Matt Hall flew his way to a back-to-back win at the third round of the Red Bull Air Race 2018 season, firmly placing himself as a top contender for the world title.
Now drawing level with USA's Mike Goulian in the World Championship standings, everything appears to be falling into place for Hall and his team. In the wake of his race win, the Australian is exuding confidence ahead of the next stop in Budapest in June.
Conditions over the weekend in Chiba were challenging, with strong gusts pushing the pilots to their limits in the fast and technical track. But former fighter pilot Hall was on point all weekend, pulling off a series of near-flawless performances in the head-to-head rounds. As the last pilot out into the track in the Final 4, Hall appeared to shun any kind of pressure resting on his shoulders, snatching a win from the hands of a competitive Mike Goulian.
"I love Japan and it's pretty special for me to win a race here," Hall said, having acknowledged his sadness in seeing that his friend and rival, Yoshihide Muroya, had made an early exit from his home race with a DNF result in their Round of 14 heat. "Everyone sees the pilot out in the track but it really is a team sport, and we've been working really hard to make sure that everyone in the team owns their own area. My area in the race weekend is to just be the pilot – just being in the plane and flying it. It was a fantastic race for achieving that... I'm hopeful that what it means that we'll only continue to grow from here. We're over the hurdle and we'll keep on running," he explained.
Chiba marks a back-to-back race win for Hall, whose race wins in the past couple of seasons have been more on the sporadic side. For 2018, it appears that the Matt Hall Racing team have found their stride, and a gameplan is in motion.
"We like to think it's back to getting back to where we were a couple of years ago. We had to take a year off winning with our new raceplane, but we had two wins in a row before our MXS fell over in 2016, and now two in a row with our Edge. This one feels even better than the last race, which was a good win, but this was very hard fought," Hall said.
2017 was a less than standout season, as Hall only managed to collect 40 World Championship points in total – a number he's set to smash at the halfway point in Budapest, if all goes to plan. And further back, the Australian pilot just missed out on a World Champion title win in 2015, having to settle as runner up to Paul Bonhomme after a closely-fought season.
"I've had some tough battles over the years and 2015 was one of them, and I have learned from that. I'm not scared to risk it with the potential result being failure. I'm not scared to give it a go," he stated.
Now celebrating success post-Chiba, Hall views all the setbacks, failures and challenges not with disdain, but as constructive learning experiences:
"Throughout my life I've fought for a lot of things, and not always been successful," he confessed. "When I was younger I was told that failing gives you thicker skin, and it's a great lesson. I used to think that was awful advice because I'd rather be winning... the key is having tenacity and never give up, and failing but continuing to push forward is a skill that you have to learn in life," he added.
So what's in store for the Australian at the iconic race in Budapest next month – could the team score a hat-trick of wins? As Hall stands neck and neck in the standings with Mike Goulian, there's no doubting that the Hungarian round is a significant milestone, a point at which every single point could make the difference.
"I'm much better in my attack mode than my defensive mode," Hall explained, referring to his recent form in Cannes and Chiba. But he's not revealing his gameplan just yet. "At the end of the season we'll see where we're at," he finished.
And when it comes to the fans in Chiba – 70,000 of them who lined the beach to watch the racing action unfold – Hall has nothing but praise. "I hope this race will be part of the calendar forever – the culture here is amazing. Everyone is so enthusiastic, I knock their guy out and they still embrace me," he said.
Catch the fourth round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Budapest, Hungary on 23-24 June 2018. Get your tickets HERE.