Ever since Andrew Findlay appeared with his splashy graphics and youthful team full of brains and enthusiasm the only real question was when would it all come together for a Sport Gold win.
The answer was today.
Running a 402 mph average Findlay's Stihl-logoed Lancair led down the chute and all six tours around the pylons. The run was fast, low and smooth with only a bit of lapped traffic to contend with.
That isn't to say multi-time Sport Gold champion Jeff LaVelle was making it easy, at least at first. Unfortunately suffering from a balky landing gear--he cycled the gear several times trying to get the nose gear door to fully retract immediately after take off--LaVelle dished out another of his powerful performances. But what might have been drag from the not quite closed nose gear and what turned out to be an ailing engine soon had LaVelle fading behind the charging Findlay. By three laps the gap was the length of the front straight and growing.
Ultimately LaVelle's 580 Lycoming gave up. Spectators saw a steady stream of oil smoke as he continued momentarily to collect second place, but after a safely executed mayday the engine was locked-up when examined by LaVelle in his pit. It was far too early to ask what exactly let loose, but judging from the copious oil streaks and non-rotating engine clearly the bottom end had let loose.
Meanwhile, the immediate post-race celebration of the One Moment team was one of the more emotional we've seen. The team has worked hard developing their airframe and twin-turbo Continental 550 for both power and reliability. Last year the final major building block--electronic engine management via SDS electronics--came onboard, and there seems to have been a reduction in the small development problems plaguing any new combination this year. Aside from a balky ADI pump Findlay's One Moment team had no major issues this year, allowing them to concentrate on racing rather than development.
Behind the first place drama Bob Mills and Jim Rust put on a tight 359 mph parade. Mills, having moved up from his Rocket Six to Mojo, an ex-LaVelle Glasair, took third. Immediately behind was Jim Rust in a Glasair he and partner Robby Grove have put together for a little fun. It was an impressive first year effort by the two aviation pros.
Fifth and sixth places went to Thunder Mustangs. Fifth was earned by Peter Balmer of Interlaken, Switzerland at 337 mph; sixth by Mathias Haid of Salzburg, Austria at 321 mph. Vince Walker of Boulder, Colorado took seventh in a beautifully presented Lancair Legacy at 320 mph.
Karl Grove did not finish with a safely executed mayday right at the start. We were unable to determine the cause, but the airplane taxied in under its own power with no apparent damage. This is another new Sport Gold contender with much promise, and with other airplanes said to be in the works, next year promises even better, deeper racing than today's. As for Jeff LaVelle, "The old man isn't dead yet!" is how he promised his return.
Sport class results: airrace.org