Matt Hall: It’s nice to be leading

The Australian on his season so far

Hall ready to race

Matt Hall is one of the toughest competitors in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. He joined the series back in 2009 as part of a foursome of new pilots that also included Pete McLeod, 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer and current champ Yoshihide Muroya.

However, it was Hall that started ruffling feathers of the more experienced racers straight away.  In his first race, the Australian finished fifth – ahead of World Champions Mike Mangold and Kirby Chambliss. Hall followed that up with his first podium in only his fifth race and he finished his debut season third on the overall podium. It was obvious from the start that he was going to be tough to beat.

In 2010 he picked up a second in his home race in Perth, proving that the pressure wouldn't knock him off his path to one day becoming the World Champion. He also claimed another third in that year at the Lausitzring. He finished his second season in seventh place.

After the three-year break, Hall returned in 2014 and picked up where he left off, finishing third at the season opener. He picked up to more third place finishes in 2014 and finished sixth overall.

Hall is not someone that is happy with finishing sixth and seventh. The competitive former Wing Commander knows what it takes to be the best and there was no way he wasn't going to climb the standings.

2015 saw him arrive in Abu Dhabi with winglets on his MXS-R, the second pilot, after Nigel Lamb, to try the modification. He stormed the entire weekend and missed out on his first race win by just 0.084s. He lost out to Paul Bonhomme. The two pilots butted heads all season. Hall claimed his first career win in Spielberg, which was the sixth race of the season. Going into the final round of the season, Hall was in touching distance of the title, but Bonhomme won by five points in the end. It was Hall's statement season. The Australian had arrived and was going to be a championship contender from here on in. His lowest result of 2015 was a fifth place!

2016 was the beginning of problems for Matt Hall Racing that would last close to two years. It proved Hall's mental strength and that he had a solid team around him that could keep him motivated.

The season started and Hall was suffering from a back and neck issue where he was unable to pull high-Gs. It took a lot of physiotherapy and several months for him to recover. It wasn't until Budapest where he was really able to start making his mark on the season. After his third in Budapest, he collected two race wins and a fourth. But just as he thought he was making a charge for the title, his raceplane developed an issue that made it unflyable and had to be retired from the Air Race.

The only saving grace was that it was the end of the season, however the MX factory were no longer building raceplanes, so after flying the MXS-R for eight years he was going to have to move over to an Edge 540 for the 2017 season.

These bespoke raceplanes take time to be built and Hall had to start the 2017 season in a 'hire' plane. This was an almost standard Edge and Hall could only finish 10th at the season opener. He had his own raceplane for race two, but it needed a lot of work for it to be competitive and Hall also had to disregard eight years of muscle memory and relearn how to fly it. Hall is never one to give up and by the sixth race of 2017, he found himself on the podium in Porto, claiming a third place. He followed that up with a second place finish in Lausitz, however he finished the season sixth overall.

The 2017 season taught Hall that losing wasn't as bad as he thought and it helped him become a better race pilot as he now knew what it was like to not be competitive. "It definitely helped my mentality. I've had a pretty good race career so far. I was always at the top of the pack, people were always expecting me to do well, and I did tend to do reasonably well, so that meant I was always scared of not doing well. I've now had a year of not doing well and learning how to roll with the punches. It means that I now walk into Race Day not thinking that everything hinges on that particular result. I think to myself 'it's just another race, I know what it's like to come at the back of the pack, I've done it before, it's not a big deal and I know I can win'. So I'm a bit more relaxed when it comes to bad results, but still just as focused on getting good results," he said at the end of the season.

Tragedy then struck Matt Hall Racing when at the end of 2017 team technician Ron Simard died in an aircraft accident. The team were obviously distraught as Simard had worked so hard on the team's new Edge and was integral to getting it race ready.

The 2018 season began in Abu Dhabi and Hall missed out on the Final 4, finishing fifth, but he was confident that he would be a contender for the season ahead.

At the first ever race in France, Hall took the win in epic style, taking the top spot on the podium by just 0.072s. He then followed this up with another win in Chiba. And at the most recent race in Budapest, he took third place.

This, after such amazing and successful seasons, now sees Hall sitting at the top of the World Championship standings for the first time in his Air Race career. So with him leading, is Hall getting excited and carried away? Not at all! "It's nice to be leading the championship, but I'm not really thinking about it to be honest," he said.

Now at the halfway stage in the season, Hall leads by two clear points above Michael Goulian, who has been in the Final 4 in every race so far. But Hall feels he has the strategy to become the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Champion. "We arrive at each race with the aim to get the best result that we possibly can. We only let the championship scenario enter our head if we make it to the Final 4 of a race, and then we make a strategic decision and decide if we race for the win or race for points," Hall concluded.