The Moments We’ll All Remember
Over the last six seasons there have been six different World Champions, making for one of the most exciting sporting series ever. Here, we look back at those adrenaline-pumping World Championship moments...
Lamb proves consistency is key
Nigel Lamb joined the Red Bull Air Race World Championship midway through the 2005 season. He collected just one podium finish in 2007, ’08 and ’09 before finishing third overall in 2010. He was on the rise when the series paused at the end of 2010. When the World Championship returned in 2014 Lamb was ready. At the season opener He finished fifth in the Super 8 and didn’t make it through to the final round. And in Rovinj at race two, he finished eighth – not the most successful start to the season.
Round three was the series’ one and only stop in Putrajaya, Malaysia, and in tough, humid conditions Lamb fought his way through to the Final 4 and took the first win of his career, boosting his confidence for the rest of the season. After his first win, five different pilots won each of the remaining races, but Lamb took second place in every one. This gave him an insurmountable amount of points that Hannes Arch and Paul Bonhomme were unable to match.
Bonhomme bows out at the top
After finishing third in 2014, Paul Bonhomme was on a mission to claim back the title he saw as his! And he came out fighting for the 2015 season. He finished first or second in seven of the eight races, claiming four race wins. Matt Hall pushed him all season, and the only race in which Bonhomme didn’t finish on the podium was Rovinj. He finished eighth, facing off against Hall in the Round of 8, but uncharacteristically exceeded the G-limit and was served with a DNF result.
It was subsequently a season-long battle with Hall, but Bonhomme took the win at the season finale in Las Vegas. He was eight points ahead of Hall going into the final race. As soon as he booked his place in the Final 4 – knocking out Hannes Arch – he was World Champion.
On taking his third World Champion title, he announced his retirement. Bonhomme – with his three World Championships, 19 race wins and 46 podiums to his name – is the most successful pilot in the sport’s history.
Dolderer dominates the competition and wins with a race to spare
Matthias Dolderer was always tipped to be crowned World Champion. He had the pace, he had the plane, and he had the team. What he missed was the consistency. But during the offseason he spent time with Paul Bonhomme and got into the right headspace for the 2016 season.
He started the 2015 with a second place finish and then took the first win of his career in Spielberg. After slipping to eighth in Chiba there was no stopping the German pilot. He finished first at race four and then collected two second place finishes in Ascot and Laustizring.
Going into the penultimate race, Dolderer was leading by 16.5 points ahead of Matt Hall. He knew that if he finished above the Australian, then the title was his. In Indianapolis Dolderer had to wait for the other pilots to fly in the Final 4, but he was electric in the track and took the win, becoming the first and only pilot in the sport’s history to win the title with a race to spare.
Muroya turns over a four point deficit
The 2017 season was a two-horse race between Yoshihide Muroya and Martin Sonka. The leader on top of the World Championship standings had swapped six times. Mostly between Muroya and Sonka.
Going into the final race of the season, Sonka was leading the championship on 63 points and Muroya was four points behind on 59. On Race Day, Sonka and Muroya went head-to-head in the Round of 14, and it looked like the World Championship was going to be decided early on Race Day. In blustery conditions Muroya collected two seconds of penalties for an incorrect level. It seemed as if it was Sonka’s for the taking. He was flying extremely quickly and was easily going to beat Muroya’s time, but clipped a pylon at Gate 16 and added three seconds of time.
The World Champion title looked to swing in Muroya's favour, and it was his title. But as the weather worsened, no other pilot was able to beat Sonka’s losing time. The Czech pilot had been given a reprieve and went through as the Fastest Loser.
Both pilots made it into the Final 4, with Muroya to fly first and Sonka to finish last. Muroya clocked in a time of 1:03.026. Matthias Dolderer and Juan Velarde were to fly next. Neither of them could top Muroya – meaning that if Sonka wanted to be World Champion, he needed to beat Muorya’s time or finish second, which would be enough to give him the title by one point. All he had to do was beat Dolderer’s time of 1:05.546, which was more than 2.5s slower than Muroya. Sonka was ahead of Dolderer at the first split time, but behind Muroya, it was enough. However, he then started to lose energy and started to slip down the timesheet. When he crossed the Finish Gate, Sonka’s time was only good enough for fourth, costing him the title and seeing him settle for second.
A three-way fight to the finish
As the seasons rolled on, the title races became tighter and more exciting. The 2018 season saw a three-way battle that was to last the season. In an explosive season opener Michael Goulian took his first win in nine years, Muroya was second and Kirby Chambliss was third. Martin Sonka, who could have finished first, was given a DQ for a technical infringement and pushed down to fourth.
Hall took the win at the second race, with Goulian finishing second and Sonka once again given a DQ for another technical infringement. After just two races Sonka was down in fifth, in mind that his season might be over. Hall won at race three in Chiba, with Goulian second and Sonka third – from this point on the three pilots would lock horns for the rest of the season. That podium compelled Sonka, and he took the next three races in Budapest, Kazan and Wiener Neustadt. With two races remaining, Sonka was six points ahead of Hall in second, and nine points ahead of Goulian.
Inidanapolis was the penultimate race of the season, and where Goulian stormed to victory. Hall could only finish sixth and Sonka 10th. This swapped the leaderboard once again, and going into the final race of the season, Goulian was on top of the standings, five points ahead of Sonka and seven points ahead of Hall.
Goulian and Sonka went head-to-head in the Round of 8, but the pressure got to the American. He collected four seconds' worth of penalties, ending his championship hopes. But Sonka still had Hall to deal with in the Final 4. There were only three points between them. Sonka knew that not only did he need to either beat Hall or come one place behind him, he also needed to forget about the events of 2017. The Czech pilot knew that he had to beat Hall’s time of 53:100s, and couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. He flew beautifully – smooth and precise, and managed to knock 0.304s off of Hall’s time to claim the World Champion title.
Hall finally does it
After four seasons of finishing on the overall podium – three times as runner up – it looked as if Matt Hall was never going to become World Champion. The Aussie had always said it was his dream to be the World Champion, but he’d never put a timeline on it, otherwise it’s just added pressure.
In May it was announced that the series was coming to an end, which enforced a timeline on Hall if he was to become World Champion. At the time of the announcement he was sitting fifth in the standings, but had also stated that two podiums and one win would be enough to be World Champion. At Kazan, which was the second race of the season, he finished second. But Muroya was first, making the gap even greater between the Japanese pilot and his Australian rival.
Lake Balaton was where Hall took his win. Muroya had a challenging Race Day in Balaton, finished 12th after his tactics failed to find him the pace needed for a crucial podium finish. This left Hall in second place behind Sonka and once again, there was a four point deficit to be recovered.
Race Day in Chiba saw Sonka out in the Round of 14, while Hall needed to finish at least third if Muroya won the race. It was a tense Final 4. Muroya took the race win, but Hall flew cleanly, smoothly and accurately enough to finish third, which ended his 10 year wait to be crowned the Red Bull Air Race World Champion.