Pilots’ first memories of the Red Bull Air Race
As any Red Bull Air Race fan knows, first impressions of the high-speed, high-G action last a lifetime. That is true for the race pilots as well. After an exciting first race of the 2019 season in Abu Dhabi, several World Championship contenders reveal personal memories of their initial encounters with the sport.
The USA’s Kirby Chambliss is the only pilot currently racing who took part in the inaugural 2003 season, and his memories are still vivid. “My very first race was at Tokol,” says the two-time titleholder, referring to the Hungarian airfield that hosted the second stop of that pioneering season. “I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow!’ You could pull all the Gs you could handle and fly as fast as you wanted. We also did the fastest touch-and-go possible before racing through the rest of the track. We took third place, and I told my wife, ‘That was absolutely crazy, but what a super cool experience!’”
The first memory of some pilots, like defending World Champion Martin Sonka, goes back to watching videos of the races online. French pilot Mika Brageot explains that for him, too, watching from afar had a profound effect. “My very first memory was in 2005, trying to find a link to watch the racing online, as it was not shown on French TV at that time,” says the 31-year-old, who would have been a teenager at that point. “My friends and I did in the end watch it, and I was hooked – from that day I was going to be a Red Bull Air Race pilot, and I spent the next years preparing myself in the best possible way to make my dream a reality.”
That same season, pilot Petr Kopfstein was also inspired – in his case, while viewing a race live not far from his native Czech Republic. He declares, “Watching the Red Bull Air Race for the first time in Hungary in 2005 completely changed my life. I was left amazed and motivated, and I instantly knew that this is exactly what I want to do one day.”
Chile’s Cristian Bolton reminisces about meeting one of the sport’s pioneering legends. “My strongest first memory of the Red Bull Air Race is when I met Peter Besenyei in Santiago back in 2004,” recalls the pilot. “I was in my first tour with the Halcones [the aerobatic demo team of the Chilean Air Force], and as a fan of the racing even then, it was amazing!”
Meanwhile, the recollection that resonates for François Le Vot, another French pilot in the World Championship, stems from his own experience in the cockpit. Even though he already possessed extensive experience as a French Air Force pilot and Unlimited Aerobatic Champion, he will never forget the first time he approached a racetrack. “My first vision of the track from above – it was so tight!” he shares. “I told myself it was just impossible to fly through it.”
And finally, the newest pilot in the World Championship, Britain’s Ben Murphy, cites a special moment from 2016, when he was a rookie competing for the Challenger Cup in the sport’s feeder category: “I’m not sure about my very first memory, but my ultimate memory from early on is definitely stepping onto a race podium for the first time in the Challenger Class.”