Question Time with Mika!

In terms of flying skills, what is the most challenging aspect in a Red Bull Air race?

Once you get used to operating at low level, flying through the track becomes relatively easy. You can get through the pylons without penalties and execute a smooth and consistent flight, however once you add the clock and the competition aspect this is when the challenge really begins, you need to be extremely well prepared mentally.

To help with this I work with a sports psychologist to improve my ability to focus in a demanding environment. Somehow you have to find a balance between being too relaxed and too ‘hyped up’. You need to be feeling ‘sharp’ but not under so much pressure that you do not fly in a natural precise and smooth manner. It’s very important that when you start the engine you are looking forward to the race and that you’re mentally and physically prepared. You need to be in a frame of mind where you can get the best out of yourself and the machine and feel that you are absolutely on top of your game. You’re focused, know exactly the line you want to take and you’re not thinking about anything else.

 

You also fly aerobatics. Is it similar or something completely different?

Both disciplines call for rigorous discipline and technique but actually, there really are some differences. In aerobatics, you fly for judges and marks; it’s like a choreography, you are expected to perform perfect figures. In air racing, judges are there just to sanction you if your trajectory deviates from the determined course and to ensure that you are flying safely. The track has few possibilities for too much deviation; you are all flying a similar line, the fastest way around the track.

In both air race and aerobatics though, you have to fly the perfect flight to win, you cannot afford to make even the slightest error. You must prepare yourself, plan everything and be physically and mentally ready to do your best not just during the flight, but all season long and that is the real challenge!

 

I guess the Red Bull Air Race World Championships seems to be more dangerous from the outside than in the inside. Is it like that?

Yes, I think when people see it for the first time they think, Wow, these guys are crazy! But really it’s not like that..We are so well prepared, everything is planned out with safety as the highest priority. We are not risk takers but managers of risk. The most important thing is not to become complacent, but like every pilot, to follow your checklist and be prepared. Flying in the track is probably one of the safest things we do with the plane for these reasons. Of course you can not completely eliminate risk, but you can certainly keep it very low, and the Red Bull Air Race do everything possible to ensure the safety of the pilots, crew and spectators.

 

Do you need any special brain training to keep calm and focused and not to make mistakes?

Yes I have for a few years now been training myself mentally to stay focused, I see a sports psychologist once a month, and more recently have been learning new techniques of meditation. It helps a lot during a race week, but needs to be trained everyday to be efficient.

 

How many hours you must train to compete at maximum level?

With aerobatics a lot of training goes into it if you want to perform at top level, but with air racing you can’t really practice without a track, so the majority of pilots only get to practice during the training days in a race week. This makes it hard to improve quickly and to hone your skills, but it definitely keeps it fun!

The key in my case is to keep flying as much as I can aerobatics to stay at the top level in a very similar type of aircraft (High performance single seat) so I only have to adapt the technique and trajectory during the official Free Practice before the race.

 

Tell us about your new partnership with eyetime and your ongoing personal sponsors Breitling, AGC Assurances and Jetfly

I’m lucky enough to have some really supportive sponsors behind me. Of course Breitling have been with me for many years and although they are developing and adapting their pathway in other directions now too, I’m pleased I can still bring aviation to their fans and customers. Jetfly joined me last year, they are an aircraft fractional ownership company in Europe and of course share with me a huge passion for all kinds of aviation. They have shown great interest in the airrace and future developments so it’s brilliant to have them onboard! AGC have been my insurance company for many years so we have built up a very close relationship working with them, it’s great to have all practicalities sorted so I can just think about the flying knowing that I have the best backing on the ground.

Of course eyetime have been a huge addition to our team this year, coming on board as team partner. It’s fantastic to be flying the colours of a young and vibrant company passionate about sport with so much energy to give. I hope our channel #11RACING on the eyetime app will help bring us closer to our sporting fans as the season goes on…We will be using our channel to bring everyone behind the scenes videos and the atmosphere of the hangars during race weeks and everything in between J

 

Are you addicted to adrenaline? What do you do to get some when you are not racing? Does life go by slowly when you are not in your plane?

When I’m not racing I’m usually doing something with a flying machine! Whether it’s aerobatics or teaching others to fly and to experience three dimensional freedom for themselves – it gives me great pleasure. I do everyday what I enjoy and am most passionate about in life – I love to fly! I feel extremely lucky that I get to do this as my day job and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I would say to anybody who likes the idea of flying to give it a go!

 

You were a young prodigy in the French national acrobatic team and you are still the youngest in the Master Class of the Red Bull Air Race. Is it a challenge to compete always against more experienced guys?

Starting early at 11 gave me this chance to do what my colleagues do, but a bit younger. When I’m competing at top level in aerobatics or Red Bull Air Race, it means I’ve trained and developed my technic and skills to do so. The other competitors of a greater age have the same amount of skills. The only difference is the time you’ve spent doing what you do, and sometimes, especially in aviation, experience and maturity help you to perform better.

That reminds me to take the time to build my own career, step by step to the top, because we all know that it takes time, but if you build strong basis, you can go higher!!

 

How are you feeling about this 2019 season ahead? Are you and the aircraft fully prepared?

My confidence has grown each season, with the aircraft and my team. We’ve done quite a few modifications since I started the masterclass in 2017 and I think now it’s getting to a point where they will start paying off.

We as a team are a really strong unit, and it feels like the right time to step it up 🙂

 

What about modifications? Do you have some planned ahead? Can you tell us about them?

We’ll be using the break before the next race to our advantage and making some crucial changes to the handling sensitivity of the raceplane – I can’t really say any more than that, but it will be really important to get it right and for me to feel 100% comfortable and at home in the aircraft. If we get this wrong then we could be playing catch up on ourselves for the rest of the season.. We will also work on the smoke issue that gave us the penalty in Abu Dhabi which is long overdue anyway..

 

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