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Year 9 student Ben Mortensen has huge success with Drone Racing

28/11/2018
​We congratulate Ben on his huge success in competing in the Australian Team at the world's largest drone racing competition in Shenzhen China.
Ben has written a full report on his experience. Please take the time to read this:-

“NO ROOM FOR ERROR”

Drone Racing is the fastest growing sport in the world and the opportunities it’s given me are mind blowing.

My journey began a little over two years ago. I saw something on the news about a drone racing competition being held at the Gold Coast called “The Australian Drone Nationals”. It sparked my interest and I went down on the final day of racing to see what all the fuss was about. I was hooked. On the way home, I said I’ll be back next year. Not to watch, but to compete at a national level. And so, the journey began.

Two years on and what a journey it’s been. I was soon sporting sponsorships from motor companies, racing frames and competed at all the local & major drone racing competitions across Australia. In 2018, you could feel the momentum of the sport growing. Countless hours of training, crashing, repairing, liaising with sponsors & media commitments started to pay dividends.

As a finalist in the “Aussie Open Drone Race” earlier this year I qualified for a spot on the “Australian Team” to compete in November at the world’s largest drone racing competition in Shenzhen China, the “FAI World Drone Racing Championships”. But before my skills would be tested on the World Stage and with only four weeks’ notice I was invited to travel to Switzerland to race on a television show called the “Drone Champions League”.

DCL is the most prestigious Drone racing competition in Europe.  Sporting only 8 teams, the show is Broadcast live on Facebook, YouTube and over 100 television channels to over 30 countries around the world. We managed a respectable 6th position given we had only four weeks’ notice and parts were arriving the day before we departed.

A couple of weeks after I got back from Switzerland my greatest challenge lay ahead. The FAI World Drone Championships. 127 competitors from 34 countries went to Shenzhen in China to compete in the most spectacular drone racing event in the world. It was a high stakes team race with four brutal days & nights of high-pressure racing.


DAY 1 – Practice & Qualification Round 1

Each team was only given an 8-minute window to practise the 650M track. We had to work fast as a team to ensure we got as many laps in as possible. We managed 3 battery changes in that time and a total of 9 practise laps.

After the practice rounds, the first round of qualification began at night. You were given the opportunity to fly 3 consecutive laps and record your fastest laps.

I felt comfortable after the first day of qualifications, having clocked the 3rd fastest qualification time.

DAY 2 – Qualification Round 2 & 3.

By the end of day two my position had slipped to the 9th fastest overall, but I was very happy with that given there was very little difference in some of the times. The Australian team had 3 pilots in the top 9 spots and were the number #1 ranked team after the qualification round.

The field of pilots was reduced from 127 pilots down to the top 64 pilots as we headed into the elimination rounds

DAYS 3 & 4 – Elimination Round and Finals

The format of the race from this point on was brutal. With 4 pilots in a single race, you had to come 1st or 2nd in every race. Otherwise you were banished to the loser bracket. If you came 3rd or 4th from the loser bracket, your journey ended. The best result a pilot could achieve from the losers’ bracket was 9th.

The competition was tight. These were the best drone racing pilots in the world and the format of the race meant there was “no room for error”.

Day 3. I was in the first race up and first out of the blocks. To no fault of my own my signal locked (something interfered with my signal causing a fail-safe). My drone crashed. I was 15 seconds behind before the system recovered and I was able to restart. My best efforts saw me get back into the race but lost by a narrow margin. I was now in the losers’ bracket and my best result possible was 9th. Just like that, my chances of winning the individual crown was over and to no fault of my own. It was difficult to take.

But this was a team race and I was still in it. I couldn’t win individually, but my role was critical to help the team win. The winning team was determined by finishing position of your top 3 pilots (add up the finishing position of your best 3 pilots, the lowest score wins the title). Australia had two pilots left in the top 10. Latvia also had two pilots in the top 10 and other teams were still in medal contention around the top 10. I had to continue to battle through the ranks of the losers’ pool and win every race in order for the team to take home gold.

Fearing another technical issue outside my control was constantly on my mind. I took one race at a time. I knew if I could get into the finals of the losers pool our teams’ position would be cemented. As it got to the pointy end of the competition the stakes got higher. Sure, there was some good prize money at stake, but this was also about representing your country and not letting your team mates down.

I made it into the finals of the losers’ bracket and the rest is history. My job was done and it was the outcome we needed. Some quick calculations meant our teams position was cemented. Successfully fighting my way back into the finals of the losers’ bracket to help bring Australia to victory felt pretty good.  The other two Australian pilots headed into the semi-finals safe in the knowledge Australia’s worst-case scenario for the remaining finals meant Australia was safe by 1 point. We couldn’t lose from this point, we had already won the Team Gold. By how much was still to be determined. In the end we positioned 1, 5, 11 for a total of 17 points. The next best team result was Sweden with 30 points and Korea with 35.  

Australia was crowned both the 2018 FAI WORLD DRONE RACING TEAM CHAMPIONS and my team mate was crowned 2018 FAI INDIVIDUAL WORLD DRONE RACING CHAMPION.

It’s not all glamour

International drone racing is not all glamour. There are weeks of preparation before a big race. The days start early and finish late. By the time you return to the hotel each night and you prepare for the next day’s racing there is often little more than 7 hours sleep a night, sometimes only a few. Combined with the intense pressure of racing, trying to control your nerves as you fly at high speeds knowing every fraction of a second counts and knowing there is no room for error, the pressure is intense.

But just when think the pressure is too much, I’d soon realise why I love racing. It’s the excitement of winning a race, or seeing your team-mate get through the next round. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the spectators or when they ask to get a photo with you. It’s the roar of the crowd cheering you on as you walk onto the stage. It’s the buzz of sitting under the lights, in front of the cameras, while tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people watch live around the world. Sometimes it’s the simple things like the sound of the start tone, the noise of the drones racing through the air or crashing into the ground. It’s having a laugh with your mates, meeting people you’ve only spoken with online and making new friends.

This is why I love drone racing and why it’s the fastest growing sport in the world.

Ben Mortensen, Year 9 student



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