Conditions at the Texas Motor Speedway were almost perfect as the pilots prepared for the opening knock-out rounds of Race Day at the penultimate Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Fort Worth. The Texan location provided a fantastic backdrop for a stunning and surprise standout performance from Breitling Racing Team pilot Nigel Lamb.
Matthias Dolderer headed into the seventh stop as the fastest pilot, having set a blistering track record on Qualifying Day, and all eyes were on World Championship rivals Matt Hall and Paul Bonhomme in their respective heats. But it was Nigel Lamb who unexpectedly stole the show, going flat out to set a new track record of 54.620.
Heat 1 - Sonka vs Chambliss
Sonka kicked off the Race Day action, setting the pace with a fantastic performance, digging deep to pull off an error-free personal best time of 55.846. Chambliss had an early outing in front of a home crowd, and had his work cut out to answer Sonka and find over a second in the track. But it was the end of a dream of another home race victory for Chambliss from the off, as he picked up an incorrect level flying penalty at the Start Gate – an error which ultimately cost him dearly.
Heat 2 - Lamb vs Hall
It was another MXS-R knockout round as Lamb and Hall went head to head in the second heat of the day. Lamb had suffered some disappointment earlier in the week with below par performances, but his hard work and experience shone through, stunning the Texas crowd as he went full throttle and set a jaw-dropping new track record with 54.620. Hall needed to stay in contention for the podium in order to retain his World Champion title dreams, and the Round of 14 race. Hall kept it tight and fast but despite putting in a personal best, the Australian couldn't quite match Lamb's pace with 54.800, and had to hope that he could progress as a fastest loser.
Heat 3 - Arch vs Bonhomme
Austrian pilot Hannes Arch had been fending off illness, and his previous track performances had been inconsistent, but still with glimpses of brilliance. He had found tight lines and had retained great pace throughout the track but a slight error of judgement cost him 2 seconds at Gate 3 for flying too high. With 57.623 it appeared that Bonhomme had the heat sewn up, and Bonhomme was scrubbing off time, seemingly effortlessly and flying with real World Champion style. A textbook run earned him 56.039, with plenty in the tank for the Round of 8.
Heat 4 Goulian vs McLeod
After technical troubles following hard landing during Training, it was a race to get Mike Goulian's plane tuned up for the Race Day action. With Chambliss kicked out of contention for the podium in the opening heat, the home crowd's hopes were hinged on Goulian. The American found 2s in the track with 57.307 with a clean run, but McLeod's clean run in the track pushed Goulian out of the running, as McLeod went 0.8 faster with 56.476
Heat 5 Ivanoff vs Velarde
French pilot Ivanoff returned to Fort Worth having won the Texan race in 2014. He had failed to shine at the 2015 edition, and his Race Day Round of 14 was a tentative affair with a 2s penalty at Gate 14 just before the Finish Gate. Ivanoff clocked in with 59.948, leaving the door open for Juan Velarde to pick up his first World Championship points if he could deliver. Despite some blustery conditions, the sector times were in the green all the way to the finish. But just as the Spanish pilot looked to be picking up his first points, with the end in sight he clipped the Finish Gate, adding 3s to his time and leaving Ivanoff free to progress to the Round of 8.
Heat 6 Besenyei vs Muroya
An impressive first lap from the Hungarian pilot ended in disappointment with an incorrect level flying penalty at the Finish Gate, adding 2s to his time. Muroya had enjoyed a solid performance in Training and Qualifying, and looked to be on course for a relatively easy pass into the second knock-out round. Fast and clean passes through the Air Gates led Muroya to a quick victory in his heat, and the Japanese pilot didn't have to push too hard to progress.
Heat 7 Le Vot vs Dolderer
The Fort Worth fans were waiting to see if Dolderer could repeat his Qualifying performance, and the German remained the biggest threat to Hall's hopes for progressing as fastest loser in Texas. But Le Vot was first up, and was just hoping for a clean run through the track and an improved performance. It looked to be an error-free run but a last-second lapse saw Le Vot clip the Finish Gate and add 3s to his time. The Frenchman was clearly disappointed as he yelled in frustration from the cockpit, but it was celebrations from Matt Hall Racing's hangar as the Australian secured a place in the Round of 8 and a chance to rekindle his World Champion hopes. For Dolderer, it was simply a case of steady and sustained, and despite a minor wobble in the latter half of the track, Dolderer put in a clean run with a solid 57.840
Sonka, Lamb, Bonhomme, McLeod, Ivanoff, Muroya, Dolderer and Hall progress to the Round of 8.
Here are the official results for the Masters Round of 14: