allow the pilots to recognize the course before a serious run. Unfortunately the conditions were not optimal (i.e. slight side wind and light thermal activity) which did not allow us to fly at full speed plus some pilots were not able to recognize where their own limits lied and had some problems during landing. The American Aaron Swepston, for instance, wanted to do a spectacular final leg very close to the ground and quite fast.

He is an experienced aerobatics pilot and I am sure he has great control over his glider but he did not consider properly the slope of the landing field and its irregularities, he crashed at about 60 km/h against the ground and ended up in the hospital. He broke his nose and had some cuts on his face…the competition was already over for him and it hadn’t even started yet!

After the competition started there were no more serious accidents. Christian Ciech (Italy) won the SpeedGliding competition, I came in 2nd Rupi Plattner (Austria) 3rd. I was always faster than Christian but made a mistake on one of the gates and got a 30 seconds penalty which cost me the first place. The Parallel SpeedRun was great to watch and definitely offered the audience some thrilling moments, even some quite risky scenes.

For three days one race after the next kept the people interested. It was not very easy to win a round, especially with weak conditions, you had to take everything into account; in such short distances you can’t really use the latest technologies (i.e. variometer plus GPS), it was all in your mind. The most important thing was to be able to get higher than your opponent on the first thermal, hardly would have your rival outclimbed you, plus you could always fly away as he did or even earlier.

Once, flying against Robert Reisinger, I was lower and still managed to win the race…it was a good strategy: as soon as I knew I had enough height to fly the whole course I left the thermal when Robert was starting the turn so he had to finish the circle in order to fly in the right direction; this gave me the advantage I needed to win.

I ended up second, after losing twice against Rupi Plattner (who I had already beat at the very beginning of the competition and ended up being 3rd overall), just behind Robert Reisinger who came in first. He flew excellent even though he took quite a risk on his second match against Betinho Schmitz from Brazil.

On the final glide Robert was behind and higher than Betinho, knowing that his adversary was a very skilled pilot, he decided to dive and ‘undertake’ his rival, Robert was just a couple of meters off the sloped ground, flying very fast and under Betinho…wow! It was really hot stuff!

Robert forced Betinho to slow down and crossed the line close in front of him! Betinho said later that he had never experienced anything like it in his hang gliding career and added, with a smile on his face, that Robert was a crazy pilot!

There were parties and lots of entertainment plus the money; I really had a great time and am looking forward to next year’s comp.

It’s extremely hard to describe what went on at Kitzbühel, it was just amazing; therefore the best thing is that if you can make it to next year’s competition, don’t hesitate.

Before the Worlds…
Right After the RedBull SpeedRun I drove down to Monte Cucco where the British League was taking place. I arrived two days late and decided not to enter the comp and fly just for fun. I wanted to know the place better as training for the World Championships which were taking place from July 24th until August 8th.

I flew a couple of days there and after the League, on July 10th, drove back to Sangiano, Northern Italy, where Icaro 2000 is. I wanted to pick my spare glider up and do the final tuning on my glider before driving back to Monte Cucco a week before the beginning of THE competition.

The Pre-Europeans were scheduled exactly on this period (July 12th-19th) and even though it was a very important competition I decided not to attend. I have flown on that area (close to Innsbruck) for many years and know it well, plus I still have a year before that challenge…my priorities were clear: be prepared for the World Championships.

I arrived to Monte Cucco on July 16th, there were few pilots at the time, some of them had deserted the Pre-Europeans due to bad weather -like Gordon Rigg and Ron Richardson. We had enough days to practice and I am sure it was the right decision…

The next issue will be a special edition where I will only talk about the World Championships in detail, in the meantime I will just show the main results:

Pilots
1st Manfred Ruhmer; Austria; LaminarST
2nd André Wolf; Brazil; LaminarST
3rd Pedro Matos; Brazil; LaminarST
4th Betinho Schmitz; Brazil; Topless
5th Gordon Rigg; Great Britain; LaminarST

Countries
1st Brazil
2nd Great Britain
3rd Austria

Updated January 2011

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