French flyer Lio back in mum’s good books as he gears up for Air Race 1 World Cup
Mum was definitely the word when a teenage Lionel Mougel took his first secretive steps on an aviation adventure that will culminate in him competing at the Air Race 1 World Cup Presented by Chang in a fortnight’s time.
The Frenchman was so keen to learn how to fly that, at the tender of age of 12, he risked the wrath of mum Elizabeth by forging her signature on a permission slip which enabled him to jump in a cockpit for the first time with a glider instructor.
When his parents found out, ‘Lio’, born in Longjumeau in the southern suburbs of Paris, was almost permanently grounded – in every sense of the term!
Yet two decades later, all is forgiven as the 32-year-old prepares to face 17 other highly-skilled race pilots at the world’s premier airborne series, known as the formula one of air racing.
“Despite coming from an aviation family, my mum was not keen on me jumping into a real plane, so I forged her signature on the permission slip!” recalled Lio, whose love of aviation began three years earlier at a local model aircraft club.
“So you can imagine the welcome reception I got some time later when she came to meet me at model club, only to be told she was in the wrong place because I was ‘over there flying gliders’! I went through some grief after that!
“Even now, she’s not entirely comfortable with what I do but has accepted it because I enjoy it.”
Although proud of his French roots, Lio has found a home from home in Thailand, the country hosting the Air Race 1 World Cup, after moving to Bangkok four years ago.
And he is hoping for local support when he races at U-Tapao Naval Airbase from November 17-19, in the fastest motorsport on the planet.
Hosted by the Sports Authority of Thailand, part of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport, the world’s purest air race challenges pilots in a demanding test of skill.
Each race sees up to eight pilots go head-to-head on a tight oval circuit at speeds of over 250 miles per hour just metres above the ground.
“I’d never been to Asia before moving to Bangkok for work and I absolutely love it here,” said Lio, who joined the French Air Force at 17.
“I love the people’s approach to life. Thailand is a magnificent country – it’s perfect for the Air Race 1 World Cup.
“I attended the test event at U-Tapao last year and, with it being the first time Air Race 1 had been staged in this part of world, I was pleasantly surprised how much the people took to it. There’s huge potential for Air Race 1 in Thailand and the wider Asia region.
“Air Race 1 is probably best described as NASCAR only airborne and without the crashes!
“With world-class pilots going head-to-head for the title, it’s going to be really exciting and will have spectators holding their breath during each race. It’s perfect for the entire family.”
Lio, a long-haul pilot for Norwegian Airlines, will be representing the Siam Air Racing team he has created in ‘Hysteria’, a 30-year-old Boyd Gr-7 Panther aircraft – formerly called Madness – that he inherited from formula one air racing legend Steve Temple.
The Air Race 1 World Cup will be only Lionel’s second competition after he became the first French pilot to fly a formula one racer at the US National Championship Air Races in Reno last month.
But with over 5,300 hours’ flight experience under his belt, which includes flying fighter jets, aerobatics and war birds, it won’t be a surprise if the rookie ruffles some feathers.
Lio has been humbled by the warmth of the reception both he and Air Race 1 have received in Thailand and is determined to give something back.
“The Thai people have been so welcoming I want to reciprocate that,” explained Lio, who has known his crew chief, Kevin Broughall, for nearly 15 years.
“We have one of the major airlines in Asia’s aircraft manufacturer engineer working for our team and I would like to recruit more Thai people in years to come to help grow the sport here.
“Also, should we ever be lucky enough to win prize money, we will donate all of that to a local charity. This year, we have nominated The Centre for the Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation (CPCR), which does incredible work with orphans.”
Lionel, whose dad Michel served in the French navy, grew up in the South West of France, studying at the ‘College Yvon Delbos” in Montignac and the ‘Lycee Bertran-de-Born’ in Perigueux.
And he has plenty of support from his native country.
Dominique Milcendeau, President of the Association des Pilotes D’Avions de Formules (APAF), said: “I first met Lio six years ago in aviation school, after he had just left the French Air Force, and he soon became very excited about F1 pylon air racing.
“I’d heard that a French pilot was trying to buy and fly Madness and when I bumped into him in a hangar at U-Tapoa last year, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn it was him!
“Lio is a ‘do it with passion or not at all’ pilot and I have no doubts he will become a serious competitor in this sport.”
To ensure a fair competition between pilots, each plane must be built to a specific formula that covers most aspects of the race plane’s characteristics, including wing area, weight and engine size.
The class of airplanes incorporate the most modern materials and cutting-edge technology for those all-important marginal gains.
As in all motorsport, an element of success is down to the designers, engineering teams and ground crew support in the pits. Many of the pilots and teams design and build their own race plane to capitalise on unique innovations.
Such care is taken with the airplanes that each one is given its own unique moniker. This year’s roster includes the colourfully named Outlaw, to be raced by Scott Holmes, and Philip Goforth’s Knotty Girl.
The Air Race 1 World Cup Presented by Chang will be shown live in Thailand, and later screened in over 100 countries across Europe, Asia and the USA. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit www.airrace1.com.