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After two years of chasing, Noah Bahnson finally caught Andy Farrington on Saturday to win the 2016 Red Bull Aces. In the final heat, Will Kitto slipped past the two-time champ to clinch second place, and Andy took third overall, watching his hat trick slip away but sealing a third consecutive podium finish.
It was a riveting final to the most hotly contested Aces event yet, the third in what looks to be a series with real momentum in skydiving. While the 2014 Aces event was produced as a test run under a total media blackout until the final heat was completed, the 2015 event was live blogged and subsequently televised on US networks and internationally as well. The 2016 event will air on Red Bull TV in early 2017, and then on US broadcast TV later in the year.
With what is surely the biggest budget of any skydiving event thus far, Red Bull Aces is shaping up to be a milestone in skydiving history, capturing the attention of people equally inside and outside of the sport. Indeed, it is one of those rare conversation pieces that non-skydivers can raise with a veteran jumper without seeing eyes roll or glaze over. It’s an exciting and original concept no matter how much you know about skydiving. Squirrel CEO, Matt Gerdes, said “People have called me a few times over the past year to say that they are watching that wingsuit race on Fox Sports. It aired repeatedly this year and from what we saw the next version was even better produced, so I expect it will get our sport out to even more people next year”.
Red Bull Aces was the first-ever wingsuit four-cross competition, and the first with air gates. It ran first in 2014 and made its Arizona debut this year after two previous editions in California.This year saw 40 athletes from 18 countries jumping in four-person heats from a helicopter 8,000ft above the Phoenix desert, slaloming head-to-head through the sport’s mid-air gates suspended from helicopters, aka giant blenders. After a round of qualifications, in which the 16 wild cards were reduced to 8, the final round of 32 pilots was seeded. This year’s final event of 32 saw some hot new talent, plus a few pilots who hadn’t qualified in 2015.
For the first time a realistic seeding was established, with one 2015 top 8 finisher placed in each of the first 8 heats. Also, one qualified wild card was placed in each of the first 8 heats. That left 2 slots per heat, which were filled from the remaining 16 names that pre-qualified for the event. The idea behind this was that the top pilots would not race each other too early, allowing maximum chance for even the wild cards to make it into the finals.
By all accounts, this year saw the tightest heats in the history of the race, with frequent lead changes, photo finishes, and massive excitement. Andy Farrington said, “There are no easy heats this year. Almost anyone in that first round of 32 could go all the way.” Of the 8 wild cards that made it through the qualification rounds and into the final 32, only Chris Geiler passed round 2 and made it into the semi-final, sealing his position as a force in wingsuit flying. Chris came to Aces fresh off of his World Championship gold medal at the FAI Wingsuit Performance Mondial. While most pilots agree that the PPC wingsuit format is extremely different from Aces and many of the skills do not translate, Chris proved that he has what it takes to race head to head as well.
Andy Farrington was widely considered the favorite going into the event, and as Espen Fadnes put it, he is likely just letting Noah borrow the first place trophy for a year. And while no one was shocked that Noah finally got ahead, Will Kitto’s second place finish came as more of a surprise. A member of the USA Parachute team who recently competed in CRW at the 2016 Worlds, Will is a full time test pilot and designer for Squirrel LLC, maker of the most popular wingsuit in the race (30 out of the 40 pilots at Aces flew Squirrel, and 15 out of the top 16 pilots were flying Squirrel). Will’s speed and consistency makes him a real contender for the 2017 Aces event.
Red Bull ACES is the brainchild of Luke Aikins. Luke and his wife Monica ran the event impeccably, with efficiency, love and passion. Without exception the 40 pilots involved were totally stoked!
“Still in shock from how awesome the last few days have been at the Red Bull ACES, I am so fortunate to have been invited, and forever grateful to Luke Aikins, Monica Aikins – the entire Aikins family for that matter. Thanks to the amazing team put together to pull off what must be one of the most intense projects ever.“
“The level this year was exponentially higher than the years previous, and there were no easy heats! Every race was intense and I was grateful to make it through a few rounds and finish 5th overall. It was inspiring and uplifting to see how the level of piloting has improved so much in just one year. This sport really does keep getting better - these are exciting times!“
“Red Bull ACES was incredible, amazing races and even better company!! I was honored to be on load with legends!“
“One of the sickest things I ever experienced!! You nailed it Luke Aikins!!!“
“This event was the most exciting thing I have ever been a part of in my entire life. Watching your friends, live, from the ground as they race though a course of utter perfection. This is my new stoke! Thank you to all of the people that helped me train; without all of you I would have never made it in to the race. Special thanks to the Aikins family for organizing everything. Mad love and respect for having such passion. You guys are genies! Monica you rock!“
Red Bull ACES Action & interview with winner Noah Bahnson
“Red Bull Aces will always be the best wingsuit/skydiving event on the planet”
Carlos Pedros Briceno
Ride around the ACES course with Andy Farrington