What Paul Bonhomme doesn't know about the Red Bull Air Race isn't worth knowing. The 19-time race winner, and now commentator has been there and done it all. Here, in his own words, he offers his opinion on the Master Class pilots' performances in Indianapolis...
Musical Trophies anyone? Generally in a sporting competition we see competitors trying to grab the prize but in the Indianapolis weekend of racing, we saw a game of musical trophies like never before. The trophy was like a hot potato with everyone grasping it for seconds before letting it go. If this race is a sign of things to come, it'll be difficult to forecast the winner after the last race in November but right now Goulian has the firmest grip on the Trophy, Sonka is close by and still very much in the chase and Matt Hall will need his very own dose of good luck in Texas. It'll be exciting...
François Le Vot
Not a race to remember for the French team. An incorrect VTM penalty in Q1 seemed to disturb an otherwise clean session on Saturday. Then the same mistake crept back in for the Round of 14 flight against Matt Hall, which along with an incorrect level on Gate 9, put paid to François chances of progressing.
Petr qualified 13th after what looked like a stall in the first VTM of Q1, followed by a very conservative Q2. Petr's first VTM in the Round of 14 was half a second off the pace from Velarde, hence the Czech team did not progress. The VTM in Indy was the make or break manoeuvre. Due to the safety line, it has to be straight until the aircraft is through the vertical, then you can roll left to get the heading towards the descent gate but the angle has to be perfectly judged. Too direct and you'll be pointing way left of the next single pylon which needs to be passed on the right. Also judging the optimum pull on the stick, getting the roll rate you want, all without stalling the wing under G-load is complicated. Very difficult to get right every time and Petr was not the only one 'having fun' in this section of the track.
Yoshi's weekend started with a contrasting Quali session. Q1 saw an incorrect VTM and two incorrect levels but like a true professional he reset and ended up flying a solid Q2 and took 5th in Qualifying. With high expectations, his Round of 14 flight started with promise. Then after the second VTM he took a high risk strategy, heading to the descent gate (Gate 13) which then required a pretty snappy turn to avoid Gate 14, the single pylon. In his haste to turn early, he collected a 2 second penalty, which ruined an otherwise blistering run. This could have been caused by either overly aggressive tactics or a moment's inattention with the roll in the VTM. This wasn't the first time that the VTM caused problems.
Of interest, in Wiener Neustadt Matthias got knocked out of the Round of 14 with a one second "no smoke" penalty and an incorrect level in Gate 6. Guess what... in Indy, he got knocked out in the Round of 14 with a one second "no smoke" penalty and an incorrect level in Gate 6... and just like the last race, his net times were blisteringly fast and he would have certainly gone to the Round of 8 had it not been for the penalties. With the Abu Dhabi race of 2019 just around the corner, the Fort Worth race has to be used to practice penalty and mistake free flying.
Martin's Q1 flight was poetry in motion... clean, accurate and blisteringly fast with both VTM's flown inch perfect. His second Quali flight incurred a two second penalty at Gate 6 (just after the first VTM). I don't know for certain but I would guess that this was an attempt, having nailed the first session, to test the margins on the VTM. Wise tactics, but come the Round of 14, the flying was the smooth and accurate, Sonka style! However, everything seemed slow and regardless of the perfect racing lines, the aircraft did not perform. Martin hinted afterwards that the engine settings were to blame. In our game of musical trophies, Martin had just thrown the trophy high into the air for someone else to catch...
In Q1, Mika did not look at home in the aircraft and there were signs of aggression with the way the aeroplane moved. Q2 was smoother, faster and penalty free and whilst only qualifying in 11th, at least he could start Race Day with confidence. The only snag was having to fly against Nicolas Ivanoff, who in the 7th race of the season, had suddenly found his mojo. Whilst Mika flew a speedy 1:06.295 it was no match for Ivanoff who posted a 1:05.253. Interestingly, Mika's time in the Round of 14 would have been the second quickest time in the Final 4. Annoying...
Saturday for Kirby was interesting. A DQ in Q1 for an Over RPM. Q2 saw Kirby go high at Gate 16. However, all that was trivia compared with his Round of 14 time. Kirby flew first against Sonka and he flew a blistering 1:05.140. Why is this so exciting? At the time he'd put himself in the hot seat for fastest loser IF Sonka had beaten him. Additionally, we'd just seen Goulian beaten by McLeod. Goulian, who was desperately trying to get a grip on the 2018 trophy, was fastest loser at this point. The Texan was at risk of knocking his countryman out of the race, he was basically trying to knock the trophy from his grasp... the Goulian team have never looked so nervous. With Sonka's engine setting issue and slow run, Chambliss, along with Goulian as fastest loser, both went through to the Round of 8. A massive relief for Team Goulian. However, that's where Chambliss' day ended as he collected another high in Gate 2 in the Round of 8 (same gate that he found in Q2).
