Nader Couri’s beautiful three-minute short from the 2003 Hang Gliding World Championships
Carol Binder gets the low-down from the contenders at the 14th Hang Gliding Worlds on what it was like racing into the world’s most spectacular goalfield – Esplanada, in the middle of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia.
Sixteen km to goal, 1,000 metres remaining. I start pulling on speed as I pass over the small villages on the outskirts of Brasilia. A massive crowd waits in the small landing field between the busy motorways.
Then, goal disappears behind a high-rise apartment! Thankfully, it creeps back into view. Six hundred metres to go, I shove the bar right in, just clear the last high-rise and slip into goal, briefly spotting my reflection in the glazed windows of the government buildings.
That’s Brasilia, Brazil, a country with a good history in producing hang gliding champions and currently fielding one of the strongest hang gliding teams in the world.
The one and only take-off used was at Parana Valley, where consistent northeasterly winds at this time of year always blow straight onto launch. The most spectacular scene for the pilots however was the grassy area of the Government headquarters, Esplanada, which was used as goal.
The goal at Esplanada is probably the most amazing part of competing in Brasilia. I know of no other hang gliding event where the finish involves gliding straight into the heart of the capital city, dodging buildings and lamp-posts.
It was always interesting watching pilots, especially the lower ones, speeding in on final over the tops of the high-rise buildings (better known as turbulators), then dodging the mass crowds that gather to pull off a safe landing.
Day 1, Task 1, 92.4km:
Launch on day one was charged with excitement and anticipation despite the relatively stable conditions. We were expecting short tasks to be set due to the winter conditions. Task one was slow at first, but speeds picked up as conditions improved, although a handful of pilots were caught out short of goal as conditions quickly weakened later in the day.
Hot favourite Paris Williams bombed out close to the start gate whilst Oleg Bondarchuk and Gerolf Heinrichs landed out just short of goal. First into goal was Robert Reisinger with Betinho Schmitz hot on his heels. It wasn’t long before defending world champion Manfred Ruhmer and ex-world rigid wing champion Alex Ploner turned up to share third place. The day one winner: Robert Reisinger.
Day 2, Task 2, 107.9km:
Another quick take-off with everyone in the air within 40 minutes.
Day winner Christian Ciech takes up the story: I led most of the task and generally stayed about 1km in front of the main gaggle. Two km’s before the last turnpoint Betinho Schmitz and Robert Reisinger caught up with me at cloud base. I then took a different line to them. We were about 27km out when Gordon Rigg turned up out of nowhere. At the last turnpoint, I had a small height advantage and so got into goal first.
Day 3, Task 3, 111/128.2km:
This turned out to be an epic day and another good task with goal at Esplanada.
Day winner Betinho Schmitz: “I knew that the first two turnpoints would be the hardest legs because of the head or crosswind component. I decided to take a late start and flew a different route. This gave me the advantage.”
Gordon Rigg came down with the flu but still powered into goal 10th after sleeping under his glider on take-off. Unfortunately Ciech didn’t make goal.
Day 4, Task 4, 105/113.5km: Overcast skies, a strong upper level wind and gusty conditions prevailed at launch, but not enough to can the day. A task was called via three turnpoints, and of course, back into the city.
Day winner Manfred Ruhmer: “I flew with Antoine Boisselier, Curt Warren and Paris Williams, who like to lead out ahead and work together. We stayed close to the ridge at the start. Antoine left us, and just before the turnpoint we hit a great thermal. I managed to leave with more height than Paris and Curt.
“Before the next turnpoint they were much lower and I managed to keep my height until after the last one, where Antoine joined me again. I then made a bad decision, heading off in another direction towards a cloud, which was gone when I got there. This cost me around five minutes and a lot of anxiety.
“I then spotted Paris turning in weak lift, and headed out towards an island in the lake, which fortunately worked really well. Made a few turns (at about 10km out) and headed out on final with a 10:1 glide at about 800metres above landing. Paris gave chase, but I made it in only four seconds before him.”
This moved Ruhmer into the lead with 142 points. Schmitz held on tight to his second position while Reisinger fell into third place.
Day 5, Task 5, 155.4km:
Blue skies, moderate northeasterly winds and a light southerly higher up. The whole field launched once again in only 40 minutes for what would prove to be one of the hardest days – two hard crosswind legs, weak thermals and inversions at variable levels.
Day winner Oleg Bondarchuk: “From the beginning I was in a good position. I left with a big gaggle and always remained high. On top of the plateau conditions got lighter and it was important to stay together and help one another. I saw a pilot at the last turnpoint with very good lift and headed out to him along with most of the top ten pilots. Manfred took a different route. There was little or no lift along the way. Reisinger hit a little more sink on his line than I, which gave me the advantage in the end.”
Day 6, Task 6, 151.3km:
Day winner Bruno Guillen: “Before the window opened, Oleg said to me, “This should be the best day of the competition and show us what Brazil can really offer.” We were always high and the task was relatively easy with base up around 3,000 metres. We flew really fast, leaving thermals early and catching the middle of the next strong one. After the last turnpoint Antoine and I took the cloud street option, offering a better tailwind closer to goal.”
Alex Ploner misjudged his height on final and was unable to cross over the busy motorway. An approaching bus was enough to convince him to pull into the nearest landing area and ground loop.
