The Red Bull Air Race World Championship schedule for 2017 announced Jan. 19 includes a return to San Diego for the first time in years, and for the second of eight races in the championship series. The season also will see fresh faces in the paddock, and a new airplane for Matt Hall, one of the perennial title contenders.
The itinerary will bring American pilots Kirby Chambliss and Michael Goulian to home turf for the second race of the season, an earlier U.S. calendar date than Red Bull has scheduled in recent years, when Chambliss and Goulian did not see a home crowd until the final two contests. They will square off against 12 other pilots from around the world, including two Master Class rookies, in the second race of the season, April 15 and 16 in San Diego, where the event drew tens of thousands of spectators in 2007 and 2008.
“I can't remember when I've been so excited about a season. The calendar goes from strength to strength, with every stop holding special significance as either a landmark location in the sport's history or a premiere in a dramatic new setting," Red Bull Air Race General Manager Erich Wolf said in a statement. “We're especially thrilled to bring high-speed, low-altitude racing to a new audience in Russia. What a year it's going to be."
While most teams have scrambled to modify their race airplanes in the weeks available to them between seasons because of international shipping requirements, Australia’s Hall will chase the title in a brand-new Edge 540 V3, replacing the MXS-R he piloted for five seasons. The Red Bull series veteran has finished second in the past two seasons, overcoming early season struggles in 2016. Hall, in a story posted by Red Bull, acknowledged that the transition will be challenging:
"I have only flown an Edge twice in my life, and both of those flights were 15 minutes long on the same day back in 2010. I borrowed Matthias' Edge to see what it was like. I did like it, so I am hopeful when I get into my own Edge, we can be up there pretty quickly,” Hall said.
Transitioning to the Master Class will be a challenge for two newcomers stepping up from the Challenger Class, where Red Bull pilots cut their teeth. Christian Bolton of Chile and Mikael “Mika” Brageot of France, both of whom enjoyed success in Challenger Class competition, now face off against the best in the world. Bolton will see his first full season in the Master Class, having been called up for the final two races of 2016 following the death of fan favorite Hannes Arch, who was killed in a helicopter accident in September.
Bolton managed to snag points despite the huge challenge of stepping up to the main event, unexpectedly, at the end of the 2016 season.
“We are really excited for 2017, though you might say that for us, our season started back in Indianapolis, because everything since then has been a good learning curve," said Bolton, who in addition to racing is ranked as Chile's top aerobatic pilot by the FAI and is one of the leading aerobatic performers in all of Latin America, Red Bull reported online. "The way we look at it, our 'warm-up' races are over, and now we are focused to continue learning and win races! We are a great team and fully dedicated to eventually becoming the best, and to be the fastest adversary possible to the other teams at every race."
Tickets for the 2017 events are sold online, with tickets for the Abu Dhabi race already available when the full list of dates was released Jan. 19, and others to follow soon, Red Bull said.