Japan's Yoshi Muroya struck gold in Las Vegas as he grabbed a first place finish in the Master Class Qualifying this afternoon, setting a track record of 48.618 in almost perfect flying conditions.
The Japanese pilot built on his strong Training performances to take the first place finish, showing his hand for the coveted race win, and adding a somewhat slightly jarring new angle to the Hall-Bonhomme World Champion rivalry.
Matt Hall was the penultimate pilot out in the track, and the Australian appeared to be holding back to ensure a clean, error-free run. Despite this, the World Championship number two-ranked pilot posted a super-quick time, clocking in with 48.853 to take second.
"Tactically, second place is probably better in this race," Hall commented after the final results were in, admitting that, "... I had ball flying out there today."
In third, Britain's Paul Bonhomme put in an almost textbook performance in his runs, remaining cool and calm, and like his rival Hannes Arch, seemed to opt for a more conservative rather than aggressive performance today. Bonhomme's first run was his quickest, with 48.956 on the clock, 0.338s off Muroya's pace. He was followed in fourth place overall by France's Nicolas Ivanoff with 49.246.
With wind speeds stable and temperatures holding, the pilots headed into the track ready to refine their racing lines for the last flying sessions before the 2015 showdown tomorrow. It was homegrown US pilot Kirby Chambliss who made an early bid for a top finish on the timesheets, but ultimately his improved time of 49.627 could only keep him mid-field in the results with a 7th place finish.
It was a frustrating end to the day for the Breitling Racing Team, with Nigel Lamb forced to sit out the Qualifying session due to a technical issue. The Race Committee commented in an official statement:
"During Saturday's third Training session in Las Vegas (USA), after a very quick raw time, Nigel Lamb of Great Britain touched his propeller on the ground during a difficult landing and will therefore not be able to compete in today's Qualifying round. Breitling Racing Team is currently evaluating and analysing the condition of the plane with a clear focus to stay in the competition on Sunday."
If Lamb is able to compete on Race Day tomorrow, based on his DNS result today he will face Yoshi Muroya in the Round of 14.
Just 0.681s separates the top five pilots in Qualifying, with margins closer than ever in the short, fast and furious Las Vegas track. Mistakes are more costly than ever, and the pilots need to go above and beyond a safe and conservative performance tomorrow to make it to the podium. For Paul Bonhomme, the World Champion title is just three flights away, but for Matt Hall it's a more complicated story; Hall must finish in first and Bonhomme down the rankings in sixth or below in order for Hall to celebrate a season's victory.