Day 7, Task 7, 178 / 192.9km: The biggest task so far via five turn points, once again ending at Esplanada. Conditions started to look even better than the day before with a higher base at 3,200 metres and much better lift at 5m/s.
Day winner Manfred: “The conditions were similar to the previous day, only with better lift. I stayed with the main gaggle until the first and second turnpoint whereupon everyone started to separate. Some 40km from goal I spotted Mario Alonzi who had chosen a very good line. I decided to join Betinho and Oleg, with Alonzi one km in front of us. I left my group hoping to choose a better line but believing it wasn’t possible to catch Mario. I was flying at about 90 – 100km/h, only slowly gaining on Mario. Three km out, Mario and I headed out on final tip to tip. I used a little more speed and got in first.”
Oleg Bondarchuk unfortunately missed the second turnpoint thereby plummeting down the rankings.
Cancelled due to overdevelopment
Day 9, Official Rest Day
And boy did everyone need one. The flying had so far been good but this is Brazil and some pilots had partied hard as well.
Day 10, Task 8, 92 / 107km:
An unstable air mass produced very good lift and took competitors quickly to the south of launch in the direction of Brasilia to Olaria Brasilinha, then to an intersection at Trevo Barreiras and on to a goal 129km to the north of Brasilia in a freshly ploughed field at Sao Joao D’Alianca. Esplanada was avoided due to possible overdevelopment.
Day winner Manfred Ruhmer: “I was really sick so I just tried my best to relax and simply fly the task conserving as much energy as possible. I felt too ill to be pulling the VG on and off all the time. With the good conditons, I needed to be fast to get in first. When I landed, I broke an upright, then tried to sleep under my glider to rest.”
Day 11: Cancelled due to stable conditions
Day 12, Task 9, 70.8 / 75.7km: The window opened at 12.30 with the top five pilots off early. Stable conditions held up launch with half the field waiting for a miracle. After the last start at 2 pm everyone was either underway or under take-off, scratching hard. A low base of between 1,800 and 1,900 metres grounded many of the best pilots including Reisinger, Rotor, Coomber and Bruno Guillen. They were unable to catch the best lift around the first turnpoint, and landed high up on the plateau.
No-one made the goal at Formosa Aerodrome but Ruhmer won the day once again, landing out at 49.5km with Lukas Bader and Gilbert Utrillo a mere 300 metres behind him. Scores were low for the day but big enough to make an impact on the results. The biggest movement was from Guido Gehrman, whose one km better distance than Antoine Boisselier was enough to move him into third.
Day 13: Day cancelled again due to stablity
Day 14, Task 10,74 / 81km:
With lenticular clouds scattered around the sky, most decided the day would be cancelled and were happy to see Manfred as World Champion once again. But Haraldo Neves convened the task committee. The tension on launch built as only a few points separated Guido, Antoine, Nene and Betinho.
The finale was to be one last race to Esplanada with the start gate set out to the east of launch. Conditions turned out great with pilots getting decent climbs up to 2,300 metres. Betinho Schmitz arrived at goal very early, moving him up into fifth position. Next in was Hiroshi Suzuki and Johnny Durand Jnr.
A huge party and presentation that night at the Bay Park club down on the lake once again crowned Manfred Ruhmer as uncontested World Champion.
Carol caught up with Manfred and asked him about his win: “I guess it just happened!” says Manfred. “I took it pretty easy because I didn’t have anything to lose and flew very relaxed. The hot favourites had a lot of pressure on them, either because they hadn’t flown in too many world meets, or they wanted to win so badly.”
What gave you the edge? I fly an Icaro Laminar MR 4.8 (14.8), which went better than even I expected, especially at high speed and climbs. I also have a little advantage in performance. While the others were leaving for final glide at 75km/h, Robert and I had around 90km/h. High-speed gliding is most important and you need to reduce drag as much as possible. I only fly with 2.5 kilos of ballast.
What psychology do you use in the air? I always try to stay on top of the pack. This helps to control the other competitors more easily. Further, if you make a mistake or have a bad day, you just have to get over it. With more experience you can control yourself better.
Were there any critical moments for you? At the start I made some bad decisions, which didn’t pay off. Day four was the most critical. I won the day and that changed everything. Robert was doing great right from the beginning. He’s a great pilot and I’ve a lot of respect for him and his style of flying. He had his bad day, unfortunately, when I had my good day. If this particular day hadn’t been good for me, I would have been happy for him to win.
Who where the various challengers? Obviously Robert Reisinger. Nene and Betinho know the area well and are great pilots as are Antoine and Guido.
What do you think went wrong for them? When you pass them on final, even if they know the area better than you, they can’t do anything more than they are already doing.
1 Manfred Ruhmer Icaro Laminar MR 4.8 AUT 8685
2 Robert Reisinger Icaro Laminar MR 4.8 AUT 8314
3 Antoine Boisselier Moyes Litespeed S FRA 7887
4 Nene Rotor Wills Wing Talon BRA 7881
5 Betinho Schmitz Moyes Litespeed S BRA 7856
6 Guido Gehrmann Aeros Combat 2 DEU 7761
7 Bruno Guillen Moyes Litespeed S FRA 7480
8 Kraig Coomber Moyes Litespeed S AUS 7372
9 Gustavo Saldanha Moyes Litespeed S BRA 7251
10 Curt Warren Moyes Litespeed S USA 7156
1 Austria 24,944
2 Brazil 24,405
3 France 23,964
4 Italy 22,449
5 Germany 22,259
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