Behind-the-scenes of Red Bull's insane Zero-G pit stop challenge
Red Bull's Live Demo Team is known for pushing the limits, its tackled the world’s highest pass at Khardung-La in the Himalayas and driven the lowest road, racing along the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Snow, ice, tarmac, sand...they've all been conquered.
What else could Red Bull possibly do to top all that? Space? OK, that's pushing it a little, but what about completing a pit-stop in Zero-G?
Prior to boarding the Ilyushin Il-76 MDK cosmonaut training plane, which is capable of simulating Zero-G conditions by performing a series of parabolas, where the aircraft climbs at a steep 45-degree angle before falling in a ballistic arc to produce a period of weightlessness, Red Bull's Demo Team needed to undergo some serious training.
With the help of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the Team took the 2005 RB1 car to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City and over the course of a week, took a crash course in cosmonaut training in preparation for multiple Zero-G flights in the plane’s fuselage along with the F1 car and a 10-strong film crew.
Although Red Bull is now used to record-breaking pit stops lasting less than two seconds, this one would take a little longer, with each period of weightlessness lasting just 22 seconds.
Not only did the pit crew have a tough task at hand, but the film crew were also challenged to the extreme, with each shoot lasting little more than 15 seconds at a time.
"It pushed us harder than I thought it would," explained Support Team Chief Mechanic Joe Robinson. "You realise how much you rely on gravity, when you don’t have any! Something as straightforward as tightening a wheelnut becomes very difficult when the car is floating, and the only control you have is through the stiffness of your ankles, tucked into floor straps.
"It challenges you to think and operate in a different way – and that was brilliant. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and honestly, I could have stayed and done it all month. It was amazing. I think it’s the coolest, most fun thing the Live Demo Team has ever done with a show car."
Support Team Co-ordinator Mark Willis echoed those comments: "My stomach was fine – but it felt like my head was going to explode. It took two or three runs to understand what was happening. At first, I couldn’t think straight. My brain couldn’t compute what was happening… It took two or three parabolic flights to be able to think properly again.
"I’ve been involved in some special events from slaloming the car in Kitzbühel, to the salt lakes of Argentina, we’ve been to some strange places and done some strange things – but ultimately this is the oddest – but also the most special because there’s simply nothing comparable. You might get a second of the effect on a rollercoaster – but to have that sensation for 20-25 seconds and to work on the car in that time, it’s out of this world."
Red Bull's RB1, which rarely makes an appearance in demo runs, was chosen as the car for the job because of its smaller size, which made manoeuvring it within the Ilyushin’s cargo deck far easier than the more modern cars, which are much larger.
The 2005 model is also lighter than a contemporary car, and while weight shouldn’t matter while weightless, having it stripped down and completely drained made it easier to understand how the car would behave when being manhandled in the purpose-built flying studio set.