It's been coming for a while, insiders in the Red Bull Air Race have been saying for some time that Petr Kopfstein will be on the podium very soon, and in Chiba he proved them right. His smooth flying style paid dividends in Japan when he claimed second, just 0.558s behind race winner Yoshihide Muroya.
Kopfstein's flying style has been compared to three-time World Champion Paul Bonhomme in terms of smoothness and accuracy, and the Czech pilot reaped his rewards in Chiba, but it wasn't easy. He flew against Muroya in the Round of 14 and the local hero put in a blistering time of 55.590s. Kopfstein was just 0.007s slower but went through as the fastest loser.
Kopfstein was then to face Kirby Chambliss in the Round of 8, but when the American exceeded the maximum G-limit Kopfstein just had to fly cleanly, which he duly did. In the Final 4 Kopfstein flew second after Muroya, he was slower than the Japanese pilot, and with Matthias Dolderer and Martin Sonka to fly after him, it looked like he might have to settle for fourth place. But mistakes by both pilots cost them valuable seconds and Kopfstein stood on the podium for the first time in his Master Class career. "It's amazing, I still can't believe it! To have two Czech guys on the podium is amazing. We worked really hard to get here so it's awesome," said Kopfstein after he climbed out of his raceplane.
"It's a great success for the whole team. Our plan was to fly consistent times but we never thought we'd be on the podium. On the other side, we were a little bit lucky today. I have really good memories of Chiba because I won here in the Challenger Class two years ago," he added.
The track proved challenging for the majority of pilots in the Red Bull Air Race, but Kopfstein had done his homework. "It was a really technical track, which I like, there were so many different lines to choose from and I didn't know which one would be fastest until I flew it. We flew a lot in the simulator, but we had to change our tactics in the track as the winds were different to what we predicated," explained Kopfstein.
Kopfstein was so thrilled to be on the podium that he was unaware how far he had moved up the World Championship Standings. "I didn't know that I was now fourth in the World Championship standings, we're really happy." When pushed about mounting a title challenge for this season Kopfstein was reserved in his answer: "A title race? I'm not sure, we're just happy with where we are right now," he concluded.