10 - 12 June, Cohuna

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For those of you who know me it will come as no surprise to learn that I am VERY passionate about the sport of pylon racing. Its something that got in to my blood a couple of years ago and now seems to have consumed my whole modeling life – not that I am complaining! Shelves that were once filled with sports models and combat planes are now gradually being replaced  by sleek racers and failed offerings to “The God of speed”. So when Smokin Joe Luxford rang me a few months back and asked if I would like to go to the AMPRA National Championships with him I jumped at the chance!

 This year AMPRA (Australian Miniature Pylon Racing Association) was holding their annual National titles at Cohuna in NE Victoria on the 10th – 12th of June. The event was also going to be one of the selection events for the team to go to the USA for the F3D world champs in Muncie in 2007. The best of the best would be there vying for the right to be selected and the racing promised to be fast and close. AMPRA were also holding F400, QM and Quickie 500 events at Cohuna this year so Joe and I built our boxes, packed our models and jumped on the flight to Melbourne on Thursday 8 June for our first ever AMPRA.

 At this point I should add that I have never traveled by air with model planes before so it came as a shock to me when my careful preparations went awry at the check in! The security dudes would NOT let me go onboard the aircraft with the fuel tanks in my cabin luggage! I had received info that if the tanks had been removed from the model and washed with water that this would be acceptable. It turns out that this was NOT the case and that they should be brand new or in the checked luggage – a trap for the unwary! Any way it was all sorted out by the friendly QANTAS airport staff and we were finally on our way – 2 hours late due to aircraft technical faults! Not a good omen. We finally made it to Cohuna at 11:00pm that night after a 3 ½ hour plane journey and 3  hour drive through country Victoria. Aircraft were unpacked and assembled ready for an early start. 

Friday dawned and we were off to the field for a day of tuning and practice. The Cohuna field is well over 30 years old and is a stretch of flat grass next to the town airstrip. The club hosted the first ever AMPRA event in 1977 and are very proud of that fact. They have a cozy onsite shed with closed in pergola and excellent kitchen facilities. The pot belly stove was in much demand as the temperature plummeted over the next 2 days!  The entire club membership of twelve, plus helpers, turned out to run the event. they provided timers, lap counters and catering services to all pilots – all highly valued by  participants! Joe and I practiced as much as possible, getting used to the conditions so that we would feel comfortable when the racing started in earnest. Joe was going to compete in the F400 event for the first time with his Nelson QM40 powered “Sumptin Else” and it was to be my first experience as a caller in the same event so we were both on very steep learning curves. As the day progressed more and more pilots from all over the Eastern seaboard rolled up and began their preparations. Soon the scream of piped MB40 engines shattered the still morning air as competitors tuned up in the dusty, humid conditions. We finally left at dusk, having burned through 2 liters of fuel and gaining some valuable air time. The next day would see the FAI and F400 boys strut their stuff. 

Saturday was slightly overcast with a gentle wind from the south east. The course was laid out and CD Nerida Matthews gave the pilot brief. No less that 29 pilots had entered the F3D event and 18 in F400! This was the biggest turnout for an AMPRA champs in many years. Due to the high numbers, the time between heats had to be shortened as we were committed to running at least nine rounds of each class (F3D, F400, Q500 & QM). David Axon took on the task of organizing the pilots in to ready boxes which kept the event running at a very rapid pace. F400 and F3D were to be run in successive rounds, with some pilots competing in both.

 We were in heat four of round 1 of F400. Unfortunately we were a non-start as the engine was too lean and cut on the launch. We had a couple of non-starts thereafter due mainly to our lack of experience with the engine and competition nerves. The howl of 4 Nelson engines on the start grid is deafening and the aircraft move so fast that you need your wits about you to avoid other aircraft and fly a consistent line. Subsequent rounds saw us get in the air and post times. Joe managed a personal best of 81.89 seconds in round 3 which was excellent. He also finished the F400 comp with model intact and gained valuable competition experience. I learned the basics of Nelson QM40 engine management on the start grid and the value of checklists!

 The FA1 boys had their machines cranking, with the top three pilots all posting at least 3 times below the sixty second mark. World Champion Chris Callow held the fastest time in the competition of 57.46 seconds for 10 laps which is only slightly above the world record.  

Saturday evening was AMPRA AGM night and we all gathered at the Leitchville Pub for a meal and discussions on topics effecting racing in Australia. Office bearers were elected and lively debates held on rules and development issues. It was also a relaxed way to meet and talk racing away from the pressures of the competition field. 

Sunday was the final day of competition for FA1 and F400. The wind was stronger and from the South West, so the course was changed to reflect the differing conditions. It was also VERY COLD!!!!!!!! 10C at 11:00 am!! The wind chill factor made putting your hand in the slipstream while tuning an engine a finger numbing experience. The wind also played havoc with the FA1 fleet as gusting upset a lot of the pilots coming out of pylons 2 and 3. At least 3 aircraft crashed and disintegrated at high speed and two had one of the most spectacular mid-airs at pylon one I have ever seen – both aircraft written off in a split second. At the end of the day Chris Callow was declared AMPRA FA1 Champion of 2006 with a score of 412.7. Chris was the outstanding pilot of the meet and as world champ has already qualified for the team to Muncie next year. Veteran racer Ranjit Phelan was runner up with 423.2 and Chris Graham was third with 423.3 – now that’s extremely close racing! 

F400 was also decided on Sunday with the results more clear cut. Andrew Davies was declared winner with 495.7 points and a fastest time of 67.7 seconds. Bruce DeChastel was second with 501.8 points and Mark Hunt third with 581.3. Joe Luxford was a creditable 14th with 940.2 in his first ever F400 event.

 By the time Monday rolled around most of the pilots had left for home but a few diehards stayed on for the QM and Q500 events. The weather was Idyllic: clear skies and negligible wind but the frost on the ground early on told the tale! – another VERY COLD day!! This time I was to fly in Q500 with the Viper I had brought all the way from home to compete with. Murphy’s Law was in full application over the weekend with the Viper going U/S on three occasions and requiring repair. Joe unfortunately broke his Taipan the previous evening while test flying so it was his turn to be my caller for the day. After a lean run in round 1, I posted two average times before ending my AMPRA campaign with a bone shattering mid-air in round 4 that demolished both aircraft utterly. Oh well, that’s racing.. I still managed to place fourth behind Tom Wetherill (1st), Darren Martin (2nd)  and Robin Gray (3rd). 

The QM boys had their turn on Monday as well. These little speed machines are powered by piped .21 sized Nova-Rossi buggy motors and are basically mini-FAI models. Ranjit Phelan took out this event in convincing fashion with a score of 400.3 that included a new record of 56.06 seconds in round 6.  Brian Steele and Glenn Matthews rounded out the top 3. 

On the whole, while the flying campaign was not highly successful, the WA contingent learned a great deal about what it takes when traveling to compete. Much valuable info was gathered and excellent contacts made so the weekend was more than worthwhile. I had a great time and am looking forward to returning to  AMPRA in 2007!