The track is the opponent, and the team is everything.

Since taking the DHL Fastest Lap Award at the Red Bull Air Race season opener in Abu Dhabi in February, Massachusetts-based Team Goulian has improved their raceplane even further. Yet as they head to San Diego for their first home race of the season on April 15-16, their primary focus is teamwork rather than technology.

Chalk up another milestone for Team Goulian in the Red Bull Air Race. After setting a blistering track record at the 2016 finale in Las Vegas last October, they came roaring back at February’s season opener in Abu Dhabi to capture the DHL Fastest Lap Award in Qualifying. Next up, on April 15-16 they’ll be racing in home skies, at the World Championship’s first stop in San Diego, California since 2009.

Team Coordinator Pablo Branco inspects the cockpit of the #99 Edge 540 prior to a warmup flight at the Red Bull Air Race San Diego

“It feels really solid – again in Abu Dhabi we felt that Vegas magic,” says Team Coordinator Pablo Branco. “We’ve found something that gives us the speed and consistency we want.”

That “something” Team Goulian has found is not only speed in their raceplane, thanks to refinements that have been in process ever since technician Warren Cilliers came aboard last year, but an improved mindset and a better way to work together as a team.

“A racetrack is a living thing that’s always changing,” Goulian points out. What he and the team continue to hone in on is the balance between (a) his awareness of the complex data and tactics that point to a theoretical “perfect line” through the racetrack and (b) his ability to trust the instincts and skills he has developed over an award-winning career to respond to track conditions without overthinking.

Here’s how it works during Race Week: As soon as they arrive, Goulian and Tactician Steve Hall focus on tactics and examining the racetrack, possible conditions, and the best potential lines in minute detail – right down to the tenth of a G or one degree of a heading – and they identify a punch list of aspects, like particular pulls or turns that will be the main elements of that racetrack’s character.

In an illustration that is perhaps only natural for a team based in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Branco explains, “You know, if the New England Patriots are going to play the Seattle Seahawks, the Patriots’ coach will look at how the Seahawks are likely to put up challenges and then try to prepare his players in those areas. And that’s the same thing we’re trying to do, except the opponent is the racetrack. Each one has its own challenges.”

In San Diego, those preparatory drills will also help Goulian get used to differences that he may notice in the raceplane after the latest refinements completed in Santa Paula, California, which have included an improved fuselage-to-wing junction, and different winglets from those seen during the 2016 season. While the team doesn’t expect the Edge to handle differently, their pilot is so attuned to the aircraft that he senses even minor shifts in its vibrations and sounds.

Then if all goes to plan, by Qualifying everything should be so ingrained that Goulian can put all the computer calculations and other distractions out of his mind and simply fly the way he knows how.

Pilot Mike Goulian and team technician Warren Cilliers brief prior to a warmup flight at the Red Bull Air Race San Diego.

For two races in a row, Team Goulian has been on the verge of something big. Just when they’d flown brilliantly in Las Vegas, they were grounded by weather. In Abu Dhabi, after their dominant lap in Qualifying they lost their Race Day head-to-head against Canadian Pete McLeod quite literally by a nose: eight-thousandths of a second, which is equivalent to the length of a raceplane spinner (the noselike fairing over the propeller hub). Could three be the charm when they fly their first home race of the season just a few days from now?

“San Diego is like a homecoming for us even though it’s on the West Coast – our families will be joining us at this stop, and we have a lot of our partners, sponsors and friends here,” says Goulian. “I’ve got great memories of racing over the bay, and it will be our last chance to fly in US skies before the season finale in Indianapolis this October. We’re aiming to make the most of it, and think we’re in a really good position to win.”
About Red Bull Air Race:
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship celebrated its landmark 75th race at the 2017 season opener in Abu Dhabi. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 10G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.