The Airgators must be getting bored out on the track. After seven races last season they had repaired a grand total of 117 pylons for the Master Class. This year, the total only stands at 46 – that's a 60% drop, resulting in a more competitive race for the World Champion title.
When to compared to last year, every Master Class pilot has hit fewer pylons in 2018. In 2016, Pete McLeod was the only pilot to go the entire season without hitting a single pylon in any sessions. Last year after Race 7, he had hit six pylons. This year he has only hit three, marking a 50% pylon hit improvement rate.
Only two pilots still have clean sheets in terms of pylon hits this year, and it will be no surprise that it's the two most experienced pilots in the sport: Kirby Chambliss and Nicolas Ivanoff. Last year Ivanoff had hit seven by this stage in the calendar and Chambliss had only made three pylon hits, with both showing a marked improvement.
2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer has had the next biggest drop in pylon hits. In 2017 he hit 12, and this year he's only made one pylon hit – that's a drop of 91%. In his championship-winning year Dolderer only hit five pylons overall. It's no secret that Dolderer was on a mission to retain his World Champion title last year, but this year we've seen a more relaxed approach from the German pilot, and an improvement in terms of pylon hit rates.
Current World Champion Yoshihide Muroya has seen a 83% drop in pylon hits, down from six last year to just one. Five of Muroya's pylon hits up to that point had all come in Free Practice, showing that he was trying to find the winning line – which he managed, more often than not.
Michael Goulian, Martin Sonka and Matt Hall, the three pilots vying for the 2018 crown, have also seen a drop in their pylon hit rates. Sonka, who was also a World Champion contender last season, had only hit three pylons by the end of Race 7. This season, he has hit just one. Goulian has dropped from eight hits to just two, a decrease of 75%, whereas Hall has dropped from eight pylon hits to six – two of which took place during races, which have cost him dearly in points.
The only pilot that has had more pylon hits this season over last is Ben Murphy. On reflection, this is a bit of an unfair comparison – in 2017, Murphy was competing in the Challenger Class, flying an Extra. For 2018, the British pilot has had a steep learning curve in the Master Class and the Edge. But one point for consideration is that none of Murphy's pylon hits were made in the race heats. And when compared to other pilots, he's actually made less hits than average for a Master Class pilot in their first season. Mika Brageot hit 10 pylons in his debut year, and Cristian Bolton hit 15 – the most of any pilot in 2017.
With only one race to go, the Master Class pilots seemed to have banished their pylon demons. However, a turbulent track awaits the pilots in Fort Worth on 17-18 November, so pylons could be falling in their droves. Want to witness the high-speed, low-altitude racing action stateside for the season finale? Get your tickets HERE.
Master Class pylon hit comparison 2017-2018
|PILOT||2017 HITS*||2018 HITS*||PERCENTAGE DROP|
*Up to and including Race 7.
**The figure is from Murphy's Challenger Class season, where he only raced five times.