Sometimes you just can’t catch a break. Michael Goulian, one of two American pilots in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, arrived in Las Vegas for the finale of the 2016 season hungry for victory, having not stood atop the podium since 2009. Goulian set a new track record in his first head-to-head race Oct. 16, but desert winds promptly forced race officials to cancel the rest of the weekend.
Pylons bent, then toppled as the wind exceeded 30 knots, and with no letup in sight, race officials decided to cancel the balance of the weekend, having managed only five of eight head-to-head flights on Oct. 16. Qualifying had been called off for the same reason Oct. 15, and nobody walked away with points. Race Director Jim DiMatteo said the wind, gusting to more than 30 knots, “exceeds our ability to conduct the race in a safe manner.”
“I was super aggressive because I didn’t know what the afternoon held,” Goulian said in post-race comments posted online by Red Bull. “The conditions weren’t above our limit as pilots, but they were right at the limit. It was a day to fasten your seat belt tight.”
The final standings were set in Indianapolis, it turned out, on Oct. 2. Matthias Dolderer of Germany clinched the world championship two weeks before the final race of the season, though other pilots still had bragging rights to battle for.
Chambliss, a two-time Red Bull world champion, could have gained some ground after his hard luck Oct. 2 when he was disqualified for revving his engine over the limit. Still, third place for the season would have been in reach if Chambliss had won in Vegas, and had a little luck. As it was, he settled for eighth place.
Chambliss found a bright side to the wind-doused day, though his frustration was evident.
“We had a little trip in Indy with the technical disqualification, that was a little bit of bad luck and we were looking for a bit of good luck today,” Chambliss told Red Bull. “We ran a good time and I was happy with my flying—it worked out well considering the conditions.”
Fellow American Kevin Coleman, a Red Bull rookie, finished third in the hunt for the Challenger Cup, the prize given to pilots developing their skills to compete in the Master Class.
“I've learned a lot this year,” Coleman told Red Bull. “I've got a win in my first season and lots of podiums. I'm hoping I can continue to build on this and have even more success next year."
The Challenger Cup was awarded to Florian Berger of Germany, based on points accumulated prior to Las Vegas. Mélanie Astles, the first woman to fly in a Red Bull series, wrapped up her inaugural campaign toward the back of the pack, but determined to build on her season.
Astles, 34, did not start flying until she was 21, having saved enough money managing gas stations to start lessons. She has gone on to become a world-class aerobatic pilot, ranked fifth in 2015. Her passion and persistence earned her a second-place finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this month, in what proved to be the final race of 2016. Her story caught the eye of ESPN. Astles studies her flights in minute detail and hopes to make up for lost time, given her late start in aviation, with disciplined and rigorous critiques.
"I'm happy to be part of this and doing something I love. It's been a great season and I've learned a lot. The weather didn't help today, but I'm remaining positive and I'm looking forward to next season, where I'll be even better.
Teams now have just a few weeks to prepare their aircraft for 2017 and get those aircraft on ships for the first race in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The schedule for 2017 has not yet been released, but will be posted on the Red Bull Air Race website.
Red Bull had not yet posted online specifics about ticket refunds, beyond directing ticket holders to contact the original vendor.