© Joerg Mitter

© Joerg Mitter

Flying between sky and sea: Dario Costa's record-breaking Slalom in Vilanova


14/09/2023 - 09:33

An air race and acrobatic pilot, former commercial pilot and flight instructor with a Coni Athletic Medal for Valour and the first and only Italian to qualify and win in the Red Bull Air Race discipline, Dario Costa is also in the Guinness World Record book and boasts over 10 world records, including that of the first pilot to have flown through a tunnel, or rather two.

Adding to a long list of extreme performances executed by the Italian aviator is the one organised in Vilanova i la Geltrù (Spain), on the eve of the inaugural Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America’s Cup.

On September 12th, three days before the start of the races that officially open the 2024 edition of the America's Cup, Costa scored another world record, performing a heart-stopping slalom between the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Alinghi Red Bull Racing AC40 boats, helmed respectively by Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni and by Nicolas Charbonnier.

The task was meticulously prepared by the pilot with the help of his race engineer, to ensure that he was always and exactly in the intended position. «There is no room for improvisation», explained Costa before the challenge; «everything has to be planned down to the smallest detail, it is an operation that only lasts a couple of seconds». And if the gymkhana between two fixed points is nothing new for air racers, the one between two moving objects is, on the other hand, a 'world first'. «If I hit one of the padded pillars in a race, the worst case is that I get a penalty», explains the aviator; «here, on the contrary, it's a slalom between two moving boats that are very fast and low on the water. Touching them is not an option».

While the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Alinghi Red Bull Racing teams sailed their AC40s in front of each other at a distance of about 150 m (on a stretch of sea closed to navigation), Costa took off from the Igualada-Òdena Aerodrome (about 20 miles from Vilanova i la Geltrù), and swooped down behind them, flying at about 200 knots on his Zivko Edge 540 (450 Hp) single-seater. Immediately afterwards he dropped back and performed a lightning zig-zag between the boats.

If preparation and teamwork are essential elements for the success of such a complex operation (Costa was assisted by two helicopters and, on the ground via radio, by his trusted engineer, Alvaro Navas), the technical clothing is also very important as it must guarantee safety and freedom of movement.

© Samo Vidic / Alinghi Red Bull Racing
© Samo Vidic / Alinghi Red Bull Racing

Prada Linea Rossa, in its now consolidated collaboration with the athlete, and aiming to promote sports and innovation, has created a made-to-measure suit for Dario Costa, bringing together its technical know-how with the record-man's long and consolidated experience. The result is a suit crafted with Nomex technology textiles, characterized by fireproof and elastic fibres, combined with knitted yarns for breathability to improve the athlete's movements and performance. The cuts of the suit are both decorative and functional, to facilitate movements, while the protective parts for elbows and knees have been redesigned by Prada, based on the principles of anatomy, to evoke a futuristic design.

«It went much better than I expected», said Dario Costa; «no air racer had ever executed a slalom between two moving objects, so it was natural to feel some tension, but I managed to do what I had planned. I was impressed by the precision and skill of the boats' helmsmen: they went so straight it was as if they were on rails, so it was very easy for me. The weather conditions also helped, with 10 knots of wind: perfect for them and perfect for me. I'm very happy, I set another record today!».

«It was not a classic sailing day», commented Jimmy Spithill, one of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli's helmsmen. «Sailing with an airplane coming through you is not something that happens every day. Was it tough?  I think it was much tougher for Dario... it's amazing how close he managed to get; in the end we just held our position and he did all the work. For me today was a bit like Christmas because I have a pilot’s license and to see an athlete of Dario's calibre up close was really a special gift. The funny thing is that when you take the course for your license, the first thing they tell you is: stay away from the water, but he was literally skimming over the sea!».

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