Since joining the Master Class, Mika Brageot and Ben Murphy have rocketed to success at unprecedented speed during their respective rookie seasons. These former members of the Challenger Class are already taking the fight to the top contenders, and set to bring on a next-generation rivalry next season.
A champion aerobatic pilot, Brageot was a member of the second competitive category of the Red Bull Air Race for two seasons. He went on to take part in the sport's Master Mentoring Program, where he was coached by 2014 World Champion Nigel Lamb. When the British pilot retired, Brageot burst onto the World Championship scene in Lamb's former raceplane. Together with Lamb's former team, the French pilot collected 24 points and made the Round of 8 four times across 2017 – at the time, a record for a rookie in the Master Class. This year, he and his #11RACING team have taken their racing to the next level, with their first race podium and a season-final position of 4th place overall. "The trick is work," says the 31-year-old. "Personal work, team work. Add that together with a super-strong motivation and a fantastic team spirit, and I go for the best flights I can achieve!"
Brageot collected his first Master Class podium this year in Budapest
Murphy, meanwhile, is a former Team Leader of the Royal Air Force aerobatic team, the Red Arrows. He also spent two seasons in the Challenger Class before kicking off his World Championship career with the Blades Racing Team at the 2018 opener. Murphy finished his season with two Final 4 appearances and a 7th place overall with a total of 29 points – beating Brageot's record. The British pilot comments: "We're only just getting started... We were never going to be fully 'dialled in' in our rookie season, and the fact that we have picked up some great results is testament to the hard work everybody has put in and how well we have gelled as a new team."
Steve Jones, Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race, coaches Challenger Class pilots and has witnessed the rapid rise of Brageot and Murphy. While noting that both pilots demonstrated their abilities right from the start, he too emphasises the importance of the 'team factor': "Scoring World Championship points requires vastly more than just great piloting skill. Mika and Ben have both demonstrated that they also have the ability to surround themselves with top team members. It is the team 'package' that is vital to success. Pilot skill, team member ability and aircraft performance. If any one of these things is not top-class, the pilot will not succeed."
Jones also points out the value of the newcomers' strong aviation backgrounds, before concluding, "...it is really great to see our new Master Class pilots getting themselves noticed and ruffling a few feathers among the more established competitors!"
In an interesting twist, there are many threads that link the two new teams. Murphy's tactician, Neil Furness, actually worked for Brageot last season, supporting the French pilot's tactician Max Lamb. "[Neil and I] worked in the hangar together as the team transitioned from my dad to Mika," explains Max Lamb (son of former World Champion, Nigel Lamb). "When the opportunity came for Neil to take charge of the role with The Blades, our processes were pitched against each other, and I know we both took the opportunity to step up our game!". He adds, "With so much shared knowledge, professional and personal history, The Blades are a permanent member of my critical rivals for sure."
Along with big results come big expectations, and although a number of former Challenger Class pilots now dazzle fans (and foes) in the World Championship, for Brageot and Murphy, that pressure has ramped up faster than usual. "It's been fun to be the troublemaker when people haven't been expecting it," Brageot claims. "We take one thing at a time, and try not to be affected by external pressures. We know what we have to do, and as a team, we pull together. Sometimes the stars don't align, but you gather your thoughts, learn from mistakes and come back stronger. I hope 2019 will be an even better year for us!"
Murphy confides that his mindset for 2019 is to: "...keep learning, keep developing, keep pushing. Keep humble. We need to mature our processes ... and we still have a lot of work to do in understanding the aerodynamic characteristics of our individual raceplane. Most importantly, though, we plan to keep on enjoying it! The opportunity to race in such an exciting World Championship series is amazing, and to be a part of a growing and dynamic motorsport is truly an honour. We hope to give our fans and sponsors another successful year next year!".