Between 11-12 March, Abu Dhabi will once again experience the high speed, low altitude action of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. The season opener promises to be the most high voltage event in nine years of season openers in the beautiful UAE capital.
In a field of energised new pilots, new team members, new technology and a new format, the title is there for the taking. The season will be made all the more exciting by the fact that there is a vacancy at the top after triple World Champion Paul Bonhomme retired at the end of last season.
In addition to the new pilots from Slovenia and the Czech Republic, the fraternity of the world's best pilots is fully packed with established contenders. Australia's Matt Hall, a member of the talented "Class of 2009", missed out on the 2015 World Championship title by only five points. Czech pro Martin Šonka is another top contender; he finished just off the overall podium last season. Add in perennial podium threats, including three former World Champions, and Abu Dhabi will be an important indicator of which teams have the goods to step up.
The pilots will need every advantage they can get, not only for battling the blazing desert heat, but because in a race where victory can hinge on thousandths of a second, the fresh format now puts more emphasis on time in the early rounds.
Technology and teamwork are equally key. Numerous teams will be showing off new or radically modified raceplanes (several with new sponsor support), and many have changed or expanded their team lineup, with tacticians and tactical software now almost indispensable.
With so much on the line, no team can afford to consider their 2016 debut as a mere test of assets and strategies. The race is on, and everything is to play for!
The ultimate motorsport series in the sky kicks off in Abu Dhabi on 11-12 March. Tickets on sale now.