Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Case for Club Class Glider Racing in the U.S.

Since I initially wrote the post below, Club Class has begun to gain recognition with the approval of our Super Regional contest to be held in Moriarty, NM with a Club and a Modern Class. At this moment, the U.S. Sports Class nationals is going on with a Club Class being scored separately and SSA medallions, if not a trophy, up for grabs. The club class pilots are at the top of the overall score sheet, too.

The turnout for the Moriarty contest (of which I will be Contest Manager), is very strong for both Club Class (15 so far) and Modern Class (18 so far) with a cap of 40 ships. There's still a little space if you want to join the fun June 11-17 in good old Moriarty, NM. A good number of these folks are either new to racing or haven't raced in years. We hope to make this a friendly, fun, safe contest where new pilots can learn from the more experienced ones, and no one needs to be embarrassed by his/her "old" glider.
The Case for Club Class
During the late summer of 2010, a proposed change in the U.S. Soaring Team selection rules sparked a lively debate on rec.aviation.soaring about Club Class glider racing. This discussion has surfaced now and then for years, with threads on the topic as far back as the nineties. Why don't we have a Club Class National Championship here in the United States, when it is an FAI class with its own World Championship?

It's time for Americans to embrace Club Class glider racing. Why? First and foremost, it is an inexpensive entry to racing. It brings us into line with the rest of the world, where it is standard practice. It is better preparation for the Club Class Worlds. And it is fun!

What is Club Class?
Club Class is a fun, competitive, inexpensive racing class. As practiced around the world, the class is handicapped range includes specifically named set of older glider models, from a Standard Libelle at the low end to an ASW 20. This range of gliders is much narrower than Sports Class, with tasking to match that performance.

The FAI Sporting Code defines Club Class this way: “The purpose of the Club Class is to preserve the value of older high performance gliders, to provide inexpensive but high quality international championships, and to enable pilots who do not have access to gliders of the highest standard of performance to take part in contests at the highest levels. The only limitation on entry of a glider into a Club Class competition is that it is within the agreed range of handicap factors for the competition. Water ballast is not permitted. Championship scoring formulas shall include handicap factors.” (Section 3, 6.5.6)

According to FAI International Gliding Commission (IGC) President Bob Henderson, “The Club Class provides a competitive class for gliders that would otherwise have to be withdrawn from international competition; provides a learning ground for lower experienced pilots who are entering international competition; [and] meets a need for pilots who do want to compete but are unable to finance the cost of the latest and greatest machines.” Henderson continued, “it also supports the development of gliding as a whole because it protects the value of older gliders in the market.”

A Bit of History
The concept of Club Class originally came from Germany, where it was a popular way for younger pilots in older gliders to practice their competition skills. A t the 1999 IGC meeting, Australian IGC Representative Terry Cubley moved to introduce the Club Class as a new competition class for World Championships. He served as Competition Director of the January 2000 Pre-Worlds and of First Club Class World Gliding Championship (WGC) in Gawler, Australia in 2001. Cubley has participated as pilot, organizer, or observer in every Club Class WGC since then.

“The real benefit of the class is that it enables many more people to compete without needing to purchase a modern glider – a $20,000 Cirrus can provide an excellent competition career,” Cubley commented. “Our experience in Australia is that this added additional pilots, rather than re-cycling the old hands.” Ten years on, “Club Class is now a core part of the IGC calendar,” he says.

Club Class Today
It continues to be a very popular class worldwide. The most recent Club Class WGC in 2010 in Prievidza, Slovakia had 47 competitors, and each previous WGC has been equally well-attended. Top pilots from around the world have chosen to focus on Club Class, including the current second-ranked pilot in the world, Sebastian Kawa of Poland. He has won the event three times. In order to qualify for his place on the team, he had to compete in the Polish Club Class Championship, in a Club Class ship, a Jantar Standard “Bravo”.

