British Air Racing pilot Ben Murphy on his 2019 mindset
After a record rookie campaign in 2018, expectations are high for Ben Murphy, the only British contender in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. The Blades Racing Team pilot talks candidly about his approach for this season.
Last year, Murphy made the rest of the World Championship field sit up and take notice. A former Team Leader of the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, “The Red Arrows,” the former Harrier pilot earned 29 Championship points and seventh overall – a better rookie performance than any previous graduate from the sport’s Challenger Class feeder category. He even closed out the calendar with two consecutive appearances in the Final 4.
Clearly, Murphy is no longer under the radar. So does stress come along with early success? “I don’t feel added pressure,” he says. “I feel it’s taken some of the pressure off. Everybody fears their first season, because you’re not sure how you’re going to do, how the raceplane will perform, and how the team will gel. And because we did so well, the pressure of worrying about those things is less.” He continues, “Any pressure there is self-induced, and we have to fight that.”
The Blades are competitive and want to win. Murphy is intent on furthering his personal development in the sport, and there are also plans to improve the raceplane. “We’ve got a few mods [modifications] in the pipeline, but we’re keeping them up our sleeves,” notes the pilot. “We want to keep modifying the raceplane – you really have to, just to keep pace with everybody else. We’re trying to stay innovative and think of new ideas. But we’ll have to see if they work at the next race.”
At the 2018 finale, Murphy was quick to credit teamwork for the Blades outstanding result. He also noted that together they needed to stay “humble” despite the kudos raining down on them.
As if on cue, the British team suffered two penalties in their opening heat at the 2019 opener in Abu Dhabi, including their first-ever Race Day pylon hit. But if this was humble pie, the serving was small. As three-time World Champion Paul Bonhomme assessed, Murphy had delivered “wise flying” in the sessions leading up to the race, resulting in a clean Qualifying effort that put him solidly in the top half of the starting grid. The Blades were as promising as ever, and Murphy believes the distraction of technical issues caused his uncharacteristic lapse in concentration on Race Day. “We lost a few of the readings in the raceplane just before we entered the track, but at the end of the day it’s just an aeroplane with some flight controls, and I need to fly it like that,” Murphy states. “The main lesson for us is that we mustn’t get distracted. There’s no excuse; it was a mistake in the track and I need to get my head in the right place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
To up their game, the Blades are building virtual technology challenges into their simulator along with all the other variables like wind and weather, so that the pilot can practice for the unexpected. While Murphy has not declared any competitive goals for this season, make no mistake, he is eager to mix it up with those at the top of the table.
“I don’t set point goals because there is a danger that you could chase results from race to race. Our main goal is to get consistency, both in the raceplane and my flying. We rediscovered in Abu Dhabi that a fraction of a second’s delay in one input can be the difference in sitting nicely at the top of the pack or right at the bottom. So it’s reducing those mistakes.” Quoting Team Hamilton pilot Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), Murphy adds, “As Nicolas said, ‘Don’t make a mistake, and you’ll do well.’”
Catch the “best of British” as the Blades continue their 2019 campaign. For ticket information and all the latest news on the Red Bull Air Race, visit www.redbullairrace.com
Photo credit: Sebastian Marko/Red Bull Content Pool