By Dave Fidlin
After 8-year hiatus of Red Bull Races, local pilot will compete over San Diego Bay
Abu Dhabi, Budapest … San Diego?
These global cities might appear an unlikely mix, but they share a common bond this year: Each is among eight select locales throughout the world hosting a Red Bull Air Race at some point in 2017.
The 14 Master Class pilots in the Air Races, sponsored by the namesake energy drink company, are touted as some of the best in the world. At each of the eight motor sport competitions, the aviators showcase their speed, precision and skill.
San Diego is not a stranger to the Red Bull Air Races.
Events were held above San Diego Bay for three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009, but vanished from the local skies in the ensuing years as competitions were held elsewhere.
The race director is a local
Although he shies away from taking credit for its return to San Diego, Coronado resident Jim DiMatteo said he did serve as a strong advocate as planning for the 2017 itinerary got underway last year.
“From an air racer’s perspective, I’m very excited it’s coming back to America’s Finest City,” said DiMatteo, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and fighter pilot, who is among the 14 Master Class pilots in the Red Bull Air Races.
Since retiring from the Navy in 2013, DiMatteo has remained busy. In addition to competing across the globe in all eight Red Bull Air Races — including the upcoming event on his home turf — DiMatteo holds the title of “Race Director” for the entire operation.
From his own anecdotal perspective, DiMatteo said he has been greeted with a bounty of enthusiasm as word has spread about the upcoming Red Bull Air Race in San Diego, which is slated over Easter weekend, April 15-16.
“As a local San Diegan, I’m proud to have it back,” he said. “It’s a wonderful attraction and it’s a fun outdoor activity the whole family can enjoy.”
DiMatteo said the prospect of returning the Red Bull Air Races to San Diego began last spring during a chance conversation with Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
“He was talking about trying hard and being aggressive in building San Diego’s brand awareness,” DiMatteo said. “His goal is for San Diego to have more international recognition.”
In a prepared statement to San Diego Downtown News, Faulconer espoused enthusiasm for the return of the Red Bull Air Races in San Diego.
“As a hub for innovation in flight and home to some of the world’s most scenic views, there is no better place to host the Red Bull Air Races than San Diego,” Faulconer said in the statement. “We look forward to the long awaited return of this spectacular event and hosting visitors from around the globe to enjoy it alongside San Diegans.”
Mirroring past events, the upcoming racers’ high-speed, low-flying action will occur atop Embarcadero Marina parks — South and North. The green space runs along the San Diego Harbor on the east side of San Diego Bay on property administered by the Port of San Diego.
Efforts to ensure safety
Because so much of the racing takes place in and near very public places, a number of local agencies, including the Port itself, have been intricately involved in the logistics of the event to ensure no precautionary stone in the name of safety has been left unturned.
Brianne Mundy Page, a marketing and public relations representative with the Port, said steps have been taken to inform boaters and other persons who frequent the area that public access will be prohibited in a number of areas during a Friday practice session on April 14 and throughout the competitions.
“(An email) was sent by dockmasters — who manage the marinas and yacht clubs on San Diego Bay — to boaters,” Page said of the communication efforts.
As for the competition, DiMatteo said great strides are taken in every city to ensure the pilots and spectators are safe throughout the event.
“It’s something we work extremely hard on,” DiMatteo said. “We’re very proud of our safety record. We’ve had no incidents, ever, which is very, very unique in the world of aviation.”
Although the Master Class pilots only perform in formal competitive events eight times a year, DiMatteo said a significant amount of practice occurs throughout the year to ensure each participant is on his A-game.
“It’s really well rehearsed,” DiMatteo said. “A lot of training goes into it.”
San Diego is the second stop for the Red Bull Air Race in 2017. The pilots competed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in February. After departing San Diego this month, the pilots will then compete in Chiba, Japan, in June; and Budapest, Hungary, and Kazan, Russia in July.
Two more locales, yet to be determined, are planned for Europe in August and September. The final competition this year is slated in Indianapolis in October.