Martin Šonka is one of the top pilots not only in his native Czech Republic but across all of Europe, with outstanding results in both the Red Bull Air Race World Championship and major aerobatic competitions. While Šonka has earned multiple podiums across four previous seasons in the Master Class, he finished 2016 still on the hunt for his first race win, a situation that he and Red Bull Team Šonka are going all out to address this year.
Šonka began flying gliders and parachute jumping at the age of 17 near his hometown of Sezimovo Ústí. As a pilot in the Czech Air Force he flew a supersonic jet fighter, the JAS-39 Gripen, in the 211th Tactical Squadron and was a member of the prestigious Czech Air Force display team flying the L-159 ALCA. He also earned a master's degree from the Military Academy and the University of Pardubice.
Šonka's aerobatics career started with gliders and then powered aircraft. Since joining the Czech aerobatic team in 2005 he has captured numerous honours including European overall Vice Champion in the Unlimited category, two-time World Freestyle Vice Champion, two-time European Freestyle Champion, and six Unlimited and six Freestyle Championship wins at Czech Nationals.
With a tall, graceful bearing that stems from years of gymnastic training in addition to his military background, Šonka is a striking presence. His talent and approachability have seen his fan base extend well beyond the Czech Republic, and he puts that popularity to work as an advocate for disadvantaged children.
After finishing just off the World Championship podium by a narrow margin in 2015, the Czech pilot and his team came back aggressively last season, claiming second place in Chiba, Japan to take Šonka's career race podium tally to four. But bad luck and unexpected penalties hindered their efforts to claim that elusive race win.
"Even though we were very fast in 2016, we lost points by getting three DQs [disqualifications] out of seven completed races and making too many mistakes like incorrect levels and so on. But still I am very happy for all the great experience we have gained," says Šonka, whose team includes his brother Josef Šonka as team coordinator, as well as technician Lance Winter, track analyst Petr Frantis and media specialist Ivan Krakora. He goes on, "Those mistakes were very painful, but I see it as an important phase we had to go through, and these lessons learned must be used in 2017. So the goal for me and my team is to use all the experience we have gotten so far to be as fast as possible – and enjoy every moment of being part of this incredible motorsport."