The pilots finally got down to racing amid sunny but extremely blustery conditions in the green heart of Austria this afternoon. But for local hero Hannes Arch, there was once again huge disappointment as he wrapped up his Race Day early with a Safety Climb Out (SCO).
After a washout Qualifying day, the pilots headed into the Round of 14 having only had the chance to get to grips with the racetrack and refine their lines in Training on Friday. Britain's Paul Bonhomme was looking to continue his chase for the World Champion title this season, after topping the timesheets twice in the flying sessions on Friday. Here's how the heats unfolded as the winds picked up and the pilots battled for a place in the Round of 8:
HEAT 1 Goulian vs Lamb
Mike Goulian was the first pilot to head out into the track, but he had his work cut out as he picked up an automatic penalty for insufficient smoke from the off. But an otherwise clean performance saw Goulian clock in at 58.576, and Lamb had every chance to snatch the Round of 8 spot under Goulian's nose. But the game was over for Lamb before it hs even begun as he stormed into the track at 202kts. As the call to 'knock it off came' over the radio Lamb was slapped with a DNF on the timesheets and an early exit from the sixth stop.
HEAT 2 Besenyei vs Sonka
Since swapping the Corvus Racer for the Zivko Edge 540, Team Besenyei have enjoyed a return to truly competitive racing. For the Hungarian pilot, it was another satisfactory and encouraging performance as he crossed the Finish Gate at 57.939, . Sonka appeared to take an aggressive stance in the track, attacking each gate and flying close to the edge, an approach that ultimately paid off as he scrubbed off 0.251s from Besenyei's time to win the heat with 57.688.
HEAT 3 Ivanoff vs McLeod
Having taken the race win in Spielberg in 2014, Nicolas Ivanoff returned to the Austrian stop with high hopes. But the Frenchman hasn't been able to find his pace all week and admist changing conditions, managed a clean 58.138. McLeod's flying on the edge has had mixed results for him this season, and this time in Spielberg, the Canadian seemed to have everything under control. A full-throttle performance from McLeod saw some aggressive but clean flying and the Team Garmin pilot snatched the heat from Ivanoff by a clear second with 57.027.
HEAT 4 Chambliss vs Arch
Kirby Chambliss headed into the track as the wind conditions picked up, battling with drifting to retain his racing lines. With 58.876 on the clock, Arch had the backing of the home crowd, but it was a disastrous start to his home race for Arch as a stunned crowd watched their favourite pilot clip the Start Gate. As he battled to regain his composure, the Austrian had no choice but to opt for a Safety Climb Out (SCO). The move may have put an end to his race for the World Championship title for this season and it's a very bitter end for Arch at what could have been a spectacular race.
HEAT 5 Muroya vs Dolderer
Muroya had been putting in the hours in his Edge 540, flying as many hours as possible in his plane since finishing on the podium at the Ascot stop last month. And as the wind picked up from the south west, Muroya pushed hard through the track, just slipping through Gate 5 off balance and picking up a 2s penalty and finishing with 1:00.736, way off the mark. With wind conditions proving more and more changeable, Dolderer managed to put in a clean and smooth run, cruising through to the Round of 8 with 59.8111
HEAT 6 Velarde vs Hall
Juan Velarde had his work cut out, against one of the standout performers from the 2015 season in Heat 6. Blustery conditions buffeted Velarde about as he struggled with his racing lines. A clipped pylon at Gate 5 and two more incorrect level penalties in the track saw him rack up 7s of penalties overall, leaving the door wide open for Matt Hall. But even the experienced Australian pilot was fighting for a place on the timesheets as he rolled in and out of the gates, and despite a pylon hit and 3s of penalties, Hall progressed through in the Round of 8. "It was extremely rough, like Las Vegas last year and I just wanted to keep it in the track," Hall said after landing at the race airport.
HEAT 7 Le Vot vs Bonhomme
Le Vot's first costly mistake took place at Gate 5 with a pylon hit, but a DQ result was quick to follow as his plane was buffeted out across the Safety Line. Bonhomme had little work to do for his place in the Round of 8, and entered the track fully aware of how the blustery westerly winds had been affecting the pilots' racing lines. But it culminated that even the Brit wasn't immune to the penalties, as he picked up 2s for incorrect level flying at Gate 2, finishing with a slower but otherwise relatively problem-free run in the track with 1:01.536.
Goulian, Sonka, McLeod, Chambliss, Dolderer, Hall, Bonhomme and Besenyei progress to the Round of 8.
Here are the official results from the Masters Round of 14: