This weekend will see the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race take to the skies above Abu Dhabi for the 10th time in the motorsports history. Since 2005 the Abu Dhabi Corniche has seen nine epic encounters in the Air Race and as we prepare for the latest thrilling instalment we look back at the races that always start the season...
The first ever race to be held in Abu Dhabi was also a milestone in the history of the sport as it was the first race to be under the banner of an official 'World Championship'. It was also only the sixth race in the sports history and was quite appropriate that the pilot credited with being one of the creators of the sport, Peter Besenyei, took the win in fine style with current Race Director Steve Jones behind him in second and Mike Mangold in third, who went on to take the title.
The second race over the Arabian Gulf was just as exciting. Kirby Chambliss took the win with fellow countryman Mike Mangold in second, making it an American one-two. Peter Besenyei took the third spot on the podium. Chambliss went on to claim three more wins in the season and seven podiums to take the title at the end of the season.
It was Peter Besenyei's turn to stand on the top step of the podium again when he won the season opener for the second time in three years. Mike Mangold was second once again and Paul Bonhomme claimed his first Abu Dhabi podium by finishing third – these three pilots went on to battle all the way to the end of the season, with Mangold and Bonhomme finishing the season on 47 points each. But Mangold claimed the title after winning a tense tiebreaker against the Brit.
Although the plaudits in Abu Dhabi went to Paul Bonhomme – who was the firm favourite to take the 2008 title – all eyes were on Hannes Arch who was only in his second season, and finished second behind Bonhomme at the first race of the season. Mangold was third again in Abu Dhabi but the season was to be a fight between Bonhomme and Arch, with the latter winning the title in fine form.
In a complete reversal of roles it was Hannes Arch who won in Abu Dhabi with Bonhomme finishing second, but come the end of the season Bonhomme claimed the title. It was a monkey off his back after finishing second for the previous two seasons. The third podium spot in Abu Dhabi went to Nicolas Ivanoff.
The winners of Abu Dhabi
Paul Bonhomme came flying out the gates in 2010, but Nigel Lamb wasn't too far behind. The Brits finished one-two on the podium with Lamb just 0.86s behind his compatriot. Peter Besenyei claimed third – his last ever Air Race podium. Hannes Arch finished 11th and was unable to catch Bonhomme who claimed his second World Championship by finishing on the podium in every race of the season.
After the three-year gap the Red Bull Air Race returned and it began, as always, in Abu Dhabi. Bonhomme wanted to retain his title and began where he left off by claiming the win, close behind him was Hannes Arch again, but claiming his first ever podium finish was Pete McLeod. This was the first season in the sport's history where none of the podium finishers in Abu Dhabi went on to win the title. In 2014 that honour went to Nigel Lamb who finished fifth in the UAE.
2014 was also the year when the Challenger Cup began. The first ever Challenger Class race was held in Abu Dhabi and won by François Le Vot.
This was the year another rivalry began. 2015 was to be the season of Paul Bonhomme vs Matt Hall. Bonhomme drew first blood by taking the win in Abu Dhabi but Hall was just 0.084s behind, it was so close that after the race Hall said: "I never thought I'd have a pang of disappointment coming second, but I really thought I was going to get my first race win. I pushed hard in the Final 4 and I was gaining on him. Second is a great place to start, especially as we were so close to Paul."
Bonhomme went to take the World Championship title for a record third time and Hall chased him all the way to the final round of the season.
There was a complete change in fortunes for the 2016 season in Abu Dhabi. There was a new race winner and two pilots on the podium for the first time in the UAE. Nicolas Ivanoff flew perfectly in the Final 4 to take the win and just 0.110s behind the Frenchman was Matthias Dolderer. François Le Vot took third – his first podium finish in the Master Class. 2016 was to be Dolderer's year as he went on to win the World Championship with a race to spare!
Nobody knows what's going to happen this weekend in Abu Dhabi, but don't miss out, tickets are still available. Get yours HERE.