Chasing the %
Sorry we will not talk about fancy 3D animation and poppy colours in this boring post! Our sport is complex, complex by its intricated nature of human to machine interaction in an open 3D living environment.
There are no streets up there, no lines you HAVE TO follow, no 100m length below 10 seconds mark to run, no playground with 2 territories and a ball to fight for, no net between 2 sides, no possibility to stop the action. It is fully open in a continuous flow: you made your own circuit even if the task is the same for all, nobody will make it exactly the same and making a slow-mo of the trajectories will not tell anything about your bad technic in the cockpit...
So yes, our sport is “different”. Some will even argue it is not a sport at all, as physically it is limited. And if you ask the pilots, some would agree!
What is our sport?
But is car racing a sport? Yes, and we call it a “mechanical sport” no? So, what is our sport? I would personally store it in the same range as racing car. But not F1 where management of the risk and engine life is added to the (boring) perfect trajectory done and done again for 1,5 hours, so engineered sport (sorry for engineers reading this post)...
I would make it more closer to “adventure car racing” and “rally raids” where you have still to manage the risk, manage the range, react to the unexpected, plan but with open mind, use the others, help each other’s, use best technical skills to pilot in all conditions… with much less fuel consumed and perhaps today moreover much more camaraderie than you can get in these moderns over-sponsored events from car industry…
Our sport is also very close related to cyclist, not to the physical (impressive) effort of cycling (ouch! You like to feel pain, go cycling!), but in the way we interact to each other’s during a race: cooperation in the sky is fundamental and is a big part of the explanation about the typical “why-they-made-it,-it-was-impossible-today!” weather where, on the paper, it was not doable, but yes, they did it, because they cooperated. It is also related to cycling in the sight of the race drama: start, peloton, echappee, gruppetto, sprint, climb, final (glide), low, finish… even the way to broadcast modern cycling is by taking the air to show the race, … we are taking the air to make the race (and enjoy planet Earth from above)!
Some will say it is also a chess game, but I don’t totally agree with this idea, chess game is a step by step game where you see everything about what your competitor does (we not). And in chess game your experience is based on a bank of “moves” in a very closed environment. A very restricted, but complex, form of sport where each bad move potentially exposes you to a tremendous big risk in the upcoming seconds… to hours! Our sport, because of its opened environment does not get any perfect move, it is more a question of being less unperfect than the others! Each second you WILL make a mistake, but don’t worry, you just have to manage to make it less mistaken than your competitors! Let’s be philosophical for a second, sailplane racing is the essence of humanity: being mistaken! But the lower the better! That’s why we see such impressive “recoveries” from pilots so low few minutes ago and then leading the pack after 100km! And frankly this is the beauty of our racing sport!
Finally, our sport is also a kind of boardsport. There is in this area a very physical topic, you can feel inside the cockpit this “glide” in the air, the way the wings “talk” to you and give the feedbacks you need to experience the thin and clear air around you, and the experience you need to use the best you can the aircraft.
This is, from my point of view, the big key to be able to perform in this constant flow you experience in the air: the loop of feel to act and react as fast as possible during each millisecond combined to the view of the upcoming few seconds and so what to do next on the controls. You need this feel and I think we don’t cultivate enough this aspect during training courses on basic flight even if it is the most important at the end. This combined to the “rally raid” plan of next week, next day, next hour, next 20 minutes, next 10 minutes, next minute complete my view of what is our race up there.
And this is exhilarating!
Digging up the % / analyse your flight with Naviter SeeYou
Where to find SeeYou for PC: https://www.naviter.com/products/seeyou/
During my last european championship, I have made 94% of the points of the European champion, Mr Pavel Louzceki (Czech Republic). I can still remember what I did as big mistakes to lose the big part of these “missing 6%”:
Day2: early start was a terrible idea (cost = at least 200pts, i.e. 2% of total)
Getting 50pts penalty for a “not rounded ok turnpoint” is also terrible (cost = 0.5%)
Day10 with a bad decision after second to last turnpoint feel like a 100pts evaporated in few seconds (cost = 1%)
Day11 struggling to find good thermals for a while (cost = 0.5%)
Some days wanting too hard to win, i.e. flying too low (cost = 1%)
So, we’ve got already a nice 5% based on pure (bad) decisions and/or penalties. These are not technical skills related, but real time poor behavior management in the cockpit based on bad analysis / or not enough inputs / or not enough CPU available at the time (for the not rounded ok it is 100% CPU related problem, my brain getting old?) / or even mocking up the reality of the situation (too much wanting to win, too early in the day…).
