Jeff Zaltman on the revolutionary new Air Race E: ‘This will take us to the future quicker’

As Airborne motorsport series Air Race 1 announces plans for the first ever all-electric airplane race, SportsPro spoke to chief executive Jeff Zaltman about the plans for Air Race E.

Jeff Zaltman on the revolutionary new Air Race E: ‘This will take us to the future quicker’

Airborne motorsport series Air Race 1 has announced plans for the first ever all-electric airplane race.

The new motorsport series, Air Race E, will take place in 2020 and feature electric planes racing against each other on a tight circuit just above the ground.

The series will be led by Jeff Zaltman (right), chief executive of Air Race 1, which launched its World Cup in Thailand last year. 

Air Race E will follow a similar format to formula one pylon air racing, which involves eight planes competing at speeds of over 400km an hour.

SportsPro spoke to Zaltman about Air Race E and the future of the market.

You've recently announced plans for Air Race E: what are your expectations for the new electric racing series?

Electric aviation is the future and Air Race E is going to take us to the future quicker. The traditional sport known as formula one air racing has been around for over 70 years. Much of the aerospace technology and aerodynamic designs have improved massively throughout the sport’s history, but the powerplant itself has changed very little in formula one air racing. Air Race E is our big step to prepare the sport for the future. Air Race E is the next generation of air racing and we do believe it will have a long successful future ahead.

What do you need to make Air Race E happen?

Air Race E has everything in place to launch a successful and safe air racing series. We have the appropriate experts, race pilots, aircraft, sports governing bodies, race venues, a test centre, and, most importantly, we are the leading promoter of international pylon air racing. But we do need one important piece of the puzzle: the electric powerplant.

We are now entering a tendering process with original equipment manufacturers from around the world to identify the best electric motor - or motors - for the races, as well as the key electrical systems for power management and, of course, the batteries. We invite all interested parties to contact us as we engineer and test the solutions on our race aircraft.

How does Air Race E affect plans for Air Race 1 and World Cup Series?

The two race formulas share the same core DNA and certainly the formats are very similar, so in fact the two sports will be quite compatible and, in the early days, may share some of the same venues and cross-promote each other. But eventually, Air Race E and Air Race 1 will co-exist as two very distinctive and separate sports events. Both events will always collaborate together to promote air racing, technological development and to entertain fans around the world.

How successful was the last Air Race 1 World Cup event in Thailand in 2017?

The Air Race 1 World Cup in Thailand was the most watched formula air race in history - not only by the tens of thousands of spectators on site, but also on live television, global news and TV highlights packages. Thailand also benefitted hugely from the event and off the back of Air Race 1 World Cup success will be hosting the Moto GP this year - showcasing Thailand as a destination for world sporting events. 

Air Race 1 also had a large economic impact on the community in Thailand and was ably supported by the most senior political figures in Thailand, including speaking visits by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism, among other dignitaries and celebrities. But of most pleasure to us, the event was enjoyed by fans who witnessed some of the most exciting air racing competition in history.

We are very proud of how the Air Race 1 World Cup has evolved in just a few seasons and look forward to it going from strength to strength in the future.

What are your plans for the next Air Race 1 World Cup?

The World Cup is our hallmark event. It is the top international title in true air racing. The event is a prestigious stand-alone event that only comes around once every year or two, so we are very careful about selecting appropriate venues for it. 

Currently we are in negotiations with a number of destinations around the world and one will be selected in due course to host the next World Cup and those into the future. Those venues that are not selected for the 2018/2019 event, will still have an opportunity to host in future years, on a rolling basis, or to be involved in regional championships that we are now developing.

What are the challenges for international expansion of the series?

There are a number of hotbeds of air racing around the world and it is our intention to take these even further afield and show everyone what the fastest international motorsport in the world is truly about. 

We are currently working on new regional and continental cup events. For example, next year we plan to launch a 'European Cup' which will be a series of races in key markets within Europe. This series will be a direct feeder event for the World Cup and help showcase the incredible air racing talent that exists in Europe.

What are your plans to increase European participation?

Participation is the lifeblood of any sport and air racing is no different. We have a duty to make air racing more accessible and increase the number of people involved in air racing.

Development in European continues apace and we are working very closely on developing new pilots with the two official formula air racing bodies: the Formula Air Racing Association (FARA) and Association des Pilotes D'Avions de Formules (APAF).

In addition to the Air Race 1 European Cup mentioned above, we are also exploring a dedicated training centre where we can develop racing skills and train expert pilots to be officially qualified race pilots in our sport. Once people experience air racing its hard to leave it, but we need to increase our pilot base.

Is professional formula one air racing a viable opportunity?

A professional air racing series is our ultimate aim and where we are heading. The existing sports associations in formula one air racing, with which we work closely, are all amateur clubs - whereas Air Race 1 sees itself as the professional entity for air racers.

For the entire history of the sport known as formula one air racing, it has been an amateur endeavour for the pilots and race teams. Much like most amateur and some professional sports, they all have day jobs and must work on their planes passionately in their spare time and with their disposable income. But Air Race 1 is working hard to create a platform by which pilots can support a full-time professional air racing career.

With the media and commercial success to date, this is fast becoming a reality, as we attract more sponsorship into the sport. But we are not quite at the threshold where that conversion can take place - at least not across the roster of teams.

The next stage in the evolution will require a bit of leadership from the teams. We will work extensively with them to help find them the sponsors and other support needed to make that leap into professionalism.

Air Race 1 is working hard to create a platform by which pilots can support a full-time professional air racing career. With the media and commercial success to date, this is fast becoming a reality