Challenger Cup pilots Peter Podlunšek and Petr Kopfstein will blow the battle for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship wide open in 2016 with their inclusion in the Master Class.
Podlunšek of Slovenia and Kopfstein of the Czech Republic will be flying into a World Championship that will be more unpredictable than ever. This is thanks to technical innovations, two new locations and the retirement of two of the most successful pilots in the sport's history, Hungary's Peter Besenyei and 2015 World Champion Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain. The departure of Bonhomme opens up the top of the leaderboard for the 14 pilots of the Master Class.
Including Podlunšek and Kopfstein, the Challenger Cup has produced four Master Class pilots to date. Kopfstein was also the Challenger Cup champion in 2014, amassing seven podiums over two seasons. His exceptional overall performance in all areas during that period earned him the coveted Unrestricted Superlicence and invitation to join the Master Class.
"It is a great honour to become part of the unique group of aviators in the Master Class. The first year will be a season of learning, testing and tuning, but all of us on my team want to do it quickly and become competitive as soon as possible," Kopfstein stated. "While we have high ambitions, it will be a tough and challenging season."
Also earning his invitation after two seasons competing in the Challenger Cup is Podlunšek, the top aerobatic pilot in Slovenia and the first Slovenian pilot in the Master Class. The eight-time National Aerobatic Champion, who has claimed numerous international podiums, was runner-up for the 2015 Challenger Cup Championship and clinched four podiums.
Podlunšek said: "Joining the Master Class is a dream come true. As we start from zero, my teammates and I will first have to see how we function together as a team and eventually become the best we can be. Our strategy is flying safe and smart."
Australia's Matt Hall achieved the best-ever placement of any first-season pilot when he arrived on the scene in 2009: third overall. Now coming into the 2016 season as the highest-ranked Master Class pilot, Hall remembers that joining the World Championship was "a milestone" in his career. "It's pushed me to become the pilot I am today and to enjoy the most exciting flying of my career. I've watched the Challenger Cup over the past two years and have been impressed with the progression and attitude of all the pilots, and obviously Peter and Petr have demonstrated that. I am looking forward to having them join us in the Master Class hangars."
Kopfstein and Podlunšek will be making their debut in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the season opener in Abu Dhabi on 11-12 March.
2016 Master Class Pilot lineup
Hannes Arch (AUT)
Kirby Chambliss (USA)
Matthias Dolderer (GER)
Michael Goulian (USA)
Matt Hall (AUS)
Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA)
Petr Kopfstein (CZE)
Nigel Lamb (GBR)
Francois Le Vot (FRA)
Pete McLeod (CAN)
Yoshihide Muroya (JPN)
Peter Podlunsek (SLO)
Martin Sonka (CZE)
Juan Velarde (ESP)