Both American pilots were shut out of the points while Britain’s Paul Bonhomme all but sealed the deal for his third Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Australian Matt Hall kept a glimmer of hope alive with his second-place finish Sept. 27, less than a second behind the pilot who has won more Red Bull Air Races than anyone.
The result leaves Hall 12 points behind Bonhomme on the season, meaning a Hall victory in the season finale in Las Vegas Oct. 17 and 18 would pull him into a tie, but only if Bonhomme fails to score another point. Bonhomme is the only pilot to start every race in Red Bull Air Race history, with more than 40 podium finishes. Betting against the Brit seems unsafe.
Red Bull reported that more than 30,000 spectators at the NASCAR track watched Bonhomme cross the line at 55.285 seconds, edging out Hall’s time of 56.052. Kirby Chambliss and Michael Goulian, meanwhile, logged another tough race in a season of struggles, each failing to fly beyond the Round of 14, each posting times north of 57 seconds. A gate penalty left Chambliss at 57.952 seconds.
“You know, some days you get the bear, other days the bear gets you. Well today, the bear got us,” Chambliss said in a statement published by Red Bull media.
Many pilots made mistakes navigating the high-speed, tight-turning track marked by air gates that must be passed cleanly (and at the correct attitude) to avoid costly time penalties. Turns are also limited to 10 Gs, with penalties assessed for going over that limit.
“We saw today that the more risk you take, the more chance you have of a penalty,” Bonhomme told the Red Bull media team. “The really clever tactic is to know exactly where the limit is.”
Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya stepped into third place after a pylon strike cost him 3 seconds in the final round. Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic racked up 5 seconds in penalties, hitting a pylon and crossing a gate incorrectly to finish fourth.
Flying at speeds up to 230 mph, the Red Bull pilots outpaced the NASCAR machines that more typically use the venue, while making much tighter turns that pushed their aircraft—and themselves—to the limit.
“It was really hard work today and we put a lot of hard work into winning this,” said Bonhomme, who added he was trying not to pay attention to the championship standings as the pressure built, but focused instead on winning the next race. “Let’s see what happens in Las Vegas.”
AOPA members can see what happens behind the scenes in Las Vegas during a special tour that will be offered Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (An AOPA membership card is good for admission for members, families, and guests, to this hangar tour that will include an opportunity to meet Red Bull pilots.) AOPA members will also have access to a special viewing area in the main grandstand. Tickets can be purchased online.