Air Cargo Management

In the fast lane: Transporting racing cars

photo_camera Race cars are logistically complex

Airline Cargo Management analyses the highly specialist transportation of racing cars and other high-performance competition vehicles.

It’s like a military exercise – that’s how one air cargo specialist sums up the challenge of getting tens of millions of pounds worth of racing cars onto the F1 starting grid.

Qatar Airways Cargo counts itself among the top players within the global cargo industry involved in transporting Formula 1 racing cars, says Peter Penseel, senior vice president of cargo sales and network planning:

“Moving F1 cars is not just about being in a certain place at a certain time, but requires huge logistics operations.”

The operator has grown with its F1 commitment over the few years since it first identified the “great opportunity” to add value to both its passenger (bellyhold) and specialist charter networks.

Now getting cars to any of the 21 F1 races annually in all corners of the globe demands six to seven 777 and 747 freighters, capable of transporting 100 tonnes or 120 tonnes of cargo, respectively.

There’s no fixed number of racing cars on any one flight, as the manifest may comprise both specially disassembled and specially crated cars, as well as spares and other equipment.

Responsible for managing these complex logistics is Qatar Airways Cargo’s dedicated team of four specialists, whose expertise has grown as the relationship with the Formula One Management has evolved in recent years.

“The majority of capacity is purchased via a charter programme, but there are always last-minute spare parts etcetera that come in, and we have our belly capacity available to cater for these, with an extensive network to service them,” explains Penseel.

“When our freighter fleet was growing, we were recognised as a main player in the industry. That enabled us to work out a schedule that made sense to us and most importantly met their needs.

“Since then we have learned a lot from Formula 1, and we have also built up our own team.”

The motorsports commitment goes further; Qatar Airways Cargo also enjoys a special relationship with Dorna, the exclusive commercial and TV rights holder for the world’s leading motorcycle racing championships, and transports high-value racing motorbikes to Superbike race meetings for the Madrid-based company.

Indeed, when it comes to the carriage of high-value racing machines, the opportunity does not end with Formula 1 racing cars or Superbikes, as Justice Luthuli, acting general manager at SAA Cargo, attests.

Luthuli identifies two key benefits in transporting high-value sports vehicles: “Firstly, we get to showcase our capability as the provider of air freight solutions, particularly shipments that require special handling.” And secondly, he adds: “It is also high yield cargo.”

As SAA Cargo offers a charter service only within the southern Africa region, its activity in competition car transport is based entirely on bellyhold capability.

“This is down to our relationship with the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team SA’s racing cars that we transport to South America for the annual Dakar Rally, thanks to the partnership we have with Toyota,” explains Luthuli.

“The routing is Johannesburg – São Paolo– Johannesburg, and the cars connect beyond, to Lima, on a separate arrangement.”

The annual commitment is for the transport on scheduled Airbus A340 passenger flights of two to three stripped and specially packaged cars, with spares – a total load of around 8,500kgs.

Luthuli says: “The cars require special handling by our experienced export team. The racing vehicles are designed in line with size restrictions for commercial cargo holds and thus built in such a way they can be disassembled to the size of the pallet and container to be used.

“Each car weighs approximately 2,000kgs and it takes about three hours to disassemble each car and six hours to reassemble.”

Racing cars, transportation: Etihad Cargo’s 777F fleet
Etihad Cargo’s 777F fleet is typically used for race car transportation

And now SAA Cargo can reflect with pride on its contribution to Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s 2019 success, after the team lifted first place in the gruelling 11-day event in January.

Team principal Glyn Hall added: “Transporting our race cars to South America could take months if we sent them via sea freight, but thanks to our partnership with SAA Cargo, the transport time is vastly reduced, giving us extra time to develop and prepare the cars for the race.”

At Lufthansa Cargo AG, global industry manager automotive, Franziska Stache, is able to point to a strong pedigree in transporting racing cars and other high-value automobiles, as evidenced by a 1972 archive picture of a Boeing 747 freighter and its vehicular payload.

The transport of Formula 1 cars to Grand Prix events is a major and valuable element in the overall car transportation function, she says. Demand is also strong, but it is also both ‘volatile’ and ‘fluctuating’.

