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Written by Rachelle Haughn
The top FPV racing pilots in the country compete at AMA Headquarters
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2016 MultiGP Drone Racing Championship

At a place where many of them had never been, pilots from across the country put it all on the line for a chance to earn the coveted title of 2016 MultiGP Champion.

After months of regional qualifying events that were held in various locations throughout US, regional finals, and then a final opportunity to earn a slot while at AMA Headquarters in Muncie, Indiana, the contestants’ hard work paid off. Hundreds of battery packs were depleted, propellers were broken, and quadcopters got stuck in the gates, but the competitors had fun—and those who organized the AMA-sanctioned event are pleased with how the contest played out.

“It was very intense, but a happy atmosphere,” stated MultiGP Drone Racing Championship competitor Shaun “Nytfury” Taylor.

Chris Thomas, MultiGP founder and president, makes an announcement to the pilots. Photo by Jay Smith.

“It was … optimistic,” MultiGP Chief Marketing Officer Michael Gianoutsos said, describing the FPV racing championship, that was held September 2-4. “It was so interesting to see the pilots and chapters all in one place. It was done in a very competitive, very fair way. It provided optimism for what the sport can become in the future.” MultiGP, an AMA Special Interest Group, was formed in 2015.

Qualifying for the national championship—an AMA-sanctioned event and part of the 2016 AMA Nats—began in mid-January 2016, when the first of 41 regional qualifying events was held.

“Everybody had so much practice. It was a really well-thought-out race. Everyone had so many opportunities,” Shaun said.

And they’re off! This was the starting gate for the MultiGP Drone Racing Championship. Smith photo.

In the end, only one pilot could take home the first-place trophy and the $5,000 prize. And that person was also the 2015 MultiGP Championship winner, Shaun.

“There’s a video of me where I started bawling before I landed,” when he realized that he had won the 2016 championship, Shaun said in an interview after the competition. “I was just having a flashback to flying in the snow and crashing” for many months. “It just kind of wrapped all around me.” He added that he felt overwhelmed and overcome with emotion.

Michael recalled seeing Shaun’s reaction when he realized that he had won a second MultiGP Championship. “It was pretty emotional. He just kind of dropped his goggles. He was weeping a bit and guys were hugging on him.”

Shaun wasn’t the only pilot who became emotional during the race to determine the champion. “During that final race, guys were crying,” Michael said.

“That long journey [to the championship] is something experienced by pilots from coast to coast,” added Shawn O’Sullivan, who is with MultiGP press relations. “It was hard work to qualify. It was a long road that these guys fought … to get there.” Shawn also flies multirotors.

Chad Nowak (R), winner of the first US National Drone Racing Championship, talks with MultiGP Drone Racing Championship competitor Michael “SparkyMJ” Saalwaechter. Smith photo.

The pilots competing against Shaun Taylor clearly were happy for him. Their reactions are an example of the camaraderie that is at the heart of the sport, which is often echoed throughout other genres of aeromodeling.

“One of the coolest things that you’ll ever see [at MultiGP events] is competitors sharing parts” after a crash, Shawn O’Sullivan stated. “It’s that passion for flight—a common thread that holds us together.”

“In FPV racing, you have people who would give up their quads for someone else,” Shaun Taylor said.

Similar to other AMA disciplines, FPV racing pilots have a sense of camaraderie and are willing to help fellow pilots with their multirotors. Smith photo.

Camaraderie and having the necessary parts for a multirotor aren’t the only ingredients for success.

To get to the final championship round required skill and plenty of practice. AMA member Shaun Taylor earned his spot in the championship by finishing first in his regional final. In the final race, he beat out Jordan “Jet” Temkin, who finished second, and Siddha “SIDFPV” Kilaru, who took third.

Also in the final round was Tyler “RaceDayQuads” Brennan, who placed fourth. The winner was determined by who came through the finishing gate first. The final race was not timed.

(L-R) Tyler Brennan and Siddha “SIDFPV” Kilaru compete in the MultiGP championship. Siddha finished third. Smith photo.

Michael described the journey that the pilots took to get to the national championship race. “We chopped the nation into regions which had [MultiGP] chapters help them with the races, gates, and support.”

There were 11 regional finals and the pilots who finished first automatically earned a spot in the national championship. Any of the pilots who did not place first in the regional finals were put on a list and ranked by their three best rounds. The top 16 on the list were known as the Super Sixteen. These 16 pilots automatically advanced to the national drone racing championship.

