Hannes Arch of Austria kept his Red Bull Air Race World Championship hopes alive with a sensational victory in Qualifying on Saturday, setting the stage for a thrilling 2014 season finale on Sunday as overall leader Nigel Lamb of Britain stumbled and finished a disappointing fourth.
Arch flew brilliantly under pressure on the undulating track set up in the Austrian Alps on a sunny autumn afternoon, sending the enthusiastic crowd of 15,000 spectators into a state of euphoria with his third Qualifying win of the season.
Germany's Matthias Dolderer was second in Qualifying while Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic was third. Lamb, who has a five-point lead in the World Championship over Arch, needs at least a second place finish in Sunday's race to clinch the title. Local hero Arch, who grew up in a small town 30km from the Red Bull Ring, can come from behind to win his second World Championship with a victory on Sunday if Lamb finishes third or lower.
Arch, who has won two of the seven races this year, has been unstoppable in training all week in Spielberg on a track set up on the Formula One racetrack. He posted the fastest times in all three training sessions before Qualifying. Arch won the session with a track record time of 55.545 seconds while Dolderer was second with 56.509 and Sonka was third with 56.876.
"It's a super feeling to get everything out of the aeroplane and everything out of my abilities," said Arch, who won the race in Rovinj, Croatia after winning Qualifying there. "I'm really pleased that I'm performing the way I'm capable of. A big thanks to my team for the great preparation. It's super to have so many people out here supporting us. I can feel all that energy from the crowd when I'm out there on the track."
Lamb, who has watched in dismay as Arch was fastest in training and way ahead in Qualifying, said that the Austrian was indeed electrifying on his home track, a challenging circuit that features a 65m altitude change on each lap. Lamb knows he only needs to finish second on Sunday to win his first title but has not yet been able to finish higher than third in any of the training sessions.
"I didn't think I flew badly. The other guys just flew better than me," said Lamb, who has one race victory this season and four straight second place finishes. "I did actually make some modifications in my lines a bit before Qualifying and we thought they would make us faster. But I don't know. We'll take another look at the lines. Maybe we'll find that those modifications were not a good idea so I'll go back to what I did before. Hannes' time is just a blinding time. I mean it's unbelievable. Tomorrow is another day."