Japan has a new motorsport World Champion: Yoshihide "Yoshi" Muroya. When at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he became the first pilot from Japan – and all of Asia – to claim a World Championship title in the Red Bull Air Race, with a brilliant win. While the result wasn't a surprise to his legions of devoted fans, after a rollercoaster season it was joyous relief.
At 03:00 Indianapolis time on Race Day, the name 'Martin Sonka' was trending on social media in Japan, because that was to be Muroya's first opponent of the day – and the pilot in the strongest position to claim the world title.
Muroya was to fly first in the Round of 14, but was given a two second penalty for incorrect level flying through the gate, but he wasn't too spooked by it. "I knew I got my two second penalty but I knew my time was really good, 1:04 or something so I thought I had a good chance to survive the Round of 14," Muroya stated. "I was in the holding pattern before landing and watching Martin's run on the jumbo screen from the sky. I could see Martin get the green lights and at the last the light turned red. I was really happy as I was coming into land, but the landing wasn't good," he added.
However, even though Muroya beat Sonka in their head to head, the Czech pilot went through as the fastest loser – even though he picked up a penalty for hitting a pylon – a rare thing for a pilot with three seconds of penalties to proceed to the following round.
Muroya in the Indy track – cooler than ice!
Muroya blitzed passed Mikael Brageot in the Round of 8 and found himself in the Final 4 against Martin Sonka again. For Muroya to take the World Championship he needed to win and for Sonka to finish in third or lower. Muroya flew first in the Final 4 and smashed the track record, setting a 1:03.026 – which he and other pilots thought impossible. "I saw my time of 1:03, I couldn't believe that could happen. I thought the timing had broken, but maybe there was wind or I had some help from somewhere. I thought it was my family pushing me one second faster that made me win and become World Champion. We were behind coming to Indy and we did it the hard way but we won by just one point." he explained.
Although Muroya finished the season in breath-taking style, his season didn't go exactly how he would have liked. "This year was tough. It was up and down. The plane wasn't working well in Abu Dhabi and then we went and won the next race," Muroya said.
After taking wins in San Diego and Chiba, he finished third in Budapest and then things started to fall apart. He finished 13th in Kazan after a terrible run in the Round of 14. He followed that up with a sixth place in Porto, as he missed a day's flying due to technical faults with his raceplane.
He was then back on the up and turned it around to take the win in Lausitz. This left him four points behind Sonka with one race remaining, and what better place than Indianapolis to have the season finale?Wherever Muroya goes, the press follow
Race Day wasn't going to be easy though but Muroya handled it well. "The race in Indy was very tough. With the wind conditions it was so close, anybody could've won the World Championship but we came out on top," Muroya explained.
Muroya went on to talk about what being World Champion will mean back home in Japan. "There is a huge following of motorsport in Japan. Especially with cars, as we have lots of manufactures, but not much aviation. People have started to follow Red Bull Air Race in Japan and it has grown really quickly. I think it will be very big news especially after winning in Indy as Takuma Sato won the Indy500 in May so it will be big news . It's the Japanese year in Indy," he explained.
Muroya (r) and Takuma Sato (l) discuss motorsports
Muroya knows that the limelight is on him, but is keen to point out that the Red Bull Air Race is a team sport. "There is a lot of teamwork. I'm in the spotlight and the one that talks to the press, but there are hundreds of people in the background that don't have the spotlight, but work the same as me. I'm here so I'm the spokesman, so I have to speak, but the others work as hard and that's what makes the team win, so I have to thank everybody and I really appreciate it," concluded Muroya.
Muroya celebrates his World Championship win with his team