For each NEW race the course follows the same 10 segments, but never the same exact path. Each race is determined by where the floating pylons have been placed. Each hovers roughly 10 meters above ground and are spaced one kilometer apart. Each vertical cylinder is two meters tall and half a meter wide. The lower half of the cylinder has bands of colored lights. Red is smack in the middle, and the only one currently lit up, meaning there is no race in progress. There is only one other band of light above red, and that's the yellow warning signal during crashes, or other issues. The rest of the lights run below red in bands from orange, yellow, white, soft green and then bright green at the very bottom which means the race is on.
The pylons are in fact the race course. Pilots have to stick close to them. The further away a lightship veers from a pylon the more points are lost. Not only are they racing against opponents, but to guarantee a win a pilot has to pass under each pylon no further than 10 meters out on either side. More than once in past races, a pilot finished first only to lose the race because of veering too far off circuit, incurring penalty points. With every 10 meters out from a pylon, a point is lost per pylon, and with 500 to 600 pylons, depending on the circuit setup, that could equal to a lot of lost points. Even with the rule of 1 second for every 100 points, over a full race, especially a 3 lap championship race, many seconds can be lost on penalty points.
Here's a detailed description of the Lightship Race Circuit from Chapter 6 : The Junker
On screen, two mid thirties male announcers, in sharp modern suits and with bright white teeth and big smiles, start describing the race course. They look very similar but are of different races so clearly not related. Both are sitting behind, and on either side of a flat table-like display projecting up a 3D image. The display between them is showing individual portions of each section of the course, their statistics, along with snippets of lightships either racing by or crashing. It seems that most of the footage is filmed from the pylons, so the viewers get to see the lightships coming at, under, and past the pylon recording them. There are also more distant angles from above and beyond the pylons, showing large sections of the course with the distant lightships racing in the larger scenery following the string of pylons.
"That's right Hondo." The announcer on the left refers to the one on the right. "It all starts with Section 1-West, as we like to call it, The Start. Ha-ha-ha." Both announcers laugh far beyond the level of the joke, then Hondo takes over.
"Yes Mando, section 1-West is the start. It's two kilometers of straight line racing out of the Bitani stands, on the south of table mountain heading west, which then turns sharply north on..." Hondo hands it off to Mando.
"Section 2, The Old Road. The course now heads up the base slope of our glorious table mountain. It's a 4km treacherous steep incline. A nearly 45 degree uphill shot towards the outcrop where the Carpati kids like to risk their lives to watch the race."
"That's right, and what a risk it is. We all saw the terrible crash that happened during the last prelims in the 3rd Section of the race, Tombstone Turn."
"That's right Hondo. Tombstone is aptly named. It's a sharp upside-down U-turn, from the old road, right up on the side of the stone outcrop. Go too slow and you simply fall off the side of the wall in your ready made grave."
"Go too fast, like our young Ricio did, and you overshoot the turn crashing hundreds of meters below on the other side of the outcrop."
"The lightships that survive the Tombstone Turn now head nose-down into a near vertical drop."
"But following the contours of the base of the mountain, the course gradually flattens out into Section 4, The Long Curve, down in the Carpati Flatlands."
"Section 4 is an 8km long gentle curve past the Township's West Market, turning the lightships to the north, only about a kilometer away from the Carpati stands."
"The perfect distance to see the lightships hit nearly top speed into the 600kph range. From there, the lightships make a hard left turn into the Crags."
"Ah yes, Section 5 the Killer Crags. More lightships have been chewed up and spit out in the Crags than anywhere else."
"It's certainly the end of the line for any pilot who has no business inside a bubble, beginning with the treacherous turn into the Crags itself."
"Just like with Tombstone, Flat Rock turn is another gravity defying twist this time forcing the lightships to ride sideways on the wall of the Long Mesa, as the circuit turns sharply heading back west. If you don't make it here, you won't make it in the Crags."
"You're certainly right there Hondo. The Crags are a horrendous maze of huge canyons between eroded stone pillars, some 2000 meters tall."