“We have a very long experience of transporting different types of cars to different destinations including high-value vehicles in cooperation with our colleagues on the ground. The carrier has,” says Stache, “acquired global experience and expertise over the years by ensuring it is always up to date with new regulations and industry requirements.

“We work closely with our customers to find a solution to the requirements of F1 to get the cars there reliably and on time for the race. We contact every industry player and have a dialogue on the requirements that F1 has.”

As many as 25 cars can be transported aboard a single Boeing 777 and this can be either “whole vehicles” or disassembled cars in custom crates. “With our charter network, we try to be as flexible as possible and we do this worldwide as much as possible,” adds Stache.

Her team also works closely with its colleagues in Lufthansa’s passenger charter operations. “Racing technicians could well be in the seats and spare parts and whole cars on the lower deck,” she adds.

Etihad B777Fs are typically used for race car transport
Etihad B777Fs are typically used for race car transport

Back in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Cargo has recently transported racing cars to major events not only in the Emirate but also in Australia and across Europe.

Ali Alshibli is manager business development at Etihad’s Flight Valet service, which has been a key contributor to Etihad Cargo’s growth, and one of our most demanded specialty products.

Last year, Etihad carried more than 400 vehicles, including personal shipments of vehicles whose owners chose to fly their cars with them on holiday, and accelerated delivery of new vehicles to Abu Dhabi.

Racing car transport is an important contributor to the overall growth of Flight Valet, as Alshibli explains: “Attending race events as a spectator gives very little insight into the goings-on behind the scenes or the complexity of the logistics operations that take place in the lead-up to every major event.

“For certain events, in addition to the actual racing cars, there is also a significant logistics operation to ensure the engineering set-up is in place – including transportation of special computers and systems, team garages, tyres, and various other spare parts, as well as drivers’ gear, from uniforms to helmets. And of course, the trophy!

“This means that most of the time, special charters are required to support such events. Last year, we had an example of a special charter that was needed solely to transport tyres!

“With a race event well underway, the weather forecast changed dramatically overnight and there was an unanticipated shortage of wet-surface tyres for the remainder of the event, so Etihad Cargo was called upon and we happily carried out a flight just 24 hours before the race with an entire aircraft full of wet surface tyres, which arrived in time for practice.”

Racing car transport, however, also takes place on scheduled passenger services, albeit on a much smaller scale. Alshibli says: “We have on occasion used our daily passenger aircraft to move some race cars (two or three at a time), most recently from Australia.”

Racing cars transportation: Dakar Rally vehicles
Dakar Rally vehicles being prepared for transportation

Abu Dhabi today is home to two annual global motorsports events, the Grand Prix and the WRX World Rally. “While we actively support these events either directly or indirectly, since the relaunch of our Flight Valet Product a year ago, we have become more involved in other events globally and have a far broader scope to transport race cars to major motoring events regardless of their location,” continues Alshibli.

How many vehicles are transported varies from event to event, says Alshibli. “For example, for the WRX last April we moved 17 cars from Liège, Belgium, to Abu Dhabi and back again.”

Etihad Cargo’s 777F fleet is typically used for race car transportation, but there is also belly capacity in the passenger fleet to support smaller-scale operations.

It’s an operation requiring its own systems and the application of specialist staff, says Alshibli. “These cars need to be handled in a very specific manner with specially trained staff.

“We have invested a lot in our staff and global handlers to ensure the most stringent levels of care are applied to every step of the process.

“This includes comprehensive SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] outlining the process from booking to acceptance and transportation, as well as a Standards and Authorisations team, which focuses solely on operational performance.”

Alshibli says with the launch of Flight Valet, Etihad upgraded capabilities at many of its outstations, such as Milan and Liège.

“We continue to deploy Etihad staff and trainers to outstation airports to oversee high-profile car charters and ensure loading capabilities are in place and to ensure effective and punctual operation.”

Etihad has also invested in its own capabilities at Abu Dhabi, both in terms of training and by committing facilities to protect cars from weather effects such as extreme sun and rain while in storage.

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