So, we are missing already a %... not big but a % is a % and, as Mr Louzceki is not Mr Perfect, his reference must not be the 100% one, but a fraction below, let’s say he made 95% of the possible (let’s be optimistic today…) so… back to the chase of 6%!
Lucky us, even if we are in a world of amateurism, gliding is a sport you can get more and more feedbacks from your own experience with a bit of homework throught data as wide as (from easy to get to super rare):
GPS data analysis and comparison through SeeYou mainly (easy to get) with SoaringSpot data or OLC to get the trace of the other pilots;
Video of your use of the controls (stick and flaps mainly) with typical GoPro style (still easy, even with a smartphone and suction cup cradle);
Direct feedback from another pilot with you in double seater (rare, as other pilots needs to be at least your level of experience and also able to tell you “this is shit”);
Debrief with a coach (very rare);
Special technical evaluations with scientists (hyper hyper rare) like ocular movements, pressure on controls, psychological trends, management of the mbehaviour, etc…
So definitely points 1 and 2 you could get from each flight, point 3 you may with a bit more of investment and self-organization. Point 4 I’m happy to say I always have one of the best (Eric Napoleon), during first category FAI competitions, and even point 5 I was very lucky to be part of some in the recent past due to my position as national coach.
But let’s focus for today on point 1, as you can all and easily use your own IGC files to get a better view about what you do, how, and meaning how, how bad or how good.
For any of these data analysis you will need a reference. Easy and good is during a championship, the reference can be spotted as the winner of the day, so you will be able to spot the differences between the best performer of the day and… your crap!
Still some bias will be there, more in races with areas compared to races with typical standard turnpoints. More also on a tricky day when it is easy to lose minutes in a bad luck position.
So, at first, I urge you to focus on a typical day where you lost time compared to the best, but you can’t blame area task management and/or bad luck weather related event to cry in your Mom’s arms. Then we can try to figure out what is going on with SeeYou data analysis.
Tips to avoid bias on SeeYou analysis software:
Area Speed Task: don’t try to compare on these tasks as explained before
Interval of recording can make bias, notably on average climb and altitude lost during climbing (due to bad technic in thermals often combined to a too wingloaded glider for the day and/or bad centering technic), so please make a 1 second interval recording for best results in comparisons and analysis
Not knowing the wing loading of the others (but 2-3kg does not make a big change so don’t cry out loud it was because of wing loading if you lost 10kph, it is not…)
Getting statistics out from the whole flight and not the task (yes, yes, you can do that mistake on SeeYou if you don’t tab the task…)
What to compare?
Seeyou will give you a lot of numbers and possibility to get a whole picture of the performance on the task and also focus by leg. I did some studies in Geology and I learnt one thing (among others): start by a general overview and then dig up more deeply as a “zoom in” and from time to time enlarge again to try to figure out what could go from a “I have a guess/hunch” to a “yes, I nailed it!”.
So which numbers and figures to focus on?
Average speed on task… yeah okay this is the cold result of all your tiny added mistakes all day long but still a number to compare to the reference: the winner of the day. Don’t forget this difference of kph number has to be related to the difference in points on daily score as on typical super bad day being 30kph slower but one of the few finisher is a very good performance!
Have an eye on the barographs to compare them just for 1 second: does the winner is a “lower style” pilot gliding up to super low to get (expect…) best thermals, or is he a “higher style” pilot playing the game in altitude. This must be compared to your style to figure out if he had the style of the day and you not, AND if it is worth it or a complete too risky gamble.