A fantastic weekend for the Spanish team. I think they should be pleased. Qualified second with a fast Round of 14 time and apart from a pesky incorrect level, a blistering Round of 8 time. The penalty in the Round of 8 was the familiar Gate 6 penalty with an incorrect level... possibly due to being too aggressive in the turning of the VTM. Unnecessary in Juan's case as his net time would easily have beaten his Round of 8 opponent, Nicolas Ivanoff. If they can repeat or better this in Fort Worth then 2019 should be good.
Here was the Australian, also trying to get a firm grip on the 2018 trophy, showing us exactly what he showed us in Kazan... a solid weekend, not perfect but 'on track', until he found one of the pylons at Gate 9. Admittedly, that is possibly one of the trickier gates, especially when you are pushing hard, but nevertheless, it was Matt wafting the prize away in the game of musical trophies. He's now relying on someone else making a mistake in the last race. Not ideal.
Here we go Cristian... fifth in Indy is a stunning result for the Chilean pilot and if ever you need an example of why you should fly clean, then here it is. Whilst his Round of 8 flight was a second off the pace of Championship leader Goulian, it was clean AND the fastest time of the Round of 8 losers, which means that he finished with a whopping six points. His best result of the year and with some modifications coming between now and Fort Worth and then possibly some more before the 2019 season starts, it bodes well.
Another great result for the 2018 rookie team. Ben beat Yoshi Muroya in the Round of 14 (with a stroke of luck and Yoshi's penalty) and then came out into the Round of 8 and knocked off two seconds from his previous time to put the pressure on Chambliss. It was a stunning piece of flying, where generally pilots can go off the boil. The Round of 8 win took him into his first Final 4 of the season and of his Master Class career. His Final 4 time was clean but back to the slower 1:07 time of the Round of 14. I suspect the difference in times were due mainly to the VTM tactics and possibly a bit to do with engine settings. For certain, a great result for their seventh race in the Masters and when the consistency comes, this will be a team to be reckoned with.
Nicolas Ivanoff is back! Qualified fourth, straight through to the Final 4 and onto the podium. How easy was that? Actually, there was the small matter of a Spaniard in the Round of 8 that only just went Nico's way. Juan flew first and collected a penalty and then Nico flew smoothly but looked like he was taking a short holiday in each of his VTM's. Lovely to watch but oh so slow... he beat the penalty-affected Velarde by just 0.2 of a second. It must have raised the tension in the hangar but the relaxed demeanour was short-lived and Nico came out in the Final 4 and flew a stunning 1:06.951. Good enough for the podium, his first podium since his win in Abu Dhabi 2016.
Spoiler-in-Chief McLeod spent Sunday afternoon trying to knock trophies from the grasp of Championship 'wannabes'. First in his sights was Goulian and neat Pete flew so crisply that he managed a 1:04.223. What a shocker and Goulian was clinging on by being fastest loser. Next in Pete's sights was the Australian who wafted the trophy away by clobbering Gate 9. Nevertheless, Pete nailed it again with a 1:05 and into the Final 4 where he got to the second step of the podium. Subject to Fort Worth, this could be a perfect end to the 2018 season and the Canadian fans will be hoping it's a return to the neat, fast flying we've seen before. Roll on 2019!
Have you seen the film The Great Escape? That could be the title of Mike Goulian's Indianapolis race... qualifying eighth in the danger zone, he met Pete McLeod in the Round of 14, who promptly beat him convincingly. In terms of musical trophies, he'd just thrown it away. On the other side of the draw, Sonka was doing his best to drop the trophy whilst Hall was also letting it slip. Goulian only just held the fastest loser spot from the Round of 14. In the Round of 8, a speeding Chilean gave Mike something to think about but he was through to the last round. The grip had tightened. Amusingly, in the Final 4 he flew second and from the TV shots I saw, was unaware that he'd won until the noise from the hangar confirmed he'd pulled off the greatest escape of all time. Beaten in the Round of 14 followed by winning the race. Exciting! Who said the head to head format wouldn't work (no, I won't eat my hat)? Goulian heads to the last race in the driving seat. He'd better practice that grip...
You can be there for the season finale in Fort Worth on 17-18 November, get your tickets HERE.