SALZBURG, Austria – For some pilots in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship the number they sport on their race plane has special significance and is often linked to an inspiring hero or a family member. It might just be a coincidence but the pilots making the headlines at the moment have interesting stories behind their team identity. We’re not a superstitious bunch and success in the race is only a little to do with luck but it seems these pilots might be getting an extra share of it thanks to their magic numbers.
Australia’s Matt Hall, who secured his career-best finish in front of his home crowd earlier this month is know as number 95 – essentially that is his aviation call-sign he uses when communicating with the race tower – but it is also the number chosen for him by his young son Mitchell.
“When I was competing in the Czech Republic at the European Aerobatic championship in 2008, my son Mitchell was almost three years old and his favourite movie was ‘Cars’,” begins Hall. “It featured a rookie race car named Lightning McQueen and Mitchell watched this over and over while we were at the competition. When I left for the rookie camp in September, Mitchell asked if I was going to be just like Lightning – and if I would be the same number as him - 95. So, as a rookie last year I did just that!”
FED UP WITH BEING SECOND?
Defending champ Paul Bonhomme also took guidance from a younger member of his family and it was stepson Charlie that picked his favourite number ‘55’ for his flying father figure. Although Bonhomme briefly switched to number ‘2’ in 2008, the team never really felt quite right with that number on their Edge 540 and reverted to the distinctive double-5 identity after just one season. Bonhomme has been quoted as saying: “I am fed up with coming second but I am looking forward to wearing number one for the 2010 season!” And it appears 55 brings the Brit just the right amount of luck to stay at the top of the table after two races so far this year.
Also climbing the ranks, American pilot Michael Goulian is beginning to show what he is made of with a win last year in Budapest and a fourth place finish in Abu Dhabi this year. The ‘green machine’ Edge 540 bears another double number ident – this time ‘99’. An avid hockey fan from Massachusetts, Goulian’s sporting hero is retired Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky. “Michael played hockey for many years and followed Wayne’s career intensely,” explains Goulian’s wife, Karin. “I can honestly say that Wayne was one of Michael’s idols!”
In sharp contrast, young Canadian hopeful Pete McLeod says his number had to be truly original and thought long and hard about the right numerals for his team identity as he began building his PMR brand. It’s often reported that the 8 and 4 of his ‘84’ identity represent the hockey shirts worn by both the young McLeod and his father, Dave. There’s a little bit more to this story though – the number is also the year McLeod was born – but most importantly, the Canadian pilot wanted a number that fulfilled various strategic criteria.
“I definitely wanted something that would work well on the aircraft but also on the team wear and all the promotional merchandise,” explains McLeod. “We looked at having various numbers together and this combination balanced well and from an aesthetic point of view it just worked. I wanted something that would become synonymous with the team and that’s why we had to find our own number rather than choosing one that was linked to another sports team.”