10 Best Moments From 2014-2019
The World Championship campaigns produced moments of emotion that went beyond sporting achievement. Here are the most memorable from the past six seasons.
10) Flying under the Chain Bridge in Budapest: Hungary is the spiritual home of the Red Bull Air Race, and the swoop of raceplanes under Budapest’s Chain Bridge became an iconic symbol of the sport. Fans and pilots couldn’t get enough, and the first flight under the bridge was a rite of passage for every new Master Class contender.
9) Nigel Lamb wins the World Championship: It is said that consistency creates World Championships, but Nigel Lamb proved it. In 2014 the British ace, who had been fighting for the title since 2005, had a career-best campaign, earning his first race win at stop three and finishing second at each of the remaining five races. While others had more wins, Lamb’s consistency and persistence gave him the title, a worthy honour for a pilot known for integrity and impeccable flying.
8) Paul Bonhomme clinches his third World Championship: Great Britain’s Paul Bonhomme had already built a tremendous legacy by becoming the first pilot to win back-to-back World Championships (2009, 2010), but in 2015 he outdid even himself by taking his third title by five points over the charging Australian Matt Hall. Bonhomme subsequently retired at the top of his game, but no one has ever been able to match his achievement.
7) Peter Besenyei retires: Another pilot who retired after 2015 was Peter Besenyei. The visionary Hungarian had pioneered the sport, even serving as a test pilot through early versions of the pylons, and he had won the title in the series’ debut season of 2003. The entire World Championship field turned out in Besenyei’s hangar after his last flight, and their heartfelt applause showed the high esteem in which the Hungarian is held by his peers.
6) Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway: The home of the Indianapolis 500 always brought out the best in the pilots. Matthias Dolderer of Germany captured the World Championship there in 2016, and Yoshihide Muroya of Japan did the same in 2017. In 2018, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when the USA’s own Michael Goulian added his name to the sporting elite who have won a race there. In the Challenger Class, Mélanie Astles of France became the first woman to win a major motorsport event at The Brickyard (2017).
5) The Airgators go above and beyond: The Airgators who maintain the racetrack pylons have always been behind-the-scenes heroes, and nowhere was their dedication more apparent than the 2016 season finale. With winds exceeding 40kts blasting into Las Vegas Motor Speedway, pylons began to deflate and burst on their own. Spectators marveled as for over an hour the Airgators wrestled the 25-metre monsters to keep them upright. Flying was eventually cancelled for safety, but the Airgators’ effort was nothing short of valiant.
4) The resurgence of Kirby Chambliss: No one logged more starts in the Red Bull Air Race than US pilot Kirby Chambliss – 92 – and a career that spanned the sport’s 14 seasons was bound to have some ups and downs. Chambliss won the title in 2004 and 2006, but when the Red Bull Air Race came back from a hiatus in 2014, the Texan finished out of the top five for three years running. That all changed in 2017, when Chambliss captured his first win in 9 years at Budapest, followed by another victory in Kazan, Russia. Chambliss finished just off the World Championship podium in fourth, and it was clear he was back in business.
3) Yoshihide Muroya races at home: Japan’s superfans adore Yoshi Muroya, and every race in Chiba evoked pure emotion. There was shock when Muroya exceeded maximum G for a Did Not Finish penalty at his first home race in 2015, then delirium when he came back the next year and secured his career-first race win. The pilot captured another home triumph on the way to his 2017 World Championship, then stunned the Chiba faithful by finishing the 2018 race in last place. In 2019, the season finale was held in Chiba for the very first time, and Muroya had returned to form, earning the race win as well as second place overall.
2) Martin Sonka goes from heartbreak to hero: The Czech Republic’s Martin Sonka was a powerhouse across 2017, winning the kickoff in Abu Dhabi and heading into the season finale at first overall. But, flying last in the Final 4, he couldn’t find the pace, and Muroya took the title by four points. Fast forward to 2018, and Red Bull Team Sonka started on the back foot, as they were hit with disqualification penalties for technical infractions in both of the first two races. But with extraordinary resilience the pilot only intensified his focus, making a comeback for the ages. His four wins in the six remaining races gave the Czech Republic and its devoted fans their first World Championship in the sport.
1) Matt gets the monkey off his back: Matt Hall of Australia had first seen the view from the overall podium with third place in his rookie season, 2009, and in subsequent campaigns he finished in the runner-up position three times. But the ultimate triumph had proven elusive, and with the announcement that the Red Bull Air Race would not continue past 2019, time was running out. Engine issues at the season opener didn’t help, but the determined Aussie kept fighting until the season finale saw him battling it out with Sonka and Muroya. Piloting the very last run of the series, Hall did just what he needed to do, finally earning the trophy by a single point. Judging by the smile on his face, it was worth waiting for.