BIRD 2024 – Qualifying Day

Link to YouTube Live Stream – Qualifying Day

Barely enough sleep later I found myself back at Millennium Point and arranging the last few things before people started arriving.

I got mum set up on the ticket desk with the app, pilot packs, merchandise, stickers and schedule for the day. This is something I had meant to do last night, but it just got so late that this was the first time I’d had to dedicate to the task. Dad was sent off to put the schedule sheets of paper around the tables in the pits and on the notice board. David was delegated to getting batteries ready for all the gates LED’s, plugged in and turned on. And Eddy helped me faff with everything else. 

The first few people had started to arrive and as much as I wanted to, there was just no time to be social. This was going to be a long, hard, fast day and we needed to crack on.

We had 48 pilots from 5 different countries coming to take part. They were split into 4 groups of 12 pilots so they had their 8 qualifying fights as close together as possible. This is a technical nightmare for us behind the race directors desk, but makes a big difference to the pilots as it helps them get into the flow and learn the track. Most MultiGP and 5 inch race formats run sequentially through all the pilots in the event. This means with 48 pilots it would take over an hour of hanging around between batteries which would just be boring. So we grouped them.

As it turned out, and partially expected, the first group took longer than scheduled because we had some technical challenges to iron out. No matter how much testing Cerb and James did the night before, The Borrowers must have come in the nights to have fun with the cables. But we were up and racing and fixing stuff as we went along. We are very grateful to the MP AV guys and the IT guys on the phone because they ironed out kinks as quickly as we sent them over. 

It was really exciting to see the pilots tackling the track I’d built. I had spent a night watching Whooptopia and seeing the sort of gates and moves they designed. That track is super technical and very Twirly (technical term), it’s got a distinctive style. Laid out in a flat sports hall, the gates make you do very specific moves and any level change is very much on purpose. My track was completely different, focussed around using the “natural” features of the environment. I set the track to circle the building columns, to jump over and under the stairs and then shoot up the stairs out into space and back again. This meant the racing lines were a bit more freeform and could be explored a little more, a little wider than a super technical track. But, I did take some inspiration from Whooptopia and included some single feature technical Twirly bits and some slalom to showcase the pilots technical skills.

And then of course are the sponsor banners to consider. This I was very happy with because I arranged the Tiny Whoop banner on a big pillar and then the track around it so you’d have to pass it 3 times in quick succession. The weBLEEDfpv banner was also on a pillar as the pilots returned from space and hunted for the starting block. The track made the whoops take a line where they would be banking towards the banner for a good period of time keeping it in shot. The HappyModel banner was in amongst the gates so the whoops “saw” it as they negotiated that section of the track, and it was located at the front of the viewing area next to the “Worm Hole Of Doom” feature gate. All this was very deliberate to give the sponsor logo’s airtime without having to cut to adverts. It’s something that F1 does with banners on the bridges over the track. It looks better than ugly table legs and keeps the sponsors happy which makes all this possible. 

All in all, as we started racing, I think I got the right mix of technical and fast flowy organic track design, if the track was a bit long. After just a couple batteries, pilots were putting in some quick times of about 30-40 seconds. Mid-field-ers were getting around 1 min and the slower pilots about 1 min 30 sec. This is a little longer than I had thought. I was aiming for the mid level pilots to be doing around 45 second laps, but hey, it was a wicked track and we were racing now. 

During the qualifying we managed to get a couple interviews in with some pilots to learn more about them. I convinced GoProMaster and AleFPV to come up on camera for a chat about how they got here. They were competing against teams from across Italy in the IWL and the prize for winning was to come and represent Italy at BIRD 2024. Watching them fly, you could see why they had won their league, they were all really quick and pushing everyone to fly faster. But they did pick up on Carb and KingJoshy of the UK as pilots to watch for the finals. They had been training hard for this and were clearly turning some international heads.

I was juggling being a commentator alongside managing everything else at the event. I had to dive out of the commentary box during the day to organise and deal with things as they sprung up. This gave me some time to step out of the camera and watch what was going on from the spectators perspective. We had set up a huge net to contain the race area which meant you could get right up close and see the whoops whipping past. It was really great that we were able to turn the lights down, it really made the LED’s on the gates and on the whoops pop out of the darkness. With these it was easy to follow them around the track and see how they were getting on. It also made it easy to find them when they crashed! 

And crashes we had! Whoops were crashing on almost every lap. This is completely expected so we took a lot of time to cover as many cables as we could with matting. But still the little blighters managed to find a few nooks to get caught up in. The best catches were when a whoop got caught on the dive gate. A few times, whoops crashed while attempting a dive and ended up sitting on the edge of the gate. The pilots knew that to fly away they would need to crash-flip themselves the right way up. But by doing this, they would also fall 4 storeys into the basement – it added significant risk of whoop damage. The only way to prevent falling and hitting the deck would be to use acro-mode and arm and catch the fall manually. But this is very tricky so most pilots opted to just crash. But during the whole weekend and over 500 flights only 2 or 3 whoops that crashed from this height were unable to fly away. Its testimony to just how durable these little racers can be!

By the end of qualifying we had run 96 heats of 4 pilots giving everyone 8 attempts at getting their fastest 2 consecutive laps. In the table below, those who did not complete 2 laps within the race timer of 2 min 30 seconds show as blank and are in no particular order. This sorted our pilots into the three finals tiers ready for race day tomorrow!

Pilot CallsignQualifiedTimeFinals Tier
adiQ – TFS51:10.712Elite
admv! – TFS61:10.949Elite
King Joshy131:20.056Elite
Archie FPV241:45.789Advanced
Dirty McStinky261:47.191Advanced
XO XO342:10.169Hobbyist
Major DroneBona412:21.851Hobbyist
The Hann FPV45Hobbyist
Derpy Hooves46Hobbyist
Les Cargo47Hobbyist