Top 10 unforgettable moments of 2018
1) Goulian pulls an upset at the season opener
At the kickoff in Abu Dhabi, the USA's Michael Goulian faced down defending World Champion Yoshihide Muroya of Japan in the Final 4 and came away with his first win since 2009. In a career-best season, it would not be his last.
2) The Red Bull Air Race premieres in France
Cannes rolled out the red carpet for the race on the Riviera, and the action did not disappoint. In one of the most gripping Qualifying sessions ever the track record fell repeatedly, and on Race Day, Australia's Matt Hall slipped past 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany by just 0.072s to claim victory.
3) Sonka starts the season with stumbles
After finishing second overall in 2017, the Czech Republic's Martin Sonka was a favourite for the 2018 title – until he earned a technical Disqualification in Abu Dhabi and, in a stunner, a second DQ in Cannes. To capture the crown, he would need a comeback for the ages.
4) Muroya misfires at home
Japan's Muroya came to Chiba looking for what would have been an unprecedented third consecutive home win. After placing third in Qualifying, he and his team took a calculated risk and switched their raceplane's tail just hours before the race. Breathless fans were in for a shock when the gamble failed and Muroya finished last.
5) Hall is back in the hunt
Australia's Matt Hall was the runner-up in both 2015 and 2016, but a necessary raceplane change saw him slide in the "building year" of 2017. Back-to-back wins in Cannes and Chiba confirmed his return to the top ranks, and he would stay in the running for the 2018 title right up to the final race.
6) Sonka caps Wiener Neustadt debut with hat-trick
The very first Red Bull Air Race was held in Austria in 2003. And the excitement of a brand-new Austrian stop in Wiener Neustadt flew off the charts when Sonka completed a summer-long turnaround from his early troubles by becoming only the fourth pilot in history to clinch three race wins in a row.
7) Goulian kisses the bricks in Indianapolis
Just when Sonka appeared unstoppable, Goulian put the brakes on the Czech charge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by going from "fastest loser" in the Round of 14 to home-race winner. The result set up a three-way title showdown among the USA, the Czech Republic and Australia at the season finale in Fort Worth.
8) A new generation rises, a new rivalry revs up
The two newest members of the World Championship roster – Mika Brageot (joined 2017) and Ben Murphy (joined 2018) – both walloped expectations, with Brageot taking his first race podium and fourth overall while rookie Murphy earned two Final 4 appearances and a season finish of seventh. This pair is wasting no time in taking the fight to the leaders, and a thrilling rivalry is developing between them.
9) Big names have big ups and downs
Some of the sport's most famous names had a rollercoaster season. Muroya's results ranged from 14th to second, and US former titleholder Kirby Chambliss went from 13th to third. Meanwhile, Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff started the year on the back foot with raceplane damage but managed a podium by year's end, and Dolderer became the first two-time winner of a season DHL Fastest Lap Trophy despite mid-season illness.
10) Sonka gives the Czech Republic its first World Championship
The boundless support and enthusiasm of Czech fans paid off when Sonka soared past all opponents at the season finale to claim the crown, handing Hall another second-place result and leaving Goulian in third overall. While the pilot called his maiden World Championship a "dream," rivals won't catch him napping – Red Bull Team Sonka is already deep in preparation for 2019.