These are the two most important questions I find asking myself when I fly in comps.
First things first, I’m sure you get a map when you register for a comp! use it....
Before you fly:
Arriving at a new location you don’t really know what will or wont work so the map is your best friend, ask local or more experienced pilots for advice you will be surprised as to how many people will share experience and knowledge with you. Study the terrain map of the region, get familiar with where the sun is rising and setting and look at which terrain will be exposed to the suns rays early in the morning and then progressively through out the day.
If you have a look at the map below you can see the trigger points, most of which are generally in an Eastern facing ridges.The fact that these ridges are exposed from early morning and the prevailing wind that comes through the valley in a West North West direction helps the situation, even if you need to wait for the next cycle you have a bit of dynamic lift to maintain your height.
So before you takeoff for the first time you should already know the area (in theory) from the map. another useful tool is of course Google Earth, have a play with it scanning the area for potential trigger points. The ones above are the main ones that stick out like a sore thumb, there are others but this would make the map quite unreadable.
Listen to the weather forecast during the briefing as this may change the strategic approach you need for completing the task. Knowing when and where are you going to have tail/head/cross wind can make all the difference. Are there chances of overdevelopment with a stop task as a result?
Waiting for the gun to go off:
When your flying over takeoff and you have some time before the start cylinder opens scan the horizon (at least as far as you “should” be able to glide if not all the way to the next waypoint) you know where you need to go to tag the waypoints, flying in a straight line is the most efficient but may compromise your chances at getting altitude and flying further. is there a nice cloud street approaching? is it worth waiting for it to get inline with your flight path?
tagging the first waypoint and bombing out at it is no fun and you definitely don’t feel as though you have achieved much while you watch others flying on to the next waypoint as your waiting for a retrieve. Some times its much better to take the long route with better lift and spending the majority of time on transitions rather than struggling along the shortest line in weak lift doing a lot of circle work.
At times your straying anywhere from a couple of hundred meters to several kms out of your way to find a better line before heading towards the waypoint, remember this is a personal choice and what the gaggle is doing might not be the best thing so think for yourself while watching what others are doing and if its working.
As your flying:
As your not alone up there look at other pilots and other indicators of what the air is doing. Are they flying in better air or a better part of the thermal than you? if so get over there.
Are there any birds on glide or thermaling? Birds generally know the area much better than any pilot and know which lines work best for transitions so use this knowledge to your advantage.
Scan the area that your flying towards, are you seeing any movement there? are there trees moving in stronger wind? is there any smoke/dust/leaves that are giving you indications of what’s happening in the air? once again are there birds circling? Have other pilots hit some good lift?
These are all pretty straight forward and obvious things but it amazes me how many pilots tend to forget to do these things and only start to search the air once they arrive at their next critical moment, this is much too late.
Don’t forget to look above and below you as a lot of pilots only scan the flight level that they are on.
on final glide its never good when you get overtaken by someone that was creeping up behind you either above or below your level and you didn’t notice them get the cylinder before you.
Remember that the race isn’t a 10-15min sprint so take your time and think about what your doing, what you need to do and how you are going to do it. I have seen many top pilots bomb out literally meters away from goal as a result of rushing when they didn’t need to and watch as the followers flying slower gliders pass over head and land in goal.
Make sure you know at which waypoint the end of speed section is, as there is no point going all out to the LZ when you could relax 1 or 2 waypoints ago.
Remember to HAVE FUN, if you start to take it all too serious you will either burn out very fast or you will stop enjoying your flying.