Today (Monday Dec 30, 2013) is the last day of the 4-day 2013 Condor Xmas Cup, an online racing adventure in beautiful New Zealand. This is the sixth year of this world-famous soaring contest, hosted by Erik Praznovsky of Slovakia (http://www.virtualsoaring.eu). This year, 157 pilots from 27 different countries entered the event (Just as a comparison, the 2012 WGC at Uvalde, Texas, USA hosted 103 competitors from 24 countries). The contest organizers set tasks that were short enough to be completed in a reasonable time (around 2:00 - 2:30 for the fastest pilots) and difficult enough to challenge even the best competitors. Although New Zealand is justifiably famous for its beautiful mountain range systems, the weather for the Xmas Cup generally did not allow full-bore ridge racing. A combination of weak ridge and thermal flying was required for almost every race day.
Day 1 - 321km Racing Task with 5 Turnpoints:
I'm pretty sure that task setter Radek Miča (RUM) of the Czech Republic intended this day to set the theme for the entire contest with the task on Day 1 - and the theme was "This is NOT a typical New Zealand VNE ridge-run". With light winds from the SSW, the ridges might or might not work, and only then at the very tippy tops. As my flying partner BZ and I discussed the task, we came to the conclusion that the first and second legs were the key - if we could arrive at TP1 in good order and manage to get to the top of the ridge on the second leg, the rest should fall in to place without much difficulty. Cloudbase was not predicted to be very high, so crossing the high ground and blocking ridge on leg 1 could be 'interesting' ;-).
Our plan was to start out the southern side of the start area, at max height (4900 msl) at VNE and zoom back up to about 5400 msl. Then the challenge would be to find a good climb to cloudbase within the first 10-15 miles so that we could cross the high ground without suffering major deviations. We made a start about 30 minutes after the gate opened, but were unable to find the climb we wanted, and wound up 10-15 miles out on course with no hope of getting over the blocking ridge. So, we turned around and came back to Omarama for a relight. The second time we were more successful, but BZ didn't quite make it over the blocking ridge and so wound up deviating quite a bit. I did make it over, and was able to make it around in reasonable order, finishing 17th for the day out of 102 competitors. the fast guys did the whole task in just over 2 hours with speeds very close to the 100mph mark, while the rest of us mere mortals were 10 minutes or so behind. Jan Michalek (Y77) of the Czech Republic won the day with 158.9 km/h, Erik Praznovsky (EP) of Slovakia took 2nd with 158.1 km/h, and Sonke Neumann (SN) of Germany was 3rd with 155.1 km/h. The day was significantly devalued (It is worth noting here that the scoring for the 2013 Xmas Cup is done in strict accordance with FAI/IGC scoring rules, including normal devaluation criteria) because almost half the field landed out or crashed. Most Condor contest flying is 'one day at a time', so pilots (especially non-RL pilots) are heavily motivated to 'go for it' even in risky situations. However, IMHO the top 10-20% of the field (and almost all RL pilots) have learned the hard way that 'going for it' doesn't pay in the long run, and that Condor flying has actually made them *more* conservative, not less. In Condor, you get to learn from your own 'fatal mistakes' - what a deal! ;-).
Day 2 - 302km Racing Task with 5 Turnpoints:
Another combination of thermal and ridge sections. The first leg to the southwest required quite a bit of discipline to stay high and not let the heat of the competition lead to low saves, landouts, or crashes. On the second leg, the trick was to get to the tp2 lead-in ridge near the top, as the relatively light southwest wind was not kind to those who thought they could get there low and immediately find that 'killer thermal'. Leg 3 was another discipline exercise, as you had to get high on the the first ridge section early, both to run faster and to get over a saddle at its north end, and then transition to thermal mode again to make it to tp3 in good order. Once at tp3, it was pretty much a straight ridge run to tp4 and home via the steering turn at East Control. The speeds for Day 2 were significantly slower today, with fast guys generally finishing around 2:10 - 2:15 with speeds in the low 140s rather than the high 150's from Day 1. Task setter Radek Mica (RUM) of the Czech Republic won the day with 140.8 km/h, Vittorio Rena (VIT) of Italy took 2nd with 138.4 km/h, and Roberto Ferretto (RF) also of Italy took 3rd with 136.5 km/h. I managed 8th - a great finish for me. Again the day was significantly devalued as almost half the field landed out or crashed.
