Back to the roots: pilots recall their maiden race – part I

Members of the Master Class relive their first Red Bull Air Race experience.

Ivanoff in 2004

As the Red Bull Air Race gets ready to return to its birthplace this weekend, we asked current pilots in the World Championship to share their strongest memories of their own very first race. From Kirby Chambliss, who joined 15 years ago, to this season's rookie Ben Murphy, here in part one the longest-serving pilots tell us their memories...

Kirby Chambliss, USA
First race: 2003, Tokol, Hungary
"I just remember thinking, 'Holy cow, this is crazy!' Back then at the very beginning there were no rules, you could do whatever you wanted – fly as fast as you wanted, pull as many Gs as you could handle. I returned home and remember telling my wife, 'That was absolutely crazy, but what a super-cool experience!' We brought home the third-place trophy, and from then on I was hooked."

Nicolas Ivanoff, France
First race: 2004, Budapest, Hungary
"My first recollection was actually participating in a training camp at Tokol, Hungary in 2003. It's a huge memory. I thought the planes would fly in a circle, but it was more like a slalom. I was impressed how low we were flying, and the pylons came up so fast. They were not a cone shape – they were straight and had cables to hold them upright. I wanted to be very careful not to hit one, because it was not my plane and I didn't want to leave marks on it! At first I thought I would never be able to do it, but I got better and better. It was the very beginning of everything, and I will never forget it. In 2004 I officially raced in Budapest, and then from 2005 onwards I have been at every race.

Michael Goulian, USA
First race: 2004, Reno, USA (Demo race)
"My first Red Bull Air Race was in 2004 when we did a demo race in Reno. All I can remember was how spectacular it was. We practised very early in the morning as the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon. The cool and crisp desert air felt so good as the plane started to accelerate down a dark runway and into the tops of the pylons, which were just starting to see the light of the day. Quite a memory."

Matthias Dolderer, Germany
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"It was the fulfillment of a dream. The emotions we had, the four of us who came in new – together with me it was Pete McLeod, Yoshi Muroya and Matt Hall. It was amazing, and of course it was different than today when you have the Challenger Class. We had like five days of track time in Spain before, and then a new plane and a new team and we showed up in Abu Dhabi a few weeks later. So we were all super-excited, and I think the four of us, we brought a new drive and a new push and a lot of new things to Red Bull Air Race at that time. Thinking back, it was totally different than today, but still the same fun, and a lot of the same procedures. Today, our toolbox is the only thing our team has that's the same as in 2009, and the tools, of course. Still there going strong."

Matt Hall, Australia
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"I was nervous going into my first race, as I had no idea how I would stack up against the rest of the field as the new guy. During training we were running quite well, though what I noticed was that I was not making many mistakes, and others were. I was not sure if people were trying hard until Race Day, so when I ended up coming fifth, it was a great relief to know we were competitive right out of the blocks."

Pete McLeod, Canada
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"Abu Dhabi – what a place for a Canadian kid to make a debut! The ultra-modern towers and skyline, the blazing heat (for a Canadian in winter), the Middle Eastern culture. Let's not forget the "good ol' days" of surviving wild racetracks and challenging runways on the Corniche as a rookie. The entire experience is one, as a 25-year-old kid from a small town Canada, I will never forget!"

Yoshihide Muroya, Japan
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"It was challenging. There was no Challenger Class in those days, so we jumped straight into the Master Class. The training camp just prior to the race was mostly cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Then in my round in the race, a pylon was down due to a mechanical issue and I was told to KIO (knock it off) and finish racing. So a hard start."

Come back tomorrow to see what the newest Master Class pilots thought of their first race.