Paul Bonhomme won the first Red Bull Air Race World Championship event held in Japan, edging out Matt Hall by 0.382 seconds to claim his second win in two races for the season. Racing on May 16 and 17 drew a record crowd, Red Bull reported.
“It’s a really good start to the season but it was hard work,” said Bonhomme, in a news release that noted he was drenched in sweat after having to go all out to beat Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya in the Round of 8. “The new knock-out format might be exciting for the crowd but it’s busy for us. You end up having to fly against Yoshi who had the best time in the previous round. It’s hard work. But we’re delighted. We knuckled down and it paid off.”
Red Bull has run 60 races since launching the event in 2003, and the first race held in Japan drew a record crowd with 120,000 tickets sold for the two days of racing.
American pilots Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss both improved on a tough start to the season. Both were knocked out in the Round of 14 (the first round following qualification that sets the bracket for the knockout rounds that follow) in Abu Dhabi, but both survived that round in Chiba, Japan, before each fell short in the Round of 8. Goulian, who has not won a Red Bull race since taking first place in Budapest in 2009, entered Chiba with a new canopy on his Edge 540, streamlined with a shape inspired by the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird that cut drag almost in half. This was one of several modifications made to Goulian’s race airplane, though he posted a time (52.917 seconds) more than a second slower than Matt Hall (51.452). Chambliss was also more than a second behind Matthias Dolderer in the Round of 8.
Bonhomme polished off Matt Hall with a 51.502-second final run. Bonhomme might have been knocked out in the Round of 8 as well: Muroya had posted the fastest time of the weekend with 50.779 seconds in the Round of 14, but exceeded the 10-G race limit attempting to best Bonhomme and finished in eighth place.
“I knew what I was up against with Paul Bonhomme as my opponent,” said Muroya. “I tried to use the right tactics. I pushed hard.”
He finished the event ranked just ahead of Goulian who has managed to collect three championship points after two races, following a 2014 season in which he failed to advance past the first knockout round in any event. (Bonhomme’s two victories give him 24 points for the season).
The series heads next to Croatia, returning to Rovinj May 30 and 31.