The airfield at La Cerdanya
At briefing, the weather looked challenging with areas of high cloud threatening to move into the area and cut off the sun. If the high cloud stayed away it looked as though it would be a blue day, but strong winds from the south brought the possibility of good ridge soaring along the south facing slopes of the valleys.
By the 1pm launch time, conditions looked improved with little high cloud and some cumulus already popping. The 244km task was on.
CD Brian Spreckley describes conditions before launching the fleet.
Before the start, the fleet climbed above 3,000m and pushed forward descending to the 2,500m start height. With so much energy in their fully ballasted gliders, a few pilots crossed the line too fast and received penalty points.
After start the pilots had two options. They could to turn left onto Pic Pedro and climb back up above 3,000m before continuing to the first turnpoint, Mont Louis. The second option was to run on the south ridges on the north side of the Cerdanya Valley. Most pilots opted to climb but Australian Graham Parker stuck to the ridges.
Graham ended up taking the first turnpoint about 1,500m lower than the rest of the fleet, who stayed above 3,000m as they turned for Pic Cervi 102km to the west.
Sebastien, Mike Young and Maximillian Seis pushed out ahead, keeping to the north of track heading for the higher ground, and climbed above 3,500m on the end of the Carlit Mountains. At this point all members of the fleet were close together and it looked as if it might be a fast and close race. Although there were cumulus and strong conditions, the sky ahead looked bluer.
Sebastian climbed to 3,800m and several other pilots climbed above 3,700m. Sebastian and Max flew out in front higher and faster as they came up to the valley of Andorra.
Perhaps unnoticed by the rest of the fleet, Pete Temple and Tilo Holighaus had followed a more southerly and direct route to the turnpoint, sticking to the south facing ridges. After the flight Pete said, ‘Finally, a classic ridge day. Strong winds made for extremely turbulent conditions, especially close to the rocks where I was for most of the day. Some pilots managed to stay high but I was stuck low on the ridges. If I'd found a strong climb taking me higher I would have taken it but such climbs eluded me.’
Watching the Silentwings flight tracking as the race unfolded, this looked like a good strategy. Although Max and Sebastian and the others were higher, it was clear that Pete and Tilo were speeding straight to the turnpoint.
Louis Bouderlique had now caught up with Max and Sebastian and they crossed the Andorra valley.
Pete and Tilo eventually stopped to climb before crossing the Sort Valley. As they approached the turnpoint all the leading pilots came together at a good altitude. They all took the turn quickly, but Sebastian, Louis and Max went north and took a climb, while Pete headed straight on track. But Tilo had already left and was racing ahead of Pete along the ridges 1,000m lower to the Collcanto turnpoint 31km away.
Tilo Holighaus took his second day win and is now leading the field with 23 points.
So while Sebastian and the others climbed above final glide, Tilo followed by Pete were approaching the turnpoint much lower down. Louis, who had climbed the highest, passed Pete as they reached Collcanto.
Describing the last mountain he and Tilo had to cross at low altitude, Pete said, ‘Flying below the ridges in high narrow valleys certainly took some courage but I didn't need to stop to thermal and made reasonable speed. However, if I hadn't managed to clear the mountain passes through that section it was a long way to backtrack. GP racing is about taking competitive risk and in this case it worked. Later in the flight I was very lucky finding a good climb from 2,000m at the end of a dead end valley.’
Tilo said that his critical decision at this point was to head directly to the final turnpoint and home. He was 1,300m below final glide and even at the final turn he was 200m below, but on the final leg to the finish he had buoyant air and he climbed up to final glide.
Sebastian overhauled Max and the final positions did not change. Tilo raced home minutes ahead of everyone else. Louis used his extra altitude to pull ahead of Pete. Sebastian was unable to catch Pete so took forth place followed by Max.
Pete Temple came in third on his second scoring day. With 11 points Pete is in contention with several race days still to fly.
It was an exciting finish to a great race in conditions that were better than envisioned.
After three races the scores are building up and we can begin to see what the top racers are going to have to do to win the championship.
After two day wins, Tilo is out in front with 23 points followed by Didier Hauss on 16 points and Sebastian with 15. With several more race days still to come the question is - can Tilo keep up his stellar performance?
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Full Live of the race with comentary : here.
Report by Sean Young