Back to the Roots: pilots recall their maiden race – part II

The pilots tell us their feelings on their first race

Sonka at his fist race

In part I of this article the most experienced pilots in the Red Bull Air Race recounted their first race. In part II we look at the newer members of the Master Class, starting with Martin Sonka, who began his career in 2010...

Martin Sonka, Czech Republic
First race: 2010, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"I remember this day as if it was yesterday. I dreamed about this for a long time, since I had been following the championship from the beginning as a fan... and that daydream came true. I arrived for the first time at the Race Airport, and there was a hangar with my name on it – it's an unforgettable moment. It was a big honour for me to become part of this incredibly beautiful sport along with all the legends."

François Le Vot, France
First race: 2015, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"My strongest memory was related to the run-in when it was late afternoon. The light and environment were totally surreal. The sun was right in the pilot's face when at the Start Gate, and I remember telling myself once or twice that the run will probably look like a challenging flight of a spaceship on another remote and unknown planet."

Juan Velarde, Spain
First race: 2015, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"Every time I look back, I get a huge smile on my face. Looking at how complex our team is now – all the members, tools, equipment, experience – it's hard to think how we could even take off the first time. We had just three people: Ted Reynolds, Anselmo Gámez, and me. Everything was new for us, and huge! We didn't have any tools to analyse the tracks, or telemetry or anything! Even so, we were just two seconds slower than the fastest teams. I'm amazed we could do the season, attend all the meetings, practices, races... all with only the three of us! One year later we had narrowed the gap to only half a second. Even with all the challenges, it was amazing seeing ourselves there, at that level of flying, surrounded by the best pilots in the world. It was a huge jump forward in our sports careers. I remember Anselmo and I elbowing each other, saying, 'Do you realise where we are?'. Unbelievable."

Petr Kopfstein, Czech Republic
First race: 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"I remember my first race in the Master Class as if it was yesterday! Flying into the Abu Dhabi track in our newly upgraded Edge 540 V3 was definitely a dream come true. Having my own team behind me and switching from the [Challenger Class] Extra to the Edge was a whole different feeling!"

Cristian Bolton, Chile
First race: 2016, Indianapolis, USA
"It was an absolutely incredible weekend for me, since I was reaching a goal that I set way before in 2014 when I started my career in the Challenger Class. It was a moment of joy, adrenaline and of course happiness to be part of the 14 top pilots in the world and sharing the same track and competing against them. I remember the first time I flew the track, everything was so fast with tight turns, no room to make mistakes, tons of Gs and the raceplane asking me to get more and more speed. It was a moment where so many elements gathered in correct harmony and balance. And of course I have to thank Dianne Louwrens and Nigel Dickinson, who believed in this new project and supported the idea behind building a new team."

Mika Brageot, France
First race: 2017, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"The feeling of being part of the group of pilots I had been following for years! In a fraction of a second while going through the Start Gate, I was one of them. It's really at this exact moment that you're in the game, which is fully realised after the Finish Gate! From a team perspective, it's a huge pleasure to get aligned for a race with a team you trust, and for the first time we had to go all together through our first week of racing. Even if we'd already had some projects together, the first official race week was like a first day at school! Amazing and unforgettable. And finally there was the after-race feeling, when you just can't stop thinking and dreaming about the next. Still today, it's a nonstop living dream! I'm lucky to have the strong and infinite family support that this sport requires."

Ben Murphy, Great Britain
First race: 2018, Abu Dhabi, UAE
"I'm sure every pilot's first Master Class race sticks in their memory; mine in Abu Dhabi was no exception! It was a mix of feelings – pressure of our first race, a new raceplane that I had very little time in and a new team that hadn't worked together before. And the spotlight was firmly on us as the new team. But I also had a sense of calm and confidence – we had done the prep, we weren't fazed by the occasion and we just did our job. Our sixth place result in our first race was testament to doing that job well. But the overriding memory was enjoying it! We were racing in the most exciting motorsport there is, against the best pilots in the world – nothing can beat the thrill of that competition. I'll never forget that first 'taste' – and I'm hungry for more."

The Red Bull Air Race returns to its Austrian roots this weekend, get your tickets HERE.