Canada’s Pete McLeod Finishes in 9th Place
To the amazement of 50,000 spectators across the opening weekend of the 2019 Red Bull Air Race season in Abu Dhabi, the 2017 World Champion Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) claimed the race win by just 0.003s over his longtime rival, defending World Champion Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic. The result sets the tone for the eight-race season to come, and with third-place Michael Goulian (USA) just one point behind Sonka in the overall standings, plus 11 other elite contenders in the mix, there is no telling who will be on top at the November finale.
Abu Dhabi, UAE – Although Abu Dhabi provided beautiful flying conditions, a significant shift in wind direction since Friday’s Qualifying resulted in numerous errors. The opening Round of 14 featured seven head-to-heads, with the fastest of each pair advancing, joined by the Fastest Loser. Sonka and Goulian advanced easily.
Canadian Pete McLeod finished in 9th place in the Abu Dhabi season opener.
But the first round was especially tense for the man who finished overall runner-up to Sonka in 2018, Matt Hall (AUS). Already dealing with raceplane issues, Hall faced another challenge in his head-to-head with Great Britain’s Ben Murphy when he was assessed a penalty. But when Murphy received four seconds of penalty including a pylon hit, the Aussie escaped to make the Round of 8 for the 50th time in his career. There he would face off with Sonka.
Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), the winner stated, “It was really close today, but our teamwork worked out. The wind had shifted 180 degrees, so it was very, very difficult to get through Gate 7 today. I think maybe everyone was struggling there. It’s important to win to maximize the points, and our flights were very consistent from Free Practice 1 to the Final, so we’re really happy about that.”
The Hall vs. Sonka showdown was the last matchup in the Round of 8, but the rivals made it worth the wait. Hall flew cleanly, but his 54.760 left the window open, given that Sonka had flown just over a second faster in the opening round. Then Sonka took off and incurred a one-second penalty for an Over G, and the race was on. Knowing that another Over G would be a disaster, the Czech champion pushed as hard as he dared, and just managed to nip a disappointed Hall by 0.256.
In addition to Sonka, the pilots who advanced to the all-important Final 4 were Goulian, Muroya and French pilot Nicolas Ivanoff. But a shock ensued when Ivanoff discovered technical problems and was unable to start his engine, giving him a Did Not Start and fourth place.
Muroya, Goulian and Sonka were assured a spot on the podium, but who would take the win? Muroya flew a sizzling 53.780, and Goulian couldn’t quite maintain the pace, clocking 54.009. It was all up to Sonka. The Czech pilot had the lead for the first splits but then slipped back to give Muroya the win by three-thousandths of a second.
As the winner of both Qualifying and the race, Muroya made the most of a new World Championship points system in 2019. Points are now awarded for top finishers in Qualifying, and the number of points available on Race Day has changed, as well. Muroya racked up 3 points for Qualifying plus 25 points for the race victory, for 28 overall. In second overall, Sonka has 22 points, while Goulian holds 21.
In 11 previous seasons when Abu Dhabi has hosted the season opener, the race winner has gone on to win the season title three times. It is still anyone’s World Championship to claim.
Martin Sonka (CZE), 2nd said, “There was another close race in Wiener Neustadt last year, though not quite this close, and we were the lucky ones to be first – this time it’s Yoshi. It was a beautiful race here, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it on TV at home.”
Michael Goulian (USA), 3rd place finisher states, “I am super satisfied. All you can do is put yourself in a position to win by consistent flying and flying fast, and we did that today. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t, so hats off to Yoshi and Martin. But this is the way you start off a campaign – we have momentum that we carried from last year, so this race in Abu Dhabi has been a great way to start.”
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Results Master Class, Abu Dhabi 2019: 1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 2. Martin Sonka (CZE),3. Michael Goulian (USA), 4. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 5. Matt Hall (AUS), 6. Juan Velarde (ESP), 7. Mika Brageot (FRA), 8. Kirby Chambliss (USA), 9. Pete McLeod (CAN), 10. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 11. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 12. François Le Vot (FRA), 13. Ben Murphy (GBR), 14. Cristian Bolton (CHI)
World Championship standings 2019, after one race: 1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN)28 points, 2. Martin Sonka (CZE) 22 pts,3. Michael Goulian (USA) 21 pts,4. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 18 pts, 5. Matt Hall (AUS) 14 pts, 6. Juan Velarde (ESP) 13 pts, 7. Mika Brageot (FRA) 12 pts, 8. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 11 pts, 9. Pete McLeod (CAN) 5 pts, 10. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 4 pts, 11. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 3 pts, 12. François Le Vot (FRA) 2 pts, 13. Ben Murphy (GBR) 1 pt, 14. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 0
RED BULL AIR RACE 2019 CALENDAR
8-9 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
15-16 June: Kazan, Russia
13-14 July: Hungary
7-8 September: Chiba, Japan
19-20 October: Indianapolis, USA
8-9 November: Saudi Arabia
ABOUT RED BULL AIR RACE
The Red Bull Air Race World Championship is an aerial motorsport series that demands a combination of speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, high-performance race planes, pilots compete in iconic locations over water and land. The high speed, low altitude and extreme manoeuvrability required to make it only accessible to the world’s most exceptional pilots.
Flying just metres from the ground, 14 Master Class pilots race against the clock whilst reaching speeds of up to 370 km/h, requiring a combination of precision and skill unmatched in the world of aviation. Pilots must be in peak physical condition as they endure forces up to 12G while navigating the technical racetracks made up of air-filled pylons.
The Air Race was developed in 2003 and is accredited by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), with more than 90 races completed across five continents. As the most advanced aerial challenge in existence, competing in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is the highest accolade for elite pilots.
A Challenger Cup feeder series was introduced in 2014 with the goal of facilitating the development of the unique skills required for the Master Class for the next generation of pilots.