As the pilots arrived in Porto for race six of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship things couldn't be tighter at the top of the standings. Kirby Chambliss was on top with 40 points, but just one point behind him was both Martin Sonka and Yoshihide Muroya. And only one point behind them was Pete McLeod.
It was going to be a testing time for both Muroya and Cristian Bolton who both missed out on the first two Free Practice sessions due to technical issues with their raceplanes.
The big surprise of the day came in FP1. Peter Podlunsek came storming into the track and set the fastest time of the session. His time of 1:07.052 was the fastest of the first day. Behind Podlunsek was McLeod who was 0.732s slower. Juan Velarde was third with Petr Kopfstein in fourth.
FP2 saw McLeod take the top spot with Goulian in second, he was just 0.054s behind the Canadian. Sonka was in third and Matt Hall fourth.
Qualifying day saw both Muroya and Bolton return to the skies, but Bolton's problem reoccurred in FP3 and he was unable to take part in Qualifying, his team worked through the night to ensure he was able to take part in Race Day. Muroya was only slightly off the pace in FP3 and was able to put himself seventh on the timesheet. Sonka was quickest with Nicolas Ivanoff in second and Matt Hall in third.
Porto 2017 Race Day Gallery
The king of Qualifying, McLeod, took the top spot for the fourth race in a row with a time of 1:07.192. Nobody could come close to McLeod. Second place went to Chambliss, who was three-quarters of a second behind. Muroya was third and Kopfstein fourth. Sonka, second in the standings, found himself down in seventh. Velarde incurred technical issues with his raceplane in Qualifying and was unable to start. His issues continued in to Race Day and was unable to race.
There were several surprises in the Round of 14. New Master Class member Mikael Brageot knocked out veteran pilot Michael Goulian. And Hall, with his raceplane just five races old, beat the 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer by 0.098s. Dolderer's time was enough to see him progress as the fastest loser.
The Round of 8 saw Sonka up against Muroya - both just one point off the lead. Muroya exceeded the entry speed and collected a one second penalty, which finished his day's racing. Chambliss knocked out Kopfstein, McLeod beat Dolderer and Hall was 0.217s faster than Brageot to get his first seat in the Final 4 of the season.
Porto 2017 Race Day highlights
Sonka was first to fly in the Final 4 and crossed the finish line with a time of 1:07.229 – the fastest time of the day and the one all the other pilots had to beat.
Chambliss was second into the track, trying to get his third win in a row. The American was collecting green split times until Gate 9 where he was penalised for climbing in the gate. After that he posted a time of 1:09.141. That penalty cost him a podium finish and he came in fourth. Without that penalty he would've won.
Third to fly was McLeod and he really wanted to win here. He pushed and pushed, but couldn't beat Sonka's time – he could only finish 0.113s behind Sonka. Matt Hall was last into the track. Just before he entered the track he heard that Chambliss had collected a penalty and knew that if he flew cleanly he would get his first podium in over a year. So the Australian didn't push too hard and finished third.
After the epic return to Porto, Sonka was four points clear at the top of the standings on 54. McLeod had pushed up to second on 50 points, Chambliss dropped to third and Muroya down to fourth.
The next race for the pilots was to be at the Lausitzring and the last in Europe.
Porto 2017 final results