After crossing the finish line in 3rd place, the team was notified in the pit that a single judge had made a controversial decision to disqualify the Unlimited Gold Class P-51 Mustang for crossing the east showline on the second lap.
Precious Metal is a purpose built, one-of-a-king P-51 Mustang powered by a 3,200 hp Rolls Royce Griffon with very unique contra-rotating 3-Blade propellers. Precious Metal has an interesting history, built in 1987 specifically for racing from a conglomeration of various P-51 components from around the world. The Griffon engine, sourced from a Miss Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane racing boat, increases the displacement by nearly 40% compared to the factory Merlin engine used by all other P-51s. The engine was blown during its debut race week in 1988 and safely landed gear up only to sit for many years.
Fast forward to 2011 where Thom Richard acquires the plane and qualifies to race at Reno, only to have the event cancelled after the tragic Leeward Crash. Then in 2012 as a top contender in the Unlimited class Precious Metal does not finish after losing a gear door in the final heat. Finally in 2013 after a dramatic week preparing and traveling, the aircraft was flown to a 5th place finish setting the stage for a 2014 comeback.
As the excitement of the 2014 race a Reno arrives, more drama ensues as Precious Metals prepares to race. A mayday call and emergency landing due to a fuel system problem during qualifying sent PM to the back of the pack, requiring pilot Thom Richard to win in the lowest Unlimited class to qualify to race Gold. Fighting their way back, Thom flies to the top of the class and takes the podium after crossing the finish line 3rd in the Unlimited Gold class at the Reno National Championship Air Races.
A fan favorite, the crowd cheers as the announcers officially called it a "clean race." A 3rd place finish was the highest ever for Precious Metal and a podium is also a huge advantage for the team as they continue to prepare for next year's race, but controversy ensues later as celebration commences in the pits.
A lone judged disqualified Precious Metal for crossing the east showline, robbing them of their 3rd place trophy. Only one judge is required to attend and monitor the crowd line as opposed to the race pylons where multiple judges must arrive at a unanimous decision on any race infractions.
The team compiled evidence on their own behalf, including this gyro-stabilized cockpit video to prove that they did stay within the regulations and flew a clean race. Unfortunately all evidence was immediately dismissed in accordance to showline violations being non-contestable. Ultimately, Thom Richard and his Precious Metal team are sent home empty handed from a single, uncorroborated determination contrary to the evidence from the "instant replay."
In the following days the Contest Committee released a statement defending their decision, but conceding that better communication and strategies need implemented to reduce these conflicts and to better identify rule violations.
Until next year, all the fans are proud of their accomplishments and will be rooting for a win in 2015.
Photo courtesy AirPigz