I got home from the WhoopHaus and my last job was to pack up the van. I’d been collecting and compiling stuff in the living room for weeks leading up to tonight. It had been driving Aimi mad, but my memory is so bad, I knew if it wasn’t in that pile I’d forget it! Everything finally in the van, there was only one thing left to do – finally assembly of the trophies. Parts had been 3D printed and then spray painted earlier in the week but not fully dried yet. This was the last chance and as tired as I was, they had to be done ready for the big day…
Dawn came and my alarm kicked me into gear. One cup of tea down me and one in a flask, grab a banana and a yoghurt, and out the door bang on time. Minimal traffic held me back, as I was aiming to be there before rush hour, and I arrived bang on 07:50 ready for the venue to be opened up at 08:00 – as planned.
No one was there
A couple phone calls and answer phone messages
Cerberus arrived with his car packed to the roof and sat right outside the venue. James and his girlfriend Carol rocked up and came and sat in the van. I stuck my heater on and we made nervous small talk while we waited…
Starting to get desperate, I emailed the owner and continued to wait….
Next door there was a chap sleeping on a bench who looked really cold. I didn’t pay him much attention till a girl tried to open the locked venue door, failed and then went to sit next to him. I motioned for him to come over and found out he was one of the staff, so invited him into the van too. The girl rented a bike and rode around in circles keeping warm (?!) Turns out the chap had just finished an all-nighter and then slept an hour on the bench waiting to start his shift. He took some sort of pride in telling me how horrendously hungover and tired he was and then ordered a McDonalds deliveroo to my van (which was only a 8 min walk away) Seeing as we were late getting into the venue and flabbergasted at his oblivious rudeness, I was not best pleased so asked him to step outside if he wanted to eat.
A call came and the owner said someone would be there in 15 mins to open up.
Now an hour late, they finally came and we unloaded and started setting up as quickly as we could.
Not a great start but we were in and time was ticking…
I started setting up the venue, moving tables and chairs to where we needed them. Setting out the space for the race controller, live stream and video computers. Putting up the netting and getting the charging table set up with power and banners. And then came the best bit, setting up the track.
I’d given the track quite a lot of thought on the run up to the event. I knew that probably 20-30% of the pilots coming would be flying in acro mode (acrobatic – full manual control) rather than angle mode (self levelling from any angle) which would give them a huge advantage on some course features like a dive gate and the hurdle. However this is quite a hard mode to fly accurately at slow speeds and difficult to make fast corrections. Acro is much more suited to flowing tracks where one gate leads nicely into others in a swoopy style, whereas angle can let you switch directions very quickly and precisely (in my opinion) It definitely has its advantages, all the top racers of larger quads fly in acro mode and this is now happening in the tiny whoop scene but its still harder particularly on very tight or restricted space features like a slalom or narrow gates. I therefore tried to design the course with a bit of both.
I also gave the track thought about the space needed, the positions of cameras and the practicalities of not coming too close to the lap timer on other sections of track which might cause false laps to be recorded. There was also the consideration that the sponsors had provided gates so these needed to be integrated for promo/commentating purposes. Lastly, one of the main reasons I love whoops, and I’m sure this is true for many other pilots, is that courses can be set up anywhere using just table legs, chairs, lamps and doorways. There are no end of videos online of people bombing around their houses, kitchens, gardens, offices thru all sorts of size gaps from tiny little gaps under sofa’s and coffee tables to huge corridors and windows. I therefore wanted to include different size gates and different looking gates as the element of exploration and exhilaration is what I wanted to recreate. This was all supported by LOADs of lights, LED’s and colourful banners, to make the overall visual experience exciting and like flying thru the absolute best dreamscape you could imagine!
Approaching kick off time at 12:00, I was just about getting done with the track and Cerb was nearly finished setting up literally 1000 cables that did… who knows what they all did… I’ve never seen so many cables in my life! He was running hot and a bit flustered but basically there. One unfortunate thing about the setup and take down for audio/visual guys is that the process and tech is so personal how they want it done, there really is no way to help other than the occasional holding of a wire or routing it somewhere awkward. Most of it needs to be done and tested by them. But he was basically done, so I opened the event with a bit of information and housekeeping.
