Michael Goulian had the biggest season of his Red Bull Air Race career in 2018, with a pair of victories among five race podiums and two pole positions. After taking the title battle down to the season finale in Fort Worth, missing out on the crown must have been difficult to accept, but his accomplishment was significant: Goulian's overall result of third marked not only his first finish in the top three, but the first time an American had earned a place on the World Championship podium in a decade.
Michael, it's been a little over three weeks since the finale in Texas. Have you had time to put the season into perspective?
MG: I think so. I was pretty disappointed in Texas. The little engine problem that we had failed us in both Austria and Texas, and I think that if we didn't have those issues, we would have won the whole thing. So it's a little bit hard to swallow, but the reality of it is that we had an awesome year. There were three dominant teams, and we were one of them. That's a great place to be. I'm super proud of our complete effort and our performance over the whole year.
Can you explain the engine problem in more detail?
MG: It's something that happened in Wiener Neustadt and in Texas, and one other time in practice: We have somehow been getting some kind of foreign debris into the number-five fuel injector nozzle for a reason we don't know yet. It happens at about the same time on takeoff. In Austria it wasn't completely blocked, but it was enough to kill the performance of the raceplane, and it was very blocked in Fort Worth, hence the very slow run in the Round of 14 even though the flight was clean.
What action can you take to fix it?
MG: We are analysing what the piece was in a laboratory to figure out what it might be and how to deal with it. Whether it's the inside of a fuel hose or a piece of corrosion from something inside the fuel system, we don't exactly know at the moment. But we will change absolutely 100 per cent of everything prior to taking it to the sky at the 2019 season opener.
There were so many highlights to your season. Is there one you will remember the most?
MG: Our win in Indianapolis, just because of being an American, having watched the Indy 500 since I was a kid and knowing what it means to the world of motorsports. I love historical things, and there are just some places where it's a big deal. Being a winner in Indianapolis puts your name forever in the history books of one of the most historic racing venues in all of the world – and definitely the most historic racing venue in America. So for me, it's not just a season memory but a life memory.
Fans have been cheering you every step of the way. How does that make you feel?
MG: It's super humbling when you get an email from somebody that says, "I'm your fan... I want you to do well... I'm glad you did well." Because, to me, I still feel like I'm just a kid in an aeroplane trying to have fun and accomplish things. The fact that it resonates with other people is still something that I'm not sure I completely understand, but it's really cool!
You've earned the US Unlimited Aerobatic Championship and the "Triple Crown" of top honours for airshow flying, and now you've completed 10 full seasons in the Red Bull Air Race. So you had nothing to prove. But given your exceptional campaign in 2018, do you think perhaps you did prove something, whether to others or yourself?
MG: Hmmm, interesting question. I think I proved something to myself, and that is the ability to roll with a situation, whether it's in your favour or not. For instance, having a slow [initial] run in Qualifying in Japan and turning around and winning Qualifying. And in France, being last to fly in Qualifying, going out and winning [with a track record in his first run] and then setting another track record [with his second run]. And just dealing with situations throughout the year where we needed to perform – or I needed to perform – big, and did.
Can you talk about what you and the team have planned over the off-season?
MG: I think the team will look at their overall performance and see where we could have gotten better as a team. Like anything in life, we have to acknowledge where we were good and where we think we probably weren't as strong and change it for next year. We will 100 per cent do that.
What about a little vacation? Will you manage to get a break?
MG: Since Texas I haven't really stopped yet – I got right back into working mode. I will probably have some downtime at some point, but it might be after the season opener, which is when it usually happens. I'll try to get some time off over the holidays at Christmastime, but other than that, I'm back in the gym and working on my fitness and doing my thing.
And finally, has Team Goulian set any goals for 2019?
MG: (laughs) Of course we've set goals, and of course we're not going to tell you what they are!