The heat is on in Rovinj after an action-packed Qualifying round today. It was Austria's Hannes Arch who asserted his authority to finish on top, after proving that he who dares, wins on the difficult racetrack in the Croatian city.
Balancing his trademark aggressive style with essential accuracy, Arch pulled out a show-stopping performance to edge past his longstanding rival and defending World Champion, Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain. Arch won the pole position spot after the current season frontrunners all made a convincing bid to post the fastest time during an intense day of flying. Fans witnessed pylon hits, penalties and plenty of drama over the sparkling waters of the Adriatic.
"It feels good to win and I'm really pleased," said Arch who laid down a 00:57.72 run. "A victory is good for my self-confidence for tomorrow. The problem is that I know how close the other guys are right behind me and how quickly you can make a mistake at this level. So I'm not going to sleep comfortably tonight and there's no reason to celebrate yet. Tomorrow is the day that matters."
Arch's electrifying performance in the track was just 0.15 seconds ahead of Bonhomme, who flew a 0:57.87. The pair made it clear that they intend to continue their personal battle for the title in Rovinj – with the gauntlet well and truly down for tomorrow's race.
"I must admit I knew things were going to tighten up with our standard engines, although I didn't realise it was going to be quite this tight. But hey, it's fun, isn't it?" said Bonhomme, keen to play his second place down ahead of Sunday's race. "If the wind gets up tomorrow, it'll be fascinating, and I wouldn't like to guess the results. The wind makes it more interesting, and with calm winds it's slightly more predictable."
It was Canada's Pete McLeod in third – proving he's more than a one-trick pony and giving it his trademark 'max power' style in the racetrack. The young contender posted a 00:58.15 in Qualifying, to put him among the top half of the field and cementing his forceful start to the 2014 season.
"Being third is better than I expected coming into Qualifying," admitted McLeod. "I've been struggling to find time on the track. The guys have the plane running great and we're slowly creeping up there –there's nothing wrong with being right on the heels of Arch and Bonhomme."
Germany's Matthias Dolderer also made an impression today, building on his solid form from yesterday's training, which he led. His 0:58.51 run was enough to earn him a fourth place spot in Qualifying and gave the local fans something to feel proud of.
Achieving the ultra-fine balance between speed and precision was the deciding factor in today's Qualifying as a few pilots struggled to enter the track within the official 370kph limit. Both Kirby Chambliss and Nigel Lamb exceeded the entry speed on one of their flights, but managed to lay down a safe run second time around. Only a few pilots were able to find a genuinely smooth line in the track over the Adriatic, which split the field in half. Surprises included Yoshi Muroya of Japan and Peter Besenyei who both found a rhythm in the racetrack and finished higher in the rankings than expected.
Full results from today's Qualifying:
1. Hannes Arch – 00:57.72
2. Paul Bonhomme – 00:57.87
3. Pete McLeod – 00:58.15
4. Matthias Dolderer - 00:58.51
5. Nigel Lamb – 00:58.64
6. Yoshihide Muroya – 00:58.68
7. Kirby Chambliss – 00:59.82
8. Peter Besenyei – 01:00.21
9. Matt Hall – 01:00.56
10. Nicolas Ivanoff – 01:00.63
11. Michael Goulian – 01:01.40
12. Martin Sonka – DNF
Be sure to keep up to date with the full race news as the action unfolds. You can find out how to follow the race here. Gates open at 1300 local time tomorrow Sunday 13 April, with Race action starting at 1545 local time with the Top 12.