Day 3 - - 319km Racing Task with 5 Turnpoints:
Another difficult task setup. Again discipline and patience was required for the first leg, which featured at least three 'challenging' ridge crossings. Leg 2 was even more interesting, as one first encountered a length of ridge that didn't work at all due to very little wind off-angle and poor slope shape, and then a turnpoint at the far end of a closed valley with rising terrain. One pilot was heard to quip that he was only 6km from the turnpoint and "still afraid to go there". I managed to follow Tom Bouctou (BIR) of Germany into and out of this turn, and he kindly marked a couple of critical thermals. I paid him back in the normal competitive fashion, by taking the lead and marking some for him ;-). Things got a bit easier for the rest of the task, as Leg 3 was a downwind thermalling leg to a turnpoint on the south end of a ridgeline that actually worked, and once there it was pretty high-speed run to tp 4 and home via the East Control tp. Anouar Air (007) of France won the day with 138.9 km/h, Sandor Laurinyecz (LS) of Hungary took 2nd with 136.1 km/h, and Uwe Melzer (UWE) of Germany took 3rd with 134.8 km/h. I was happy with 14th and 126.8 km/hr.
Day 4 - 305km Racing Task with 5 Turnpoints:
This task was a bit nicer than the previous days, but there was a critical section right at the start that had to be managed properly. With the wind at 232 deg, it appeared that the ridge on the first leg would work, but there was a blocking ridge with a 1400m saddle at the north (near) end. With a 1500m start altitude, it would be easy to arrive at the saddle too low to get over (and in fact this happened to at least one competitor). My team-flying partner BZ and I managed this issue by doing a test run before the gate opened, and determined that a good high-speed start followed by a pull-up and a conservative glide to the lead-in ridge got us over the saddle with room to spare. While we were at it, we also flew about halfway down the first leg to verify that this section was indeed working well. This allowed us to do the actual start with some confidence that we would be OK. The second leg was interesting in that it forced pilots to make several critical decisions. First, tp1 was about 10km off the end of the ridge, and the second leg was oriented well away from the leg 1 ridgeline. So, would it be better to go back to the leg 1 ridge to find a climb, or to turn directly along the leg 2 courseline and not suffer the deviation? Also, there was another good-looking NW-SE ridgeline about halfway along leg 2, but taking it would involve a HUGE deviation. Hmm, what to do, what to do? As BZ and I came down the first leg we were watching intently to see what the first group of starters were doing - if we saw most coming back along the leg 1 ridgeline, then maybe the best thing to do was to reverse along the leg 1 ridge, jump to the leg 2 ridge, and then go on to tp2. If we didn't see anyone, then we could maybe conclude that everybody was just turning tp1 onto the leg 2 courseline. As it turned out, we saw AXM and UWE coming back to the southern end of the leg 1 ridge just as we arrived there, making the first part of that decision easy - come back to the end of the leg 1 ridgeline! After doing this, we found a couple of excellent climbs (marked by AXM - thanks!) that allowed us to push out onto leg 2 without much delay, and we elected to bypass the ridge to the north of the courseline and thermal all the way to tp2. Once there, leg 3 was pretty much a straight ridge run, *but* with a catch - transitioning from leg 3 to leg 4 required that the leg 3 ridgeline be crossed at about 2000m in order to avoid a huge deviation. Knowing this ahead of time, BZ and I tried hard to fly leg 3 conservatively, taking every opportunity to gain altitude while flying straight ahead. As it turned out, I arrived at tp3 at around 1500m, but hit a +4.5ms climb just after the turn that got me over the saddle onto leg 4 with about 10m to spare! ;-). Once over the ridge onto leg 4, it was pretty much a high-speed romp home. Interestingly, the next-to-last leg went directly over Omarama gliderport, so I could see gliders finishing and landing. I had to keep telling myself there was still another turnpoint to go and to not dive at the runway! BZ was able to get over the ridge a few minutes behind me, but suffered a complete loss of control (no joystick, no head-tracker) on leg 4 and had to disconnect after having successfully completed all the hard parts - bummer! The fast guys all completed the course in slightly less than two hours, with speeds approaching 160kph. Uwe Melzer (UWE) won the day with 158.4 km/h, followed closely by Helmut Kuenne (F9) at 158.3 kp/h and Sonke Neumann (SN) at 157.5 km/h. I managed another 8th place finish at 154.2 km/h.