Let’s compare the number of climbs (and so the number of glides and so their average distance, as all these numbers are mathematically related…), if difference is around 1 or 2 climbs then it is ok. If it is 10, you have to ask you questions… As one of the first thing you learn to fly faster is: choosing carefully your thermal…
As we are in the thermal comparison, let’s have a look on average strength of thermal:
First, before comparing to the winner, just ask yourself if the calculated SeeYou average climb on task is realistic to what you felt inside the cockpit, so you get a free analysis of yourself:
A: okay it fits, I am realistic person…
B: way lower than I thought, I am an optimistic person (follow my sight towards the speed to cruise and style you flew based on this feeling...)
C: way better than I thought! You are lying to me (and you)!
2. Second, how does it compare to the winner? 0,2 or 0,3m/s difference is ok, above you have to think about technic to exploit and/or choice of thermal you use.
2nd big number we all like is the performance in glide: do you glide better/worse than the winner. But you will have to balance this number:
To the range of speeds you used: SeeYou gives you an average speed in cruise and display also per leg a distribution of speed to cruise you used, very informative to balance the cold number of average glide ratio!
Directly related to this average speed you can easily determine two things
Was it a good speed to use for today (McCready)?
Do I get more performance than expected by the cold polar figure of my glider at this speed? If yes, good, you made a good job getting energy from around during the glides! Then, how much is it a good job compared to the winner?
You also have to balance this number to the effective real distance you made in glide compared to the task distance. We all do deviation all day long, but your deviations are bigger or lesser than the winner? For this deviation matter, a lot of time you deviate to get some energy lines so having a better average glide ratio you trade in for more distance trade out. Again ask yourself if it was worth it compared to what did the winner at the end.
Ok so now you have an overview of style of you and the winner based on baro, range of speeds used, average glide ratio, numbers of climbs, average climb, deviation rate, your state of mind (optimistic or realistic?). Now we have clues and we can finally go the 2D traces as we gathered cold numbers and the 2D can inform more about the WHY.
Why she/he took on the right after turnpoint 2 and I took to the left? Why she/he was able to go straight from this area to round the point and go back to the good lifts and not me at this stage of the race? Why… Why… Why…
To make it more clear (and painful) you have to spot also back to barograph mode but this time with the average speed on task graph where you have a direct view of the impact of your behavior on average speed on task. Painful yes but very informative to figure out the key point (the WHEN) where you made THE mistake you lose a big part of average speed, or if it is just a long and painful trend all day long. So, is it more a decision-making problem or a technic/skills/rhythm problem?
So combination of statistical cold numbers + real 2D trace + barograph/speedograph can give you a hint of:
- Your lack of pure technic:
use of the good speed range,
getting energy in the glides,
starting the last glide,
getting a good start on start line,
- Your lack of anticipation/planification: not high enough at a key point so then suffering the following 20 minutes with no choice compared to her/him, this point is a perfect losing point especially on windy days…
- Your lack of acceptance of what is a modern sailplanes race: you are alone all day long making other choices than the pack… For that you will have to check other good pilots of the day to figure out if they cooperate more than you do to perform.
This last point is, again, painful for a lot of pilots. As with modern equipment in the cockpits and support from the ground, it is not easy, today, to be a lone rider and still a winner. This is still okay in national championships and some days on big international events, but, definitely, not efficient enough on a long big event. So, if you are this style of pilot, making the race against her/himself, and playing with the weather forecast to polish your “perfect plan”, be prepared to win days but also to lose some with a much bigger margin!
As I said, our sport is complex, partly rally raid with planification and real-time technical skills involved, but also a cyclist-related game where cooperation makes you run faster at the end of the day… And don’t forget the other pilots are dumb, yes for sure, but from time to time, they can be clever like you are and vice versa ;-)
After this study compared to the winner, if you flew with other pilots and some made better than you for several minutes, pick one you want to know what he made better and do the study again to this “direct competitor of the day”, you will perhaps learn much more than comparing to this “ghost” of the winner who could have perhaps started 30 minutes before or after you in a complete new environment compared to what you experienced… After this analysis, last question to ask yourself will be why the “ghost” chose to start at this time and not you (me)…
Have fun, fly safe!
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