"When the pilots aren't ducking falling boulders, they're confronted with the many caves and crevices as the course snakes around, back and forth, and even up and down, through many canyons for more then 50km."
"Speeds are much slower through this treacherous section, only 100 to 200kph, yet in my opinion, it's probably the most exciting segment of the course."
"No doubt Mando. The circuit than opens up in Section 6, over The Great Salt Sea. This is 35km of over water high speed racing and sometimes lightship surfing when we get those 10m high waves."
"And what a sight it is seeing the great pilots anticipate the wave crash by riding into the barrel roll, to disappear for a moment, only to then shoot out like a bullet out of the other side just before the wave crashes completely."
"It's certainly a sight to behold, on one hand, but a complete horror during storms. Lightships that don't slow down for the huge storm swells get churned into the sea. And those that do, still risk being flipped and flooded by rogue crashing waves."
"But on clear days like today, we might see a few lightships ride the 3m waves, and most should have no problem traversing the Salt Sea to head into Section 7, The Long Straight."
"If speed you want, speed you get."
"That's right Hondo. Here the lightships race full out, maximum speed of over 700kph for a distance of a 100km. It's a test of engine endurance, and only the best lightships survive."
"That's right Mando. The record is still 782kph set by the great Hektor. Will it be broken today?"
"You never know. My bet is on lightship 1, The Silver Sickle. This is 100km of straight rocky flats that takes the course directly south, deep into the badlands. Huge gaps result here between fast lightships and those that can't keep up, so even a rookie like Ricio could break the record with a lightship as modern as his."
"So true, but to win the race it's all about the pilot's skill. In difficult sections a good pilot can easily close those gaps such as in Section 8, The Dunes."
"Here the course turns east in a 40km stretch of shifting sands, so they are never the same from race to race, and some dunes can be as tall as a 100 meters. The Dunes are almost as treacherous as the Crags, and many lightships get lost and entombed in the pyramids of sand."
"Lightships that don't fall prey to the shifting sands escape the dunes in Section 9, The Low Canyon. Here the circuit turns back towards the north-west, headed for the home stretch but don't let the name deceive you."
"That's right Hondo. The low canyon is a 50km long shallow and wide dry river bed between 10m and 50m deep, and 50m to over 200m wide in some places. The terrain is deceptively flat only to suddenly snake, left then right, with sheer stone walls ahead."
"You're very right Mando. It's easy to over-speed after the slower dunes only to realize there's no space to stop."
"And then lets talk about the flash floods during the rainy season that can suddenly come out of nowhere."
"Well, they do come from somewhere, Section 10, The Eastern Hills."
"So true Hondo. The Eastern Hills are made of porous soil and water seeps up from the ground. Add rain, and you've got the recipe for a thumbing wall of mud pudding."
"Ha-ha-ha, but no chance of that tonight Mando. Instead, it's the giant Baobab trees which the pilots have to watch out for."
"That's right. These giant trees have huge trunks filed with tons of water. They are a massive nemesis to the racers. It's easy to crash into them as they seem to pop out of nowhere between the many undulating hills at these high speeds."
"Which brings us to the end of the race, back to Section 1-East, The Finish. Once out of the East Hills there is another 15 kilometers of a mostly straight shot to the finish-line."
"All the excitement of the race comes to an end, right here, in the Bitani stands, where the pilot that crosses the line first and fastest, gets all the glory, in this most glorious of all events."
"Amen to that."
Nayaa, who's been leaning over Mykee watching the panel, twists her lips to the side just before she speaks.
"Hondo and Mando? Really? What a couple of clowns."
"Whatever." Mykee counters her. "I like them. I think they're good. They look just as excited about the race as I am. And I like how they described the course."
"I guess Bitani thirteen year olds look more grown up." Nayaa comments dismissively.
"Here we go!" Mykee shouts ignoring Nayaa.
The pylons begin the flashing sequence from red to green, and end completely lit up in green, accompanied by another loud horn. The lightships are off!
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