Even before Yoshihide Muroya was crowned the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Champion at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 15 October, the teams were planning to make the most of the short off-season. Here's a sampling of what is on tap for the world's best pilots as they prepare for 2018...
For Muroya, the off-season has started with nonstop media interviews and appearances, as Japan can't get enough of its first World Champion in the history of the sport. After earning his first-ever overall podium with second place, Martin Sonka is in the spotlight, too: an interview with the Czech pilot is the cover story for a special autumn edition of Forbes Life magazine. Meanwhile, when they're not in front of the cameras or signing autographs, both pilots are conferring with their teams, deep into planning their campaigns for next year.
Pete McLeod, who finished third in the 2017 championship, is enjoying getting to know his new daughter, Aria, born less than two weeks before the season finale. "With a new born at home, we're having some great family time, and as usual our off-season started quickly after the final stop, right back to work on the raceplane in Canada," McLeod reports.
The Canadian isn't alone: raceplane work is a common theme across the teams.
François Le Vot shares, "For me, there is no off-season. Before Indianapolis we'd already planned to bring the raceplane to France to try to address some things. For example, our engine cowlings aren't so nice, so that's something we're looking at working on if we have time and resources."
Another French pilot, Mikael Brageot, hints, "We have a lot of plans for the aircraft. I will keep it a surprise, but when we fly next season I guess you won't recognise it!" Australia's Matt Hall expects to change the look of his ride as well. "We're going to be doing a little bit of work with the plane," explains the pilot, who earned two late-season podiums. "And we hope we'll be getting a little more speed, but mostly we'll concentrate on continuing what we've achieved in 2017."
To have as much time as possible with their raceplanes, many pilots elected to work on them in the United States, straight from the race at Indy. Czech ace Petr Kopfstein reveals, "We're spending time in the USA doing a lot of mods and a lot of testing. We intend to be fully ready for 2018 and want to be at the front."
Plans are similar for Chile's Cristian Bolton, who is collaborating with his team on modifications while also getting flight training time in Southern California. "We are looking to improve so that we can be better, and more competitive," Bolton asserts.
Nicolas Ivanoff of France is also basing his technical projects in the US, and the five-time race winner has an ambitious agenda. "We have a lot of work because 2017 was our worst season in 10 years," he states frankly. "We won't get a new raceplane, but we've taken the plane to California for modifications. I want to take it down and rework it so that it's almost like new."
Of course, after a gruelling nine months of traveling and competing, it's important for the teams to recharge their batteries, and like most pilots, Spain's Juan Velarde and Germany's Matthias Dolderer have built a few precious vacation days into their schedules. Both love being near the water: Velarde is an avid kite surfer, and Dolderer spent some time on the beach on the US West Coast – and even there he managed to feed his need for speed. The 2016 World Champion experienced Extreme Sailing Series racing first hand on board the Red Bull Sailing catamaran with Olympic Champions Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher in San Diego.
The off-season also provides extra opportunities for the pilots and teams to interact with their fans, and as always the USA's Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss enjoy meeting up with supporters. Just two weeks after the race in Indianapolis, Goulian was performing in one of the country's top civilian air shows in Texas, while Chambliss also has big air shows on his schedule, as well as a December event at home in Arizona where members of the public have been invited to join the whole team in a wind tunnel and tandem skydiving weekend.
No matter what the teams are up to, one thing's sure: the off-season is jam-packed. Perhaps Chile's Bolton sums it up best when he says, "It's not a long time, but we're going to squeeze everything out of the off-season!"