According to Marina Vigorito of Italy, who has been very involved in Club Class events over the past decade, “Club class was a most clever and innovative IGC idea. With a few thousands of Euros, young pilots can buy a beautiful glider and fly just for fun or compete in every kind of competition, up to the Worlds.”

IGC President Bob Henderson agrees. “My experience of attending Club Class competitions was that they are perceived as fun, challenging, enjoyable, lower pressure than in other classes and less costly.”

Encouraging New Competitors
You probably have not heard of Omri Kalinsky. He is not a big name on the U.S. soaring scene. But he is exactly the kind of pilot who would become an active competitor in Club Class. The single 31-year-old is a budding racing pilot. After earning his glider rating at Texas Soaring Association near Dallas in 2005, he purchased a Libelle 201 in 2009. He participated in a local contest that year. Then an experienced competition pilot friend persuaded to try his skills at Region 10 North in Arkansas in May 2010.

He doesn’t see himself flying his Libelle in a Sports Class Nationals.

“I'd rather fly Club Class, because the contest director can call tasks around a reasonably narrow range of performance without having to accommodate very low performance or very high performance ships,” he said. “I also like that all the handicaps of all ships will be fairly close. Even though handicapping can help, it usually favors the expensive ships in strong conditions and the older ships in weak conditions.”

“It's a great way to get into racing, it's reasonably accessible, and you can still win if you don't have $200,000 to blow every few years to buy the latest and greatest ship,” Kalinsky added. “The best part is the handicapping allows pilots to compete purely on piloting skill and not using the performance of your ship and thus the depth of your wallet.”

Pilots with lower performance gliders tend to think twice before going to the expense of entering a competition where many of the gliders will be Ventus 2s and ASW-27s. There's no way to know for sure how many contestants are being discouraged in this way each year because you can’t survey those who are not showing up.

The Future of Club Class
The Australian approach to Club class may be a model of what we could do here in the U.S. They made a conscious choice to limit the Club Class event to the same aircraft as are on the IGC Club Class list.

“To accommodate the guys with the more modern gliders who wanted to go and fly somewhere, we also kept a sports class for higher performance gliders, which flies in parallel,” Cubley said.

“This has seen a growth in the number of competitors in Club Class gliders, and a whole new group of pilots enjoying high level competition, with a chance to compete internationally,” he added. “With the smaller range of performance in the class, this has enabled a balance between Assigned Area Tasks and the traditional speed task (AST) which the pilots enjoy. We get some movement between classes so some of our top Standard and 15-Meter pilots are also borrowing gliders and flying in Club Class, and vice versa.”

“We find that the number of competitors in our Club Class event is larger than the other traditional classes, with a constant influx of new pilots,” Cubley added.

IGC President Bob Henderson sees interest in Club Class as increasing in the future. “The IGC is under pressure to increase the opportunities for Club Class aircraft to compete at the international level.” Henderson notes. “This has to be balanced against the demands for other classes and the ability of the gliding community to organize and host the number of World Championship classes and events that are already in the calendar. As time goes by and the championship calendar is modified, there may well be the opportunity to create a second Club Class grouping that will accommodate the first and second generation 15-Meter racing ships.

There are more than 1,000 IGC Club Class-eligible gliders according to a quick search of the FAA database. When you consider the U.S. Team Committee’s Club Class Team selection-eligible glider list, that number rises to more than 1,300. By the same token, there are currently only approximately 425 current generation gliders registered.

If we establish Club Class in the U.S. we may be surprised to find how many new faces are out on the contest grid. If we truly commit to recognizing this FAI class, the sport of soaring will find itself healthier in the long term.

Terry Cubley, Australian Representative to the IGC; Bob Henderson, IGC President; Omri Kalinsky, regular pilot; Tim McAllister, pilot-husband; and Marina Vigorito, Italian Alternate to the IGC.

Friends of Club Class Gliding in the U.S. Facebook Group
Moriarty Club/Modern Class Super Regional Contest June 11-17

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