10 biggest stories of 2019
The culminating season of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship served up surprises, setbacks and sweet success in a battle that went down to the final run of the final race.
10) Muroya comes out swinging: A new rule awarded World Championship points in Qualifying, and 2017 World Champion Yoshihide Muroya promptly made the most of it. At the season opener in Abu Dhabi, the Japanese pilot won Qualifying and the race for a total 28 points, seizing the overall lead. But he had beaten defending titleholder Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic by only 0.003s, a harbinger of exciting battles to come. Meanwhile, Australia’s Matt Hall had worrisome engine woes.
9) Kazan Qualifying sees milestone for Brageot and headache for Dolderer: In Kazan, Russia, Mika Brageot of France earned his first pole position since joining the Master Class in 2017. Not so fortunate was 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany, who had an unusually hard pylon hit, sustaining damage to his raceplane that could not be fixed in time to compete on Race Day.
8) The Red Bull Air Race makes an announcement: In May, it was announced that the season would be condensed, and that the Red Bull Air Race would not continue past 2019. After 14 riveting campaigns since the sport’s first takeoff in 2003, September’s season finale would mark the final race.
7) Muroya goes two for two: By topping the timesheet on Race Day in Kazan, Muroya became only the second pilot, after triple World Champion Paul Bonhomme, ever to win the first two races of a season. The trio on the podium – Muroya, Hall (whose engine problems were clearly resolved) and Šonka – were already squaring off for the title fight.
6) Lake Balaton experiences Air Racing: The Red Bull Air Race started flying in Hungary in 2003, but this season, instead of the tight confines of urban Budapest, the Hungarian race flew over the largest lake in Central Europe: Balaton. 100,000 spectators flocked to the resort destination of Zamárdi to take in the racing at “the Hungarian Sea.”
5) Murphy gives Britain its first podium since 2016: In only his second World Championship season, Ben Murphy added to the British legacy built by Steve Jones, Paul Bonhomme and Nigel Lamb by claiming his first race podium with second place at Lake Balaton.
4) Hall snaps Muroya’s streak: With Muroya looking to wrap up the title in Balaton, Hall provided the season’s pivotal moment, defeating the Japanese pilot in their opening head-to-head in Round of 14 and going on to win the race. Muroya dropped to third in the overall standings, and Hall was still only second, because…
3) Sonka’s consistency gives him the lead with one race left: “Consistency wins championships” is a mantra in the Red Bull Air Race, and while Sonka hadn’t won a stop in 2019, his steady, masterful runs had seen him score over 20 points in each of the first three races. He headed into the season finale holding 65 points to 61 for Hall and 55 for Muroya – but had his pylon hit in the Balaton Final 4 revealed a crack in his confidence?
2) Muroya matches a home win record: To the delight of the weekend’s 98,000 Japanese fans in Chiba, Yoshi Muroya went from Fastest Loser in the Round of 14 to winner of the season finale, sharing the record of Red Bull Air Race legend Paul Bonhomme for most home wins with three. Japan’s hero would also finish second overall. Šonka had an even tougher Round of 14, incurring an Over G penalty that took him out of the race – and out of World Championship contention – early in the action. The Czech ace did claim the season DHL Fastest Lap Trophy, as well as third on the overall podium.
1) A bridesmaid no more, Hall thrills with World Championship win: After four World Championship podiums including three near-misses in second, Hall was looking like he might be the best Red Bull Air Race pilot never to win the title. But the Aussie quashed that once and for all in Chiba, when in the last flight of the Final 4 he delivered a run perfectly calibrated to minimise risk while keeping him ahead of Muroya in the standings. Hall’s third-place result for the race clinched the World Championship by a single point – and gave Australia the crown they had been craving.