Claudius Spiegel delivered the first surprise of the fourth stop in the Red Bull Air Race this weekend when he put a set of modest Training sessions behind him and stormed his way through the track to claim a phenomenal – and completely unpredicted – victory in the Challenger Cup.
After the race, Spiegel was clearly elated by his first win of the season, "I am really, really happy to be sitting here as a winner," he said. "It was a tough weekend with the conditions and after the last race where I didn't do too well.
"I had to work out how to get the right mix out in the track, and after my first run I still had some more ideas about how I could be faster and it worked."
Prior to his win in Gdynia, the German pilot had yet to step onto the podium and appeared to be trailing behind top contenders Petr Kopfstein, Daniel Ryfa and Tom Bennett, who all showed signs of reaching the top spot in previous rounds. Ryfa appeared to be Kopfstein's closest contender throughout Training, with the Swedish pilot seeming a little more steady and relaxed in the track than British rival Tom Bennett.
With Kopfstein putting in four consistent runs in Training, it seemed that the Czech pilot was preparing to step out from under the shadow of Francois Le Vot and improve on his second place Putrajaya success. But despite his earlier robust performance, when it came to the final appearance on the racetrack, Kopfstein seemed to lose speed and confidence, and slipped back into a disappointing fourth place.
Local hero Luke Czepiela had been carrying the heavy burden of expectation with him all weekend, and despite some promising form, the Polish pilot could not edge his way any closer to the podium than fifth place.
"The first run I flew very carefully, and when I heard my time from the Race Director I was so disappointed. I thought I just had to pull myself together and next time, take more risks with the line through the gates," he explained.
"The section between Gates 6 and 1 was the worst for me, and I was losing a lot of time. On one of these turns, I cut it more and then I reduced my time. I learned a lot in this competition and it feels good for the future."
But with margins between the pilots relatively tight, Czepiela is happy to close the fourth round on a positive note,
"During training, I was trying every line and none of them were any good. It's a pity that there wasn't one more training session because I think I would have been able to lose another second... and then I would have made the podium.
I was only 0.2 seconds off the podium – so it's nothing."
So with the fourth stop done and dusted, one question remains. Can any of the pilots give current Challenger Cup leader Francois Le Vot a run for his money? Gdynia winner Spiegel remains cautious but optimistic, "I already met Francois in Croatia and we all know he is very, very fast and who knows, if he'd been here I might not be sitting in this seat. I am really looking forward to racing him hopefully in Las Vegas," he added.