The Class Of ’09 Graduate With Distinction
Back at the start of the 2009 Red Bull Air Race season, four fresh-faced highly experienced aerobatic pilots, one of which was a former Wing Commander in the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force). The four pilots were:Pete McLeod, Yoshihide Muroya and Matthias Dolderer – and all were set to take the series by storm.
In the eight years in which they competed, this quartet laid claim to three World Championship titles, 19 race wins and 64 podiums in total. A fantastic return, by anyone’s standards.
Australian Matt Hall was the first pilot to gain the attention of the fans as well as his rivals. He finished fifth in the first two races of his career and claimed his first podium – a third in Porto – in only his fifth race. His consistency was clear right from the start and his results were enough to see him finish third on the overall podium in his debut season – an achievement no other pilot has been able to accomplish.
Germany’s Matthias Dolderer also started making waves in that very first season. He also claimed a podium in his debut season. He too achieved a third place at the season finale in Barcelona. By taking third in their fifth and sixth races, Hall and Dolderer set the record for the minimum number of races before finishing on the podium – a record that hasn’t been broken.
The four pilots kept a low profile in 2010 – with Hall claiming two more podiums – but were learning their trade and slowly improving. McLeod jumped form 15th in the standings in 2009 to fifth the following season. These were the pilots to watch, and the evidence was growing.
When the series returned in 2014, McLeod made an instant impact, topping Qualifying in Abu Dhabi and following up on Race Day with his first career podium, a third place finish. Yoshihide Muroya took the baton at the second race, scoring his first podium, before finishing third in Rovinj. 2014 was going a season to remember for McLeod. He became the first pilot of the class of ’09 to claim a race win. At the penultimate round in Las Vegas, the Canadian won the Qualifying session and when Race Day was cancelled due to high winds and was handed the winner’s trophy. He once again ended the season fifth overall.
At the start of the 2015 season, expectations were high for another epic battle between Paul Bonhomme and Hannes Arch. But Hall stepped up to take . He missed out on winning the season opener by just 0.084s to Bonhomme. This was to be a season-long battle between the Brit and the Aussie. Hall finished on the podium in seven of the eight races, including two races wins, but was pipped to the Championship by the more experienced Englishman.
It was Dolderer’s time to shine in 2016. The German pilot had been hyped as a future World Champion and he proved them right. Dolderer started the season with. Second and followed that up with his first win at the second race. Dolderer dominated the season so much that he became the first (and only) pilot in the sport’s history to win the World Championship with a race to spare. 2016 was also the season that saw Muroya take his first career win at his home race in Chiba, where he was constantly mobbed by local fans.
Neither Dolderer or Hall could repeat their achievements in the following season, but Muroya and McLeod filled the gap with an epic season. Muroya took the title by winning four races and McLeod finished third overall with four podiums to his name – including three second places in a row. Even at the season finale on Race Day, McLeod had a chance of being World Champion. McLeod ultimately walked away with the DHL Fastest Lap Award after being the quickest in Qualifying in four of the eight races.
Hall was the best performer of the ’09 class in 2018. He added another two race wins to his name, but ultimately lost out on the title to Martin Sonka. The Australian was pushing the Czech pilot right up until the final race, but 2018 was the year that saw Hall finish second overall for the third time in four seasons.
Hall made amends in the final season. After finishing runner up three times, the Aussie pulled out all the stops. Muroya was back to his best in 2019, winning three of the four races, but a 12th place finish in Lake Balaton saw the Japanese pilot drop down the leaderboard and Hall swooped in, taking advantage and ending his reputation as the perpetual bridesmaid.
After eight seasons and 219 race starts between them, the Class of ’09 have graduated with honours.