Over the past two years, the Squirrel R&D; Team have been working hard on high performance wingsuits for competitive events. Their focus on this segment of the sport began when the first edition of the RedBull ACES was being put together for 2014. It happened to coincide with Squirrel’s development timeline on the Colugo 2, and it provided the team with an excellent opportunity to test the final prototypes against the fastest suits on the market, being flown by the best pilots in the world. In 2014, Andy Farrington won the ACES event flying a race prototype that included a lot of features that went on to become the C2.
The Squirrel team say that development is a constant. As soon as the C2 was released, efforts began on creating a higher performance race suit that could be used by team pilots in the next ACES event, and other competitive wingsuit competitions. Mainly Squirrel had their eye on ACES 2015. But with the first US Wingsuit Nationals being announced, and the 2015 WWL planned for October, there was more than one reason to redouble efforts on the C-RACE development.
The first C-RACE suits that were delivered to pilots outside of Squirrel’s headquarters in WA state, USA, went to a few pilots attending the US Nationals. Only a few suits were delivered to pilots going to the event, but 4 of them made the top 10, including Noah Bahnson and Chris Geiler, who took 2nd and 3rd respectively. The C-RACE is considerably smaller in surface area than the designs that have traditionally done well in the PPC format, and the significance of this size difference is important. For a suit with so much less surface to be competing so well in the PPC spoke to its speed and efficiency. Squirrel focused on profile efficiency and stability at high speeds, instead of increasing surface to score well in the time and distance tasks.
Next came the WWL wingsuit race in China. The final podium saw Noah Bahnson in first overall, and Julian Boulle in second. Both were flying the C-RACE and had fought their way through multiple heats against the Phoenix Fly team pilots at the event, who were flying a clearly excellent new race suit, and flying it well. Relative newcomer, Nathan Jones, impressively took 3rd place flying his Phoenix Fly suit in this event.
Of all the wingsuit races in the world, only one involves a mile-long slalom course involving 4000 vertical feet of turns, dives, and straightaways. RedBull ACES truly encompasses every aspect of wingsuit flight, and is an incredibly dynamic and challenging environment. Furthermore, it is the only 4-cross event, allowing multiple pilots to race head-to-head, offering the best chances of a fair result (in contrast, PPC competition runs necessarily take place with jumpers flying solo, through different wind patterns and conditions and often at different times, making truly accurate comparisons impossible). Because of this, the 2015 ACES event was the most important to Squirrel. The team made efforts to support as many of the invited pilots as possible, and trained relentlessly for this type of competition – the mission was all-out speed, with precise agility. Four pilots diving through slalom gates that are suspended from helicopters and held taught by 150lb steel weights is not a situation to take lightly. It was critical to design a suit that would not only allow team pilots to overtake everything else, but also maintain agility and precision through a course full of very real hazards.
In the end, the C-RACE prevailed. Only C-RACE pilots made the final, sweeping the podium. 28 out of the 40 invited pilots at the event were flying C-RACEs. Andy Farrington defended his title as top ACE, Noah Bahnson took second flying the same suit that he flew to podium finishes in Chicago and China a few weeks before, and Matt Gerdes, co-founder of Squirrel and co-designer of the C-RACE, placed third. All three podium finishers were also flying the Squirrel EPICENE main parachute, which was by far the most popular parachute at the race.
Squirrel says that the C-RACE is available to qualified pilots only, and the design will evolve slowly over the course of 2016. Design features that are tested in the C-RACE will (and have already) trickle down to the other suits in their range.