End of Championship season Q&A with Race Pilot, Ben Murphy, and Team Coordinator, Annie Stone

19th December 2018

After an exhilarating first season, which saw the Blades Racing Team achieve an overall seventh position in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, Ben Murphy and Annie Stone reflect on the success of their rookie season. As the one to watch for the 2019 season, the team commences planning for the season opener in Abu Dhabi in February.

1. The Blades Racing Team finished seventh in its first season in the World Championship. How do you feel about the result?

BM Really happy. It’s better than we expected and shows that we have great potential for next year. Especially as there were a couple of races this year that really didn’t work out for us. If we can build on our consistency next season, we should place even higher. I think the key to this great debut result was how the new team reacted to each new situation; many individuals would have floundered under the pressure, but these guys are solid. I’m very proud of them.

AS To finish seventh in not only the team’s first season together, but my first year as a Team Coordinator feels incredible. The way the team just clicked was so important in making this achievement possible.

2. What are your personal and overall team highlights for this season?

BM That Final 4 finish in Texas – for a number of reasons. Firstly, that we had finished in the Final 4 in the previous race in Indianapolis so had proved we could compete with the big names. But secondly that the lead up to race day in Texas had been pretty disastrous. We hit a bunch of pylons on the Saturday, were off the pace and feeling pretty low and frustrated. So to be able to reset on race day and put all of those demons behind us and work well, fly well, keep focused and succeed! That was a great feeling.

AS My personal highlight was getting through the Round of 8 to reach our first Final 4 in Indianapolis. It had been an incredibly challenging week prior to the race, so to see all our effort culminate in a top four finish, and in our rookie season, was a feeling I won’t forget for a long time.

3. Out of the eight Red Bull races, which has been your favourite track or race location and why?

BM Budapest. It has everything! It’s a great city with a great culture. The fans watch from each side of the Danube river. Flying under a bridge, and flying a tight, technical course – just to name a few. What’s not to love!

AS My favourite location is Budapest. Not only does it provide a stunning backdrop, but the element of flying under the bridge adds something extra special to what is already an exhilarating motorsport to watch.

4. What are the key learnings or challenges you’re taking from this year and how will you overcome them next year?

BM The team is always learning and that won’t stop after year one. But we’ve had to move at a rapid pace in our debut year and the challenge has been to make sure that that rapid progress is measured and not chaotic! We have a whole bunch of processes and procedures that we’ve refined and developed over the course of the season and which we now need to evaluate and make sure we continue to move them in the right direction next year.

The same goes for the aeroplane. I was adamant that we didn’t change too much in our first year, as I just wanted to get to know and feel the race plane in its current form before modifying it. Creating this baseline is really important because, when you do change something, you can always return to that baseline if it doesn’t work. What if you changed six things all at once? How would you know which bit is working and which bit isn’t?

Finally, the other key learning has been with myself. I have been flying for well over 20 years and have a pretty good understanding of how I tick. But racing brings new demands and pressures, and there are a number of different ways to deal with those pressures and make sure your head is in the right place to race. I have tried a number of mental preparation techniques to better prepare me to race well – but I’ve also learned that actually I can trust myself to react to pressure and difficult situations. I think I was too willing to invest in new ideas at the beginning of the season, but about halfway through I thought “actually, I’ve faced these pressures before and I dealt with them then, so I can trust myself to deal with them now”. As long as you have trust in yourself, you’ll be fine.

AS Ben talks about ‘getting to know the plane’ and creating a base from which to work on in future seasons, but it really is true. The technician and tactician are constantly working on ways to better understand the aircraft, but also how better to understand the pilot and how we can maximise Ben’s world class flying capability. The plane can be the quickest in the pack, but it comes down to pilot psychology as well.

Success also comes down to having a slick, well-oiled team, taking the organisational pressures off the pilot, technician and tactician so that they can solely focus on achieving the quickest track time possible. I’m not saying we’ve cracked the code but finishing seventh shows a team which is working well together, and all we can do is keep on refining those processes.

5. Is there anyone you’d like to thank for supporting the team?

BM There’s too many to list – but a big thank you to our fans and supportive sponsors; they’ve been awesome! Also, thank you to my team back home at the Blades HQ, and of course my family. I couldn’t do it without their support and understanding. And a special thank you to my wife who has to put up with a huge amount!

AS A thank you to the teams and people behind the scenes. The Red Bull Air Race may look like 14 teams competing against each other, but the reality is it’s a workforce of hundreds of people from the TV teams, to the Task Force that assemble and dismantle the Race Airport. The work and effort that goes into that minute in the track on race day only happens because of all the people working behind the scenes at Air Race.

6. Looking ahead to the 2019 season, what are the aspirations for the season?

BM Keep getting better – that simple. I’m not overly thinking about the results at this stage because they are a secondary consideration; good results will come naturally IF we improve as a team and so there is no point in chasing them or having them as our goal. I’d like to make our processes slicker, my own flying more consistent and improve the aeroplane and squeeze a bit more speed out of her. If we can do all those things, the results will follow.

AS Ending the season with two Final Four finishes shows we mean business for 2019. As a team we’ve steadily been getting better and better, and more importantly, consistent as the year went on. We have a taste for the top four and missing out on the podium in Texas by a mere 0.1 seconds has made us even hungrier!

7. Who is the Blades Racing Team’s biggest competition for next year and why?

BM I think what has been interesting this year, has been the number of mods various teams have implemented throughout the season, which has changed the competition quite a lot. So whoever might start as the main competition might not end that way! The trick is to make sure we end up improving at a rate that means we become competition for those who don’t expect it. Obviously, a lot of that is down to the aeroplane itself, but the biggest part is down to the team and the mental focus of the pilot. That’s where we will make ourselves competitive.

AS We beat Mika Brageot’s previously held record for most successful Challenger Class Pilot transitioning into the Master Class this year and finished just 12 points behind the Frenchman this year. We’ve got more to give in 2019, so we’ll be challenging for a place above Brageot next year!

Thank you to everyone who has supported Ben and the Blades Racing Team this year!

The 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship season starts in Abu Dhabi on 8-10 February. To find out more about The Red Bull Air Race, click here.

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