The next 60 pilots down on the list were known as the Serious 60, which was the third way to earn a spot in the championship race. These contenders received an invitation to compete in Muncie in a three-round race for 12 positions in the championship race.

This is the view that multiple pilots had while flying FPV in the competition. Smith photo.

The final way that pilots could qualify to compete in the national championship was through Universal Time Trial (UTT) tracks. Sixty pilots were allowed to compete in Muncie on Saturday, September 3, in three rounds of flying for the final 12 spots. The UTT is a track layout that was designed by MultiGP and set up in venues across the country, in which pilots tried to get the fastest times.

The regional finalists, Super 16, the 12 who advanced from the Serious 60, and the 12 who advanced from the UTT 60, were then known as the Fast 52.

“It was a complicated system that we managed, but it was a worthwhile effort,” Michael said. He added that the elimination system resulted in the best pilots in the country competing in the national championship.

Shaun Taylor gives high fives to his fellow Final 16 pilots. Smith photo.

The 2016 MultiGP Drone Racing Championship began on Friday, September 2, with a MultiGP Summit, held inside of the AMA Headquarters building. During this event, guest speakers, including AMA officials, met with MultiGP chapter organizers and discussed topics such as AMA’s FPV government relations efforts, a race timing system, how to find a safe place to fly, how to market a MultiGP chapter, and racecourse design.

Saturday kicked off with practice and determining which of the Serious 60 pilots and UTT 60 pilots would advance. The racers were eliminated in a bracket format. Sunday began with the Fast 52 qualifying round. The Fast 52 qualifier was followed by a Final 16 double-elimination round.

A view of one of the courses at the MultiGP Drone Racing Championship. Smith photo.

One of the highlights of the MultiGP Drone Racing Championship, which was held at AMA Headquarters for the first time, was definitely the flying site.

“It was gorgeous,” Shaun Taylor said of AMA’s International Aeromodeling Center. “That was my favorite race of all time. The course with the air bridge in the sky and fog. It was just something! I can’t wait to go back.”

“The AMA has shown us so much support,” Michael commented on AMA’s flying site. “You have the amenities, infrastructure, talent, [and] maintenance staff. You guys know what’s needed” for an event of this magnitude.

Shaun Taylor added that the air bridge was his favorite part of the racecourse. It was roughly 20 feet high at its peak.

The air bridge was challenging and fun for pilots. Shaun Taylor said it was his favorite part of the course. Smith photo.

It took approximately two months to design the track layouts, including the air bridge. “We took elements from all of our other tracks across the country, put them together, morphed it, and put that huge sky bridge in the middle,” stated Michael.

“We had a pretty aggressive layout,” Michael added. “There were three tracks—two were qualifying tracks and one was a championship track. The land that was there was perfect.” He said that race organizers were able to spread out the tracks on AMA’s more than 1,100 acres so that there was no video interference between the pilots at the different tracks.

This was the main site for the 2016 MultiGP Drone Racing Championship. Because the International Aeromodeling Center is so vast, three tracks were set up at different sites. Smith photo.

“It was a good technical obstacle for the pilots,” Shawn O’Sullivan added.

“I learned something every single day,” Shaun Taylor commented about the championship. “I learned how to do an elevation drop with an air bridge. That’s something I have in my toolbox for the future.”

The plan is to hold the MultiGP Drone Racing Championship in a different location each year. The 2015 MultiGP national championship was held in December in Ocoee, Florida. Michael said the 2017 contest will be held in Las Vegas. “We want to keep it interesting, so we want to have it at a different location every year.”

Michael explained why Las Vegas was selected. “It’s an accessible area to a lot of our pilots. It’s a nice, exciting location to travel to. We also think it will put our sport on the map.”

Shaun Taylor is congratulated by fellow competitors as he cries after realizing that he won his second MultiGP championship. Photo provided by MultiGP.

In addition to the venue change, the course will be redesigned and the qualifying process will be fine-tuned, Michael stated.

Although the 2017 national championship won’t be held in Muncie, that doesn’t mean that FPV drone racing has left AMA Headquarters for good. Michael announced that the inaugural MultiGP International Open will be held at AMA Headquarters August 9-13, 2017. The event is expected to include qualifying races, activities, and contests. This event will not be connected to the 2017 MultiGP Drone Racing Championship.

—Rachelle Haughn



MultiGP Drone Racing Championship video

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