$250,000 winner of the World Drone Prix wins $30,000 at the DR1 Invitational

DR1 Invitational

The DR1 Invitational was a drone race on June 25th and 26th won by 16-year old Luke Bannister

In March, Luke Bannister won $250,000 for his team competing at the World Drone Prix in Dubai. Last Sunday, he cemented his place as the most highly paid drone racing pilot in the world by beating out the competition at the DR1 Invitational in Los Angeles, California for the $30,000 first place prize.

“We were thrilled with the event, and how the race turned out. Each of the pilots seemed to not only have a great time, but also perform at their best on a course that was both technical and fast.” – Brad Foxhoven, CEO of Blockade Entertainment and Producer for DR1 Racing.

The hype and excitement surrounding the Invitational was second only to the World Drone Prix. Twelve of the most well-known pilots in the world were flown to the Sepulveda Dam in LA to compete in DR1 Racing’s first drone racing event. Pilots included members of Rotor Riot and Big Whoop, along with international pilots Freybott (Phil Freybott) from Germany and Justice FPV (Gary Kent) and BanniUK (Luke Bannister) from the UK.

Gotta Stay Mello

On the first day, Saturday, of the DR1 Invitational, the twelve pilots familiarized themselves with the unique course with practice sessions. Designed by the MultiGP league, a DR1 Racing partner, this track made use of the 3D capabilities of drone flying. The course shot through shipping containers, wound around flags, and then looped around to the top of the dam before corkscrewing around the dam and more flags back to the finish line. A total of two laps was needed. The course is being praised for giving pilots the ability to make their own lines to checkpoints – to choose how they wanted to get around or through the next checkpoints.

DR1 Invitational Course

The DR1 Invitational course layout.

On the second day, Sunday, the pilots competed in a single elimination tournament to determine who would take home the prize money. The elimination style added additional tension to an already nerve wracking event. An unlucky momentary loss in the FPV video feed or, for Rotor Riot member FinalGlideAUS (Chad Nowak), miscounting the turns means you’re out of the race for good.

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The 16-year old champion didn’t let the single elimination style faze him. For most of Sunday, Bannister was seen zooming around – not on a drone – but on an electric scooter like the type they have at Walmart. Between races he listens to music to keep himself mellow with his favorite song, “Keep it Mello”.

“When I’m tired I find it hard to concentrate, so I want to have just music in my ear, some kind of tune so I can concentrate better,” said Bannister, “It just helps me zone in.”

Going into the event, many people felt that Nytfury (Shaun Taylor) was the pilot to beat. Taylor has amassed an impressive list of first place finishes in events across the United States. During the second lap of the finals he set the record for the fastest lap at 43.3 seconds, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap with Bannister from the first lap. “Shaun is mental, he’s insane,” said Bannister, “I can totally believe that [he got the fastest lap].”

In the final race Taylor and Bannister were also flying against pilots UmmaGawd (Tommy Tibajia), seen interviewed by Sports Illustrated here, and JET (Jordan Temkin).

Bannister might also want to share some kind words about Temkin. The final race was restarted after Temkin failed to clear the first shipping container. The rule stated that if a single pilot crashed in the container the race was restart, because the container was positioned right at the starting line it created a crowded race start. In the first run of the finals, Bannister himself crashed a few seconds after clearing the container. But in the restart race, Bannister left no doubt that he’s deserving of the $30,000 prize.

“There were a lot of highlights for the day, from Shaun setting a course record when he was trying to catch Luke in the finals, to the visual of having four quads shoot the gap of a gate at one time. The pilots at the event knew how to make drone racing exciting to watch both in person, and at home, and I think that will be the key ingredient for this sport’s overall success. “ – Brad Foxhoven

Buzzing Behind the Scene

While the pilots did their best to beat each other on the track, the producers of the event were doing their best to work together. On Sunday there were three separate teams at the DR1 Invitational, each with their own needs. There was the race management team (MultiGP), the TV crew shooting a special for Discovery and Science channel (LMNO Productions), and the livestreaming team (FPVLive.tv). The DR1 Racing staff themselves had handed over most of the reins to their specialist partners, but helped where they were needed.