Apparently the toilets were out of bounds and so if you needed to go, next door would be happy to help, but everything else was ready. The pizza was nearly ready to come out. You could collect your race packs of goodies and get your drinks now. Pretty soon we would kick off with the first group and on with the days racing! It was crazy to look out at 40ish people all mostly wearing onesies. It was like giving a speech to a cartoon convention!
Because everything was a bit rushed, as soon as we were ready, we unceremoniously ploughed straight into the live stream like a rock through a window. Surprisingly, we found everything actually worked! After a bit of chat, I explained the track. Everyone stood around watching intently, pointing and mumbling, making uncomfortable faces with some evident surprise at some of the features. We called the first group of which Mr Jesse P was one and got going. It was a bit slow to start but pretty soon we were off and people started learning the track.
Everyone was split into 3 groups of 12 pilots. They would take it in turns and get 5 batteries to do as many laps of the course, as quickly as they could. Their top 3 consecutive laps would be their qualifying time.
During this first group, I got to do some commentating as Jesse was racing. He had a whole load of trouble with his goggle battery and ended up borrowing one. Perhaps he had used it too much last night at the whoopHaus and flattened it! It turns out commentating is hard work. You simultaneously have to keep your eyes on 4 different fuzzy video feeds at once, know the track better than the pilots and then judge where each of them are. Jesse P is the master, I don’t know how he manages to keep up with who is where and keep the commentary coherent.
The racing very quickly got intense. At the end of their 5 batteries, the pilots were putting down some very quick times. Another of the challenges for a whoop track is that the laptimes need to be about 30 – 45 secs long when they start because that means slower pilots taking 1 min for a lap will be able to complete 3. But also that its not so short the fast pilots will be getting 9-10-11 laps which would give them a huge practice advantage. In the end i got it about right and the fastest pilots were getting around 25-30 sec times and 4-5 laps by the end of their qualifying rounds.
One of everyone’s favourite features, if not their favourite things to fly thru, was Davids colour changing light rods. These were custom designed by him to be vertical sticks of LED’s that could be programmed with loads of different design patterns. Today we opted for a slow scroll of colours up the rods, all synchronised and keeping most of them illuminated for most of the time. They were commented on lots by the pilots who all wanted to know where they could get a set – I just pointed at David as it was all his ingenuity.
Someone then reported water on the track. I had the sinking feeling that it was not just water. The reality was the toilet plumbing was spilling into the venue thru an overflowing manhole. Yep – toilet water was escaping onto the track and spreading quickly across the flat concrete floor. Of all the planning and contingency actions I had come up with, a flooding toilet was not on my list. There was nothing I could do except call a halt and get the venue to deal with it. Maybe it was karma, but the manager who turned up late to let us in, was now bucketing and mopping up the waste into containers and removing it. We just had to deal with it and move on, but for a moment I had my head in my hands.
Even more unluckily, a couple whoops did manage to crash into the – ahem “water” ahem – and this damaged them. When this happened to one racer, he was keen to get a rerun but having only brought 1 whoop, he was blowing on it strongly in an effort to dry it out. Looking back now, it was a little grim that he was bringing this to his mouth, but that’s just how competitive these guys are! It’s a tough call being a race director. While water was on the track, it had no effect on the race or gates position or fly-ability. Only by crashing would you end up in the water, and that is a pilot error. Therefore, no rerun was given. It sounds harsh but you have to be as fair as you can. Many pilot errors can end a race, but you don’t get a rerun for pilot error.
Luckily for us, there was practically zero smell, as that would have shut down the whole event. Jesse and Cerb did their best to gloss over the unmentionable incident and carry on the live stream. They did a great job showcasing the DRC boys in their gigantic inflatable dinosaur ‘onesies’. I wasn’t sure how they were going to fly in those because it encases your whole head and arms in effectively a bag made from tent material. But they unzipped the front and could lean out of them. This would have forfeited the onesie bonus, but Mike had thought ahead and was wearing ANOTHER onesie underneath! He wasn’t going to be pulled up on a technicality! They had even made a scene up of 2 dinosaurs playing pat-a-cake and the little dinosaur watching – it was so funny!
