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Eyes on the skies for Great Train Race prize

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Self-confessed ‘selfish’ Tiger Moth pilot Phil Unicomb will take to the skies once again for Hunter Valley Steamfest’s Great Train Race, a role he has filled too many times to count.

This weekend’s celebration of steam machinery and heritage trains is now in its 33rd year, which is almost as many years as Phil has been participating in the festival’s highlight – a race from Newcastle to Maitland between the Tiger Moth plane and two steam locomotives.

He admits that he covets the pilot job, but it’s only because he loves it.

“I’m a real steamhead,”he said.

“I tend to be a bit selfish and hog it myself.”

This year, Mr Unicomb will be taking on the 3526 and the 3265 on Sunday morning, but punters will no doubt just be keen to see the plane get in the sky – strong winds kept the Tiger Moth firmly on the ground in 2018.

“We had a roaring westerly [last year],” he said.

“If we get a moderate westerly the locomotives will have an advantage because I’m pushing into the wind.”

Another person hoping the wind stays at bay is Maitland council’s events team leader Portia Wendt.

“We couldn’t have that twice running,” she said.

“The weather is one thing that we can’t control, so fingers crossed it’s a beautiful weekend.”

More than 50,000 people are expected to visit Maitland for the festival, a number that tends to remain steady year-on-year.

“It’s really stood the test of time,” Ms Wendt said.

“Grandparents are passing it on to their grandchildren now and it’s a really family-friendly event.

“People are coming from around the state and interstate, it’s well-regarded and well-known outside the region.”

As always, the rally ground will feature displays by the Maitland Steam and Antique Machinery Association, mini railways rides and a dedicated kids’ area, and Maitland Park will be taken over on Sunday by more than 400 classic cars and hot rods for a Show ‘n’ Shine.

Visit steamfest.com.au for more information on Hunter Valley Steamfest.

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