Drone racing has risen quickly from dodgy meet-ups in abandoned warehouses and carparks to claiming some of the limelight on ESPN. Red Bull is the latest big name to throw its weight behind the emerging sport, hosting its first drone racing tournament over the weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.
Drone racing has quickly grown to become serious business, and is now for all intents and purposes a professional sport. In 2015 we saw the first US National Championships offer racers a slice of US$25,000, an amount that was eclipsed in a big way by last year's $1 million World Drone Prix in Dubai. The sport's rising popularity was recognized by ESPN last year, which signed a broadcast deal with the International Drone Racing Association to showcase a series of similarly cashed up events.
Red Bull says its event is a little different to those before it, however. Racers can fly any type of drone weighing up to 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) they want, while size is limited only by the smallest obstacle gate that measures 50 cm (50 in) in diameter. This allows strategy to come into play, as racers prioritize speed over longer flying time or vice versa, while they also need to make a mandatory pitstop to either swap out the battery or repair their vehicle.
The race, dubbed Red Bull DR.ONE, took place over two days following a day of training on Thursday. Friday saw the competing 18 pilots from 14 different countries race through a series of heats ahead of the finals on Saturday. A 20-year-old Austrian pilot named Bastian Hackl took out first place, with Russian Vladimir Ivanov claiming second and Poland's Mac Poschwald taking third place.
"I tried to keep cool at the start as I started after everyone else and followed them around the course," says Hackl. "I tried to push it even more after every lap to catch them up and overtake them. To win is amazing!"
The racing drones hit speeds of up to 150 km/h (93 mph) throughout the event, while also contending with flames, waterfalls and blasts of air pressure as they navigated the obstacles. They wouldn't reach the velocity of Austrian Walter Kirsch's aircraft, however, who's drone hit 165 km/h in a demonstration flight around the Red Bull Ring racing circuit in the lead up to the event.
Kirsch clocked a lap time of one minute 39.75 seconds, not all that far behind the fastest ever MotoGP lap around the same circuit of one minute 24.312 seconds by Johann Zarco, and a little further behind the fastest Formula 1 lap of one minute 1:07.411 seconds, set by Lewis Hamilton.
You can check out Kirsch's hot lap in the video below.
Source: Red Bull