The Presidents’ Trophy Air Race has been contested annually since 1937, baring the war years and 2020, which had to be scrapped due to Covid.

THIS YEAR THE WEATHER tried its best to cancel the race with South Africa plunged into extreme cold and wet by an unseasonable cut-off low system which fed icy cold wet weather into the interior of the country. The cold however did not dampen the spirits of the thirty-four teams that made their way to Bloemfontein’s Tempe airport.

In the past, fields of 60-70 aircraft were the norm at PTAR but the tough economic conditions kept many of the competitors at home. Further, the fuel price had almost doubled since last year’s event, pushing the cost out of reach of many hopefuls.

The poor weather that was forecast made its presence felt on Friday morning with the rain falling from 7:00 am non-stop until the early hours of Saturday morning. This cancelled all flying on what should have been the first day of the competition, raising fears that for the first

time in the illustrious history of the PTAR it may have to be called off entirely due to the weather.

Saturday, being Race Day 2 arrived and with it came improved, but far from perfect, flying weather. The morning briefing was held at 8:30 and a decision was made for an 11:00 start, as a window of flyable weather was predicted until approximately 14:00. The customary starting grid was not possible as the airfield was waterlogged and a decision was made to let the teams taxi to the start from their parking positions once they collected their papers from the officials. As it sometimes happens, this method seemed to work better and will probably be used in future races.

The first aircraft, the Sling 2 of father and son team of Hendrik and Juandre Loots got airborne right on time. On day 2 of the PTAR, the slowest aircraft lead the pack away with the faster

aircraft chasing them. Takeoff times are scheduled so that if all the aircraft fly a perfect round on their handicap speed, they should all cross the finish line at the same time.

With the fastest aircraft still on the ground, the slower competitors started reaching the cross-over point which is more or less the halfway mark. Soon after the first aircraft passed overhead the Lancair Legacy 2000 of Dieter Bock and Brendan Boraine thundered down the runway and the full race was on.

To make air racing a more spectator-friendly sport, twenty of the thirty-four aircraft were issued with live tracking devices so spectators could watch the action online and on the big screen in the briefing hangar.

The first aircraft appeared exactly on time; it was the Bosbok of Apie and Frederick Koetzee, who were last year’s joint winners, followed by the Piper Comanche of Stefan Lombard and Martiens Marais. For the next few minutes, there was a constant stream of aircraft all pushing as hard as possible to make up a few positions in the dying seconds of the race.

‘called off entirely due to the weather’

Despite the timing of the takeoffs, crossing the finish line first does not necessarily mean that the team has won the race. Loggers have to be downloaded to see how accurately the course was flown as well as any takeoff delays factored in. The aircraft takeoff according to their handicaps, but sometimes there is more than one aircraft with very similar handicaps, they are then slightly delayed for safety reasons.

Once the crews had parked their aircraft and handed in their loggers to the scrutineers, the long wait for the gala dinner began, as the results would only be announced then. The Bloemfontein Flying Club bar became the destination of choice to enjoy a drink after a long day of racing. Everywhere one could hear crews dissecting their flights and comparing notes with each other on the course.

That evening on arrival at the venue for the gala dinner, the Windmill Casino, the visitors were welcomed with a glass of sherry, which in the fridgid Bloemfontein temperatures, was most welcome.

Franz Smit of Pilotinsurance reminded everyone that without the generosity of sponsors like Holborn Assets, DJA Insurance, Century Avionics and the Aircraft Finance Corporation, events like this would not be possible.

Mr Heinrich Slabber from Holborn Assets group, the headline sponsor, announced that his company will not only be supporting the PTAR but will be the headline sponsor for the Speed Rally competitions as well. The Speed Rally format is now used at the PTAR as there are up to five Speed Rallies a year this is used as a testing ground for the PTAR.

Leon Bottell, chairman of SAPFA, announced that Race Director, Rob Jonkers, would be stepping down and handing this responsibility to Iaan Myburgh. Rob took control of the PTAR at a very difficult time when the very future of the race hung in the balance. Rob managed to save the race with the help of the new format devised by himself and Jonty Esser.

The full results table.

Rob took the opportunity to thank all those involved in the race organisation, particularly the Bloemfontein Flying Club under the key organiser Andre Grobler who had provided the ground marshals, turn-point marshals, and all the catering at the airfield. Nigel Musgrave as the Safety Officer with the ATNS team of Benji Phukubje and Ricardo Afonso, SA Weather Services, ARCC, Bloemfontein Emergency Services team of Braam van Zyl, the CAA Special Air Events team, the local Municipality & SAPS.

At the prize giving 24 trophies were awarded, and finally it was time to announce the winners. Third was Johan van Zyl and Eric Addison. Dion Raath and 26 race veteran John Sayers collected the trophy for the second-placed aircraft in their North American T-6G Harvard “Mighty Mouse”. The winners the revered race winners black jacket went to the team of Stefan Lombard and Martiens Marais flying a beautiful Piper PA-24 Comanche.

With the award ceremony done, there only remained the handing over of the Presidents’ Trophy Air Race flag to the host of next year’s race. Deon Loots, the Chairman of Bloemfontein Flying Club called on Jock Nel, chairman of the Middelburg Aero Club to receive the flag and the responsibility of organising the 2023 PTAR.

Rob Jonkers, Race winners Stefan Lombard and Martiens Marais, Heinrich Slabber and David le Roux.

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