This was captured by the pits area camera, which i was very glad we set up. It was facing over the Vifly charging station table where anyone could come along and plug in and charge their batteries. Vifly have really created an amazing charger, its so much more useful than any other I’ve used. I’m very happy to have them on board and recommend their products.
The majority of the day I was in full organisation mode and so it just flew by. But I really enjoyed walking around between manic moments and getting a short while to chat with each of the nationalities. They came so far, from all over Europe to this event, they engaged with the onesies (which I didn’t think the Germans would do) and they all said they were having a great time – even plumbing issues considered! I’m especially grateful that Fluid FPV came along. He was a lone chap from Slovakia, who didn’t know anyone else at the event, and travelled up from London where he is studying to take part. He dove into the deep end, customised a bright pink onesie with his call-sign (which no one else did!) and seemed to have a great time!
I’m also really honoured that the Italians came along, but not only that. They had been running their Italian Whoop League for several races to find the fastest whoop team in Italy. They decided to put the trip over to Birmingham as the main prize for their league! I feel really honoured that they would adjust their Racing League schedule so that the finals would decide who came to represent Italy at the Birmingham international race day!
We obviously do things a little differently in the UK compared to the rest of Europe. And also, I run things a little differently at this event from other Drone events, but then, who wants to keep going to the same style events?! At the 5 inch (the diameter of the propellers) drone racing, they are always set somewhere with blue sky overhead, a green field beneath and large white gates. They all look the same. Therefore I’m going for something visually spectacular. The Onesies encourage people to adopt a self regulating attitude of not taking it too seriously – I mean, if someone gets aggravated, you just can’t take it seriously if a Dinosaur starts arguing with a Smurf. And then the LED’s and lights everywhere to make it incredibly colourful and exciting to fly thru. Not only on the track, but also giving an incentive to have LED’s on the whoops, so it’s easier to watch and commentate!
Speaking of the commentary, Jesse does an incredible job keeping up with the flying, no man can match his skill. But Cerberus also came up with some incredible captions such as “Oven-ready Dan Carpy” who was wandering around in a tin-foil spaceman suit. Oh and “Have you heard the one about the magic tractor – it turned into a field” just made me laugh so much! And when we had some sound issues, he even had a poem for testing purposes;
“Mary had a little lamb
who danced around in hops
One day it gambled in the road
and ended up as chops”Cerberus – Live Stream God & Race Directing Pro
Having started the day an hour late, we had nearly caught up with my schedule by lunch time. Then the escape of water pushed us back again and again until I literally went upstairs and turned the water off to the whole toilet block. We eventually got thru the qualifying rounds, added the Onesie and LED bonuses, and had our top 16 pilots for the finals. These were the top fastest pilots in the whole of Europe and they were facing down the barrel of a brutal finals system where every race counted – Single Elimination. If you came in position 1 or 2 in your race you progressed upwards, if you came positon 3 or 4 you had your final position capped. This ran thru all the 16 pilots where every race counted towards the final positions till we came down to the final race.
Hoping to keep the BIRD win in UK hands Dan Carpy fought hard with some incredible flying leading the pack. Phobos was chasing hard in 2nd giving us some great chase cam video, Admovie in 3rd being really consistent and Kwadastrophe bringing up the rear barely a handful of seconds between them all.
After 2 and half laps out front, Carpy took an unfortunate bump on the dive gate which sent him spinning into the spectators net where he took a long time to recover, costing him dearly. It nearly looked like he had got away with it as Phobos also bumped the dive gate but recovered much faster. Carpy and Phobos were neck and neck into the infinity tunnel but some unlucky propwash sent Dan crashing again.
Kwadastrophe had dropped off the pace a little in 4th and after some incredible dives in qualifying couldn’t pull the same trick on the 2nd lap and got stopped by the catch gate. But with empty air in front of him, he made a really clean first half of lap 3 just as Carpy and Phobos got caught out in the dive gate.
That double mistake on the dive gate bunched the pack up letting Admovie thru into position 1, Phobos in 2 and Carpy in 3. But not for long. No sooner had Admovie executed a great dive gate but he crashed on the way out of the infinity tunnel letting Phobos up into 1st.
