The Red Bull Air Race World Championship returned from a three-year break in spectacular style with a thrilling battle for victory in the bright blue skies over Abu Dhabi. Despite being a location renowned for its unpredictable winds and searing heat, the weather conditions were perfect, making the UAE capital an ideal place to host the 2014 season opener.
First up was the Top 12, where all Master Class pilots competed for a place in the Super 8. Pete McLeod, having achieved the fastest qualifying time, flew fast and clean through the racetrack, making it safely into the next stage. However, the same couldn't be said for the two American pilots. Kirby Chambliss picked up a gate penalty and Mike Goulian didn't even start due to an engine problem. On pulling out, Goulian said: "It's the safe thing to do, and you're not going to win with a sick airplane anyway. We'll be back for the next one."
Paul Bonhomme, Nigel Lamb and Hannes Arch came out quickest in the Top 12 and proved to be the title contenders. But Matt Hall pulled out all the stops in the Super 8 and knocked Nigel Lamb out of contention for the Final 4.
During the Super 8, Arch briefly set a new course record of 00:56.869, before being pipped by McLeod with his time of 00:56.710. For a moment, it appeared as if defending champion Bonhomme had fallen behind his Canadian and Austrian rivals.
But in a tense finale it was Bonhomme who prevailed, setting yet another course record of 00:56.439. "There was huge pressure out there today. It's obvious that the other guys have gotten better," says the two-time world champion. "I'm really pleased. For all these years I've had 13 wins to my belt, and now it's 14, so I feel like it's a monkey off my back!"
Arch's fiercely competitive and aggressive style earned him second place, just a blink of an eye behind Bonhomme with a time of 00:56.776. "Overall I'm really happy with my performance and my team," says Arch. "I came here to see where I am – and I'm in the front with Paul. The game is on."
McLeod continued his consistent performance to earn third place – his first ever podium finish. "It's great to be on the podium. The big plan is to be the world champion one day. I don't know if it's this year or next year or whenever. The work starts here."
Stay tuned for more race action when the world's fastest motorsport returns for stage two of the World Championship in Rovinj, Croatia in April.