After eight years away from San Diego, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship returned in fine style and offered up a race that the crowds went wild for and the pilots loved.
Going into the race Martin Sonka was on top of the standings after his win in Abu Dhabi, Juan Velarde was second, with Pete McLeod in third and 2016's World Champion Matthias Dolderer in fourth.
McLeod, Sonka and Yoshihide Muroya were the quickest pilots during the early part of race week, taking the top spot in the three Free Practice sessions, with Muroya setting the track record of 57.909s – he was the only pilot to set a sub-58s time. Petr Kopfstein, Michael Goulian and Dolderer were also in the mix and Matt Hall, now with his new Edge 540 (after 'borrowing' a raceplane for Abu Dhabi) managed to finish fifth in FP3, an impressive result for a pilot flying a new make of aircraft and one that had come straight out the box from the factory.
San Diego race highlights
Qualifying saw Dolderer back to his best taking the top spot with a time of 58.332s. Closest to him was Goulian, flying over home soil, he was 0.646s off the world champ. Sonka was third and Matt Hall fourth.
Muroya couldn't put a clean run together and finished 10th in Qualifying, which meant he would fly first on Race Day in the Round of 14. He would be up against McLeod.
Muroya went through in Heat 1 after beating McLeod by 0.458s. Hall was up against Peter Podlunsek, but Hall couldn't beat the Slovenian with his new plane and lost out by 0.743s and it saw Podlunsek in to the Round of 8 for the second time in his career.
The other pilots that went through to the Round of 8 were Kirby Chambliss, Petr Kopfstein, Michael Goulian, Matthias Dolderer, Nicolas Ivanoff and Martin Sonka who scraped through as the fastest loser.
That was to be as far as Sonka would go, when he flew against Muroya who was in fantastic form and 0.221s faster than the Czech pilot. Dolderer knocked out Kopfstein to make his second Final 4 of the season. Chambliss beat Ivanoff and it looked like Goulian was heading through to the Final 4, but clipped a pylon and that saw Podlunsek through to the Final 4 for the first time in his career.
San Diego Race Day gallery
Muroya flew first in the Final 4 and set the fastest time of the day, up to that point, with a 58.529s. The only other pilot to fly under 59s was Podlunsek in the Round of 14.
Dolderer was second to fly and was quicker than Muroya in the second and third split times. He was looking to go ahead of his friend and rival, but as he turned to face the Finish Gate he caught the pylon at Gate 14, the penultimate gate, and collected three seconds worth of penalties and that saw him below Muroya.
Chambliss was third into the track for the Final 4 and was looking solid to finish on the podium, however he got off his racing line and flew too high at Gate 10. The two seconds worth of penalties saw him pushed to the bottom of the standings with one pilot to fly.
Podlunsek entered the track, knowing what times he had to beat. He flew cleanly and smoothly which was enough to see him finish with a time of 1:00.454. Although he was 1.925s behind Muroya, it was enough for him to claim his first podium in the Master Class in second place, with Dolderer in third.
The results saw Sonka stay on top with 22 points. Dolderer was second ,with Muroya third, Velarde fourth and Podlunsek moved up to fifth.
This race set up the perfect encounter that was to take place in Chiba the following month...
San Diego race results