“We Have the Best Drone Racing Pilots in the World”—An Interview with Sahand Barati, VP at DR1 Racing
BY Zacc Dukowitz1 December 2017
DR1 Racing is one of the biggest drone racing organizations in the world, and this last year has seen some huge milestones for them—and for FPV racing in general—including a racing series that features some of the most amazing locations around the world. We got a chance to sit down with Sahand Barati, VP of Business Development and all around drone racing aficionado at DR1 Racing to learn more about DR1’s successes this season, and what he sees coming next in the world of drone racing. Read on to hear what Sahand had to say.
DR1 Racing is a world-class drone racing organization that combines elite pilots, epic locations, and adrenaline-filled races into one high-octane sports league. Their races take place in outdoor locations throughout the world, and are also featured internationally in over 100 countries on networks that include Eurosport, CBS, Fox Sports, Discovery Channel, beIN, and Twitch.tv.
About Sahand Barati
Sahand Barati is the VP of Business Development at DR1 Racing. He’s produced televised races such as the 2016 World Drone Prix, 2016 GoPro Drone Nationals presented by Dell EMC on ESPN, and the 2017 DHL Champions Series fueled by Mountain Dew on CBS/ Eurosport/ Fox Sports. He loves to travel, and he’s been into drone racing since its inception.
Sahand Barati, VP of Business Development for DR1 Racing
Our goal is to feature the very best drone races in the world—both in terms of drone pilots and in terms of technology—period.
Describe what DR1 does in one sentence.
Extreme drone racing.
How is DR1 different from the Drone Racing League and other drone racing companies?
The DR1 champion series—which is our premier series—is an outdoor, team based, open classed series in which five teams race at six different locations around the world. On the other hand, the Drone Racing League is a spec class circuit, which pits individual pilots against each other across six races, and all of those races take place at indoor tracks.
Another key distinguishing factor for DR1 is that, while DRL creates its own technology in-house, we actually invite all the biggest and best players and drone racing manufacturers to bring their best technology forward, and have them compete. Providing an open playing field, where only the best technology can be used, and ultimately win, means that we’re helping to push the envelope for the industry, since it requires manufactures to develop the very best systems in order to stay competitive.
On the same note, we allow our pilots to have sponsors and provide a generally open environment, instead of a closed architecture. We see this as helping to bring in the very best talent in drone racing in the entire world, since pilots can make their own financial decisions about where to compete. Our goal is to feature the very best drone races in the world—both in terms of drone pilots and in terms of technology—period.
Bottom line, we believe that we have the best pilots in the world. We’d be happy to set up a head-to-head with any other drone racing organization between our two top pilots and theirs, any day.
How did you first get involved with drone racing, and how did you end up working with DR1?
I’ve been interested in drone racing since it first started, about three years ago.
Back in 2015, me and two friends started a group called the IDRA (International Drone Racing Association). We hosted races around the U.S., predominantly on the west coast, and we were able to get coverage from big names like the New York Times and CNN.
At that time races were primarily taking place in corn fields, and we were making it up as we went along. But we started to see some real traction, so we knew there was interest there.
A defining moment was when the crown prince of Dubai reached out to us, and brought us to Dubai to host a huge event called the World Drone Prix with a million dollar grand prize.
The World Prix really helped put drone racing on the map. The event raised $20 million, and to this day, even as drone racing has grown in popularity, it still holds the record for being the largest production of any drone race ever.
Check out this video featuring the World Drone Prix held in Dubai
After my work with IDRA I went to work with a different group called DSA, who had several franchises around the world and was running a circuit called the Drone Nationals. We did a big event in New York, and that led to an opportunity to work with DR1, and the rest is history.
What can you tell us about the race courses for the DR1 Champions Series?
I always say that drone racing is a three dimensional sport. It belongs outside. I also think that if you’re going to do something that will be watched on T.V., it better look good.
That’s why we wanted exotic locations for our races, places that were picturesque and had unique elements in their natural topography and environment. We wanted to build three dimensional courses that had never been seen before, and bring them into people’s homes.
We created these courses to be memorable, so that even years down the road you’ll remember these races because the courses stand out so much aesthetically, both in general and as compared with each other.
Another aspect of the courses for this season is that we wanted them to acknowledge some of the background and history of drone racing.
As a culture, drone racing has generally been illegal in many of its manifestations, and building dives are a prime example. That’s why we included the building dive in the DHL Tower course. We were the first company to put a legal building dive into a race track. We wanted to incorporate that aspect of the history of drone racing into the courses, in order to pay homage to drone racing’s history.
DR1 recently hosted the first drone race ever to appear on broadcast television. Can you tell us about that—why was it an important event, and how did you secure the partnership with CBS?
Having drone racing appear on a major network was itself a watershed moment, but the ratings we got made it not just historic, but also a huge step forward for the industry.
According to the Nielson Ratings we had somewhere between 560-600,000 live views. To put that in perspective, that number beats a lot of other big events that were happening around the same time. It beats premier league soccer. It beats Showtime boxing in certain events for that weekend. It beats the Breeders Cup, in certain areas. And it beats Formula E’s New York event that they did in Brooklyn.
To see that level of interest—that itself is a milestone for the industry.
How can people reading get more involved in drone racing? Do you have to spend a bunch of money just to try it out?
From a racing perspective, one way to get involved is to try flying with a micro-drone.
The great thing about micro-drones is that they’re really lightweight, they can’t hurt anyone, and they’re a lot of fun to fly. They can literally turn your home, which you see everyday, into a three dimensional play ground. Suddenly, it’s not your house anymore but a place to fly. That’s something else.
Flying on simulators is another good way to get into the sport.
Using sims allows you to fly without spending a lot of money. Flying a racing drone is hard, and takes a lot of time to learn, so you can test the waters first on a sim. And you also don’t risk wasting all of your money—not to mention work, if you build your own—in a crash.
What simulators would you recommend?
One of the most popular ones right now is VelociDrone. They have a lot of active tournaments, and it’s fairly inexpensive. Also, you can run VelociDrone on an average computer. (Some of the newer sims need such a powerful system to use that they’re not practical for many people.)
Liftoff and Rotor Rush are also great sims. Using a sim is definitely a great way to get into drone racing, even as a fan, because it helps you understand how truly impressive what these pilots do on the race course is.
What are your predictions for the drone industry, either specifically for racing or in general?
My predictions are that we’re going to see more growth, but we’re also going to see things stabilize a lot more too.
In 2015-2016 we saw a lot of hype around drone racing, which left something of a shell of elevated expectations around growth that people weren’t prepared for.
Now things are maturing in a positive way, and we’re starting to see a more realistic approach to growth in drone racing.
But the sport is definitely continuing to grow. When you look at how it took 15 years for eSports to mature into the billion dollar industry that it is, and then think that drone racing is only three years old and it’s already an international sport with million dollar prize purses and major networks and blue chip brands sponsoring it, that’s just incredible.
What’s does DR1 have in store for 2018?
In 2018 we’re going to have faster pilots, faster drones, and bigger, more exotic locations that will be even more impressive than what you saw in season one.
We’re also going to see some major rivals get to face each other and battle it out on the race course. It’s going to be a blast.
Want to see a flight through one of DR1’s outdoor race courses? Check out this video of Luke Bannister flying through the Mojave Boneyard at lightning speed.
Want to learn more about the courses from the Champions Series? Check out the pictures below or visit the DR1 website.