The Drone Champions League season final was a fast-flying spectacle in a Romanian salt mine – 150m underground.
Emotions ran deep as Britain’s XBlades Racing captured its third consecutive season triumph in the Drone Champions League (DCL) – the world championship for professional drone-racing teams – in Salina Turda, Romania. On a couse 150m below the surface, the British team clinched the crown on the first day of racing. However, the overall season performance of two DCL newcomers – Denmark’s APEX Racing in second and Russia’s Drone Sports in third – as well as fourth-placed Veloce Racing of Korea, signalled a revolution may be brewing. Luke Bannister and Brett Collis of XBlades tied for Pilot Of The Year.
The setting for the final stop of the DCL season was an ancient salt mine that is now home to a vast amusement park. Across three laps, the LED-lit drones clashed head-to-head at 160kph: wall riding the vertical face, threading the legs of a Ferris wheel and plunging to the mine floor.
A crash or collision could’ve changed a lead to a Did Not Finish (DNF) in a heartbeat.
It was the DCL’s third visit to Salina Turda, and never had the stakes been so high. At the top of the table, XBlades was determined to finish off its challengers and make drone-racing history with the hat-trick, but APEX Racing stood in the way and the Danes had already proven they had the goods by sweeping the British team at the second championship round.
With everything on the line, the XBlades team was expected to come out charging, but qualifying raised a question mark. Korea’s Veloce Racing took the top spot, followed by APEX Racing.
We are the third – placed Britsslipping at the wrong moment?
All doubts evaporated on race day.
XBlades was relentless and secured the title by beating APEX 4 to 1 in the semi-finals, then confirmed its supremacy by winning the day’s grand final against Veloce, 4 to 2.
It was gloves off for the remaining spots on the overall podium. APEX clinched second overall with relative ease, while in a tense tiebreaker that counted individual pilot finishes, Drone Sports edged out Veloce for third by just a single point.
A racing quadcopter is substantially different from common photography drones.
Built for extreme speed, agility and durability, it’s controlled directly by the pilot without the use of GPS navigation or other computer assistance. With incredible acceleration and agility, a race drone can reach 160kph and fly for several kilometres, given the right conditions and setup.
Salina Turda saved the best for last, as the honour of winning Saturday’s race came down to XBlades and APEX. When the flying was over, the teams were tied and a countback of pilot finishing points gave the day’s victory to APEX, with XBlades second and Drone Sports third.
The pilots flying for XBlades in Salina Turda were Luke Bannister, Brett Collis, Gary Kent and Killian Rousseau. Bannister is now a DCL Champion for the fourth time running, as the teenager won the inaugural 2016 season for XBlades, which consisted of two individual races. Bannister and Collis additionally shared the 2019 Pilot Of The Year award, with 21 heat wins each.
Brett Collis said: “Amazing. You could maybe win [the championship] once by fluke, but three times in a row shows that we continue to be the best and we proved it once again. We had some amazing battles, amazing races. The Big Heats are insane.”
Luke Bannister said: “It’s been amazing to be on top and stay on top for so long.
“Along with my teammates, we’ve all put in a lot of effort and I’m super-happy that we managed to do it again.”
Adding their own flair to the Drone Prix at Salina Turda was Wild Prop, a wildcard team made up primarily of international freestyle stars who trained to get familiar with racing. Andres Aguilera (ESP), Benoit Finck (FRA), Tommy Tibajia (USA) and Vince Irie (NED) delivered a respectable performance and treated spectators to some freestyle flying as well.
Final Standings, Drone Champions League
- XBlades Racing (GBR) 1810 points
- APEX Racing (DEN) 1550 pts
- Drone Sports (RUS) 1220 pts
- Veloce Racing (KOR) 1210 pts
- China Dragons (CHN) 360 pts
Drone races first kicked off in Australia with the so-called ‘Rotocross’. Pilots used first-person-view (FPV) goggles to give a view from the ‘cockpit’, allowing them to fly the drone from a distance.
From that start in Aussie the world championship developed into the series it is now, and it’s growing fast. Sponsors like Allianz, AIG, and Vodafone give the DCL some heavy hitting power.
Since 2016, DCL has brought together the planet’s best drone pilots, who compete on eight international teams in spectacular settings globally. Each race is broadcast live, worldwide, on TV and online. The new Drone Champions League calendar will be announced soon and anyone can battle for a place in the DCL Draft Selection by logging on to game.dcl.aero and following the prompts.