Some of the disharmony caused by multiple teams working together for the first time was apparent to the audience on the livestream. Thousands of hardcore drone racing fans tuned in to the DR1 Racing Twitch livestream across both days. At its highest point, during the finals, the Twitch stream had a bit over 500 people watching and cheering on their favorite pilot.

The Twitch stream was being operated by Chris Toombs with FPVLive.tv and his 3-person team. Saturday was their first day to set up and test their equipment. There were many problems for the team to work through, including working with MultiGP to get pilot FPV video feeds to the pilot’s goggles and onto the stream. The 100+ degree temperatures in the sun overheated equipment, causing additional problems. At one point the entire stream crashed for a system reboot.

Saturday was further complicated by not having the course setup fully completed. An outside set design company started building the course on Friday, but the undertaking wasn’t completed until Saturday evening. Practice heats had to be flown while the design company was paused in their work.

Between managing the practice races (or flying in it), fixing streaming problems, and finishing the setup of the course, few people were left to provide entertainment to the stream audience in the downtime between races.

The hosts of the event, drone pilot Mr. Steele (Steele Davis) and actor Josh Dean, were relied on to provide entertainment and commentary for the practice races. But their position 150 feet away from the livestream tent and equipment failures led to a host of audio difficulties.

“The stream can only do so much. There’s only so much we can do live.” – Foxhoven

On Sunday, the TV production crew arrived. This added more complication, but at the same time it also smoothed out the livestream. Original livestream hosts Steele and Dean were taken over by the TV crew to provide commentary for the TV show. The livestream was unable to tap into this feed.

The hosting duties for the livestream fell to pilots Freybott (Phil Freybott) and Bapu (Bapu Madhu) once they were eliminated from the tournament in the first round. After a slightly awkward start of trying to figure out who was holding the microphone, Freybott and Bapu proved to be the best hosts the livestream audience could hope for.

“Bapu is crushing the commentary,” and “It’s been amazing for a 3 solid hours,” [about the livestream]

Being pilots, they accurately addressed the technical questions the audience had about the quadcopter setup pilots were flying with while commentating on the ongoing semi-finals and then final races. They also pulled in other pilots and for interviews.

Downtime before the finals was punctuated by an exhibition race between eliminated pilots. A_Nub (Zachry Thayer) and Charpu (Carlos Puertolas) flew against each other, but also used the casual setting to show off their freestyle skills, like an inverted stall over the dam. Charpu decided to cross the finish line with a backflip. By the time of the finals, the livestream was running smoothly.

“It’s the first time we had TV and Twitch production all in the same area. I knew there were going to be some problems. There has to be because we’ve never tried it before. But it was awesome, it was an awesome experience. I know the pilots had a great time. The TV show will be very cool.” – Chris Toombs, Founder of FPVLive.tv

Looking to the future

The livestream came first, but the TV show special will be the deciding factor in how successful this event was, at least in the DR1 Racing sponsor’s eyes. The DR1 Invititational will air on the Science Channel on August 6th at 7PM EST. This will create a huge weekend of drone racing by airing the same weekend that the Drone Nationals event is running, during August 5th to the 7th. The Drone Nationals will be livestreamed on ESPN3 with a special 1 hour show airing later on ESPN2.

The scheduled events on Saturday, August 6th don’t conflict. The racing for Drone Nationals will end at 5PM EST, giving time for pilots and fans to go watch the DR1 Invitational on the Science Channel later in the evening.

“We set out to make 7 awesome races, film a show and tell a story of drone racing. All pilots had a great time and the race was fair. The sights and sounds of the battles were epic.” – Chris Thomas, Founder of MultiGP

And what will Bannister do with his prize money? The $250,000 he won at the World Drone Prix in Dubai was split up among the other X-Blades teams that went to Dubai, 16 in total, leaving only a small percentage left for Bannister. But the DR1 Invitational prize money is all his. Most of it will go to “drone stuff” so that he can fly, and win, more drone racing events. His next big event will be the Spain Nationals.

But BanniUK doesn’t think about the prize money while he’s racing: “I just wanted to have fun.”


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