At the end of 4 days of furious and exciting flying in the beautiful New Zealand mountains, the first three overall places were separated by only 51 points, and the top 10 by only 131 points! Sonke Neumann (SN) of Germany took first overall with a combined total of 2277 by consistently placing in the top 5 (3rd, 5th, 5th, and 3rd) but without ever winning a day; truly a championship performance! Arne-Martin Guettler (AXM) of Norway was only 26 points back with 5th, 4th, 6th, and 6th place finishes and no day wins, while Uwe Melzer (UWE) of Germany came back from a disastrous 31st place on Day 1 and 'only' managed 3rd overall with 6th and 3rd place finishes on the next two days, capped with the day win on the last day - wow!
The 6th Annual Xmas Cup is now over, and the victors have been crowned, but we need also to thank the people who made this wonderful competition happen in the first place. Erik Praznovský of course, for making the whole thing possible with his wonderful http://www.virtualsoaring.eu website and his continual presence in Condor land (does Erik ever sleep?). Radek Miča (RUM) for doing all the task setting - great job Radek! Miloš "Cadfael" Koch (MK) for hosting the servers at www.condorworld.eu. Helmut Kuenne (F9), for being the all-round nice guy that he is (and putting up with my jokes!) and for his wonderful 'ShowCondorIGC' software (http://www.virtualsoaring.eu/download) that made scoring the Xmas Cup a breeze!
Another interesting thing - of the top 10 overall finishers, all but two are experienced RL glider pilots, and at least one (Sandor Laurinyecz, LS) has represented his country at a recent WGC. If you were maybe thinking that this Condor thing was just for 13 year-old gamer freaks, you should think again! ;-).
For many more photos taken during the race, see http://xmas.virtualsoaring.eu/gallery#D4
2014 Xmas Cup Hall of Fame - Top 10 finishers
1. Sonke Neuman (SN) - Germany
2. Arne-Martin Guettler (AXM) - Norway
I'm a 36 year old Norwegian Software engineer. Started gliding in real life four years ago, and started using Condor at the same time to improve my real life flying, and it's certainly helped a lot!
Did my first contest last year, Norwegian sports class nationals. Had just 115 flying hours at the time (plus around 1000 hours in Condor), but ended up winning the contest! Ended up just 4th when I tried again this year, but another Condor pilot, Per Morten Løvsland, who did his first real life contest won!
In fact, if you look at 3 Norwegian day winners at MNS Europe (http://gliderracing.com/pub/HallOfFame.aspx?c=6), those are the same pilots who have won 3 of the last 4 sports class nationals :-)
3. Uwe Melzer (UWE) - Germany
my first start alone was 5th May 1978 in a Rhönlerche (Ka-4) - at age 14. Since this time i have flown total 3,860 Hours and around 2,400 flights. My first competition was the Hockenheim-Contest 1982.
- Glider Flight Instructor since 1984.
- In June 1994 i bought my own glider – a LS-4.
- My greatest Distance was 750km with my (empty) LS-4. Last year the best flight was a declared 614km FAI-Triangle
- This year i will fly my competition Number 46 and the 12th Season in the German Bundesliga (OLC Speed Contest) with my Club “SFG Giulini Ludwigshafen”
- I flew 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011in the German Championship in the Club Class.
- All this facts without CONDOR
In December 2005 i discovered CONDOR, since this time i fly the “Winter-Season” in the virtual air. It´s a bit different to real flying, because you don´t feel the air and the there is no possibility to stretch the straight flight under clouds, because in Condor there is a thermal or not. Also you take more risks (especially in the alps), but contest strategy - (the best path, the best thermal) and the main decisions are the same as in RL. A side effect is also that i stay in training with my PNA and SeeYouMobile. The main thing is that I can fly, hear the vario, optimize the energy, speak with other pilots via teamspeak .... and in some final glides I get sweaty hands (like in RL! ) Condor is no game!
4. Roberto Ferreto (RF) - Italy
5. Erik Praznovsky (EP) - Slovak Republic
6. David Mach (VPD) - Czech Republic (tied for 6th)
6. Vladimer Sohr (XX1) - Check Republic (tied for 6th)
8. Frank Paynter (TA1) - USA
9. Sandor Laurinyecz (LS) - Hungary
10. Jan Michalek (Y77) - Czech Republic