Trying to hang onto 3rd, Carpy, carving up the ladder, was struck with some terrible bad luck. Some sort of failsafe dropped him from the top to the floor meaning he had to reset losing a load of time. Kwadastrophe, not far behind, had some trouble getting caught up in the dark section, looking like it was all over. Luckily for him, Carpy’s failsafe, followed by one of the most beautiful dives of the night sent him into 3rd to claim a spot on the podium! After some incredible flying and some bad luck, the catch up nerves never settled leaving Carpy for the UK in 4th.
With Phobos and Admovie battling for the top spot they just got across the line as the timer went, allowing them a final battle lap to see who would win. Both crossing the line for the final time, it was a race to the crash gate! They both wanted it so much they didnt stop, draining their batteries of every last drop of power. Only the commentary pulled Phobos back to the crashgate first as Admovie finished his extra lap and came in.
Looking at the timer results it showed Admovie had done more laps so he was crowned champion momentarily, before a DVR review was called. James sprung into action and replayed the final race counting the laps and it showed they had in fact done the same number of laps – the lap timer had just decided to tech-fart on the last most important race of the day and drop a lap. And because he ended up in the crashgate first, and we wanted to get it right, we re-announced the winner being Phobos!
The racing was gripping with everyone watching the DVR screen and the LED’s wizz past. It was incredible to watch these pilots fly so precisely and so quickly. But the nerves clearly had an effect as there were still crashes that changed the course of events!
At the end of the night, we had our 2023 Birmingham International Race Day Winners:
1st – Phobos – Paweł Stefański of Poland
2nd – Admovie – Antek Daczka of Poland
3rd – Kwadastrophe – Dominik Seyser of Germany
And Dan Carpy for the UK narrowly missing a podium finish came in 4th. Maybe next year!
But before the trophies were handed out we also had a competition winner to announce. Part of the whole event was dressing up in Onesies. There had to be a “Best Onesie” winner! I’d made up some QR codes to allow people at the event to vote on who it should be. This was also shared across facebook and the live stream so everyone could have some input on the event and be part of the fun. Unfortunately, earlier in the night, the low tech approach of holding a page in front of the camera blocked the live stream seeing Jaggers facepunch Jesse! But the word got out and votes were in so I was very pleased to announce that Nico – Nicola Gorghetto of Italy’s Team Blue Eyes walked away with a comfortable win!
The awards were given out to our winners which included a huge stack of prizes from the sponsors of the event. Without these companies supporting us, the event would not be able to take place. They provided a lot of the gates, banners, prizes and finance to enable this event to take place so for that I’m very grateful to the following companies and organisations:
After this, it was time for the pack down. Originally I had suggested to the venue that we would come back tomorrow and pack up. But there is quite a lot of expensive equipment involved with the sound system and live stream so Cerb and David wanted to get it all down today. We actually ended 30 mins earlier than expected so while everyone headed back to the whoophaus and the pub, we started to dismantle the event. It was an hour and half of solid work and packing later that we had it all back in cars and vans and headed out. Jesse very kindly stayed around talking with people and keeping the mood high while we worked. Again, there are so many complex and interconnected systems in AV that really there is not much help to be given. Cerb and David just had to work thru their kit packing it obsessive compulsively into exactly the right place and in the end, only 1 cable escaped Cerbs packing and ended up in David’s car – which isn’t bad!
Finally it was time to relax and enjoy the spectacle we had produced. Cerberus, Jesse and I headed to the Roxy Ballroom next door for a beer and messages everyone who may still be near to meet up. The polish lads dumped their stuff at a hotel nearby and came to join us which was great, to celebrate their 1st & 2nd place wins and the event as a whole. There are some things that I immediately want to improve upon for next year, but that’s just the perfectionist in me. Now was time for appreciating the hard work that went into the event and the fact that it was a great day that everyone seemed to enjoy. We brought together over 36 pilots and their spectators from over 6 different countries, in a huge, day long, whoop party with lights, costumes, live stream and commentary that went out to hundreds of people all over the world. It was a roaring success!
The icing on the cake was when Cerberus checked the live stream stats and found we had reached over 900 people that day alone. This was shocking and amazing and really positive because I had thought maybe everyone who came might have 1 or 2 friends at home who would watch it, so maybe we might reach 100 or 200 people – but 900!!! This made Cerberus well up a bit and I felt really proud of the team effort to achieve this amazing accomplishment.
What an awesome day!