Kirby Chambliss has twice won the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, and he is one of the racing series’ original pilots, but a long stretch of tough luck put him nine years removed from his last race win. Three minutes of hard flying on July 2 put Chambliss back on top of the podium.
Suddenly, after all that work, and disappointment, and perseverance, came three masterful flights—one each in the the Round of 14, the Round of 8, and Final Four—and it was time for Team Chambliss to celebrate a win in Budapest, Hungary. Three minutes, 54 air gates perfectly passed, nine vertical turn maneuvers (where races are often won or lost), all amounting to a singularly pleasing result for Chambliss and the team he was quick to credit.
McLeod had been beating Chambliss’ splits during that final run through the course, but the third and final vertical turn maneuver, flown to perfection by the veteran Texan, was a line McLeod couldn’t match.
“The old Pete Mcleod would have either won, or over-G’d today,” the Canadian said, referring to his more careful approach to flying the course that punishes pilots ruthlessly for the slightest mistake. Cameras are everywhere, capturing images at each gate that judges use to rule if a pilot was precisely straight and level passing through. Never mind hitting a gate: The slightest hint of a climb or descent, or wings more than 10 degrees off level, brings a two-second penalty, enough to dash all hope of weekend victory.
Yoshihide Muroya, the season series leader who arrived in Budapest hoping for his third consecutive race victory, wound up third, more than half a second slower than Chambliss in the final round.
Michael Goulian, the AOPA ambassador and the second American in the field of 14 race pilots, was held pointless for the first time this season after exceeding the 10-G limit for a tiny fraction of a second too long during his first-round run. Goulian posted on Twitter a photo of his meter, showing a peak acceleration of 12 g, noting it “ruined all our fun.” Goulian had been on a blistering pace, probably enough to win the heat, possibly fast enough to break a minute, until that fraction of a bit too much pull for a fraction of a second too long. “My team was awesome all week,” Goulian continued in another Twitter post. “Excited for Russia.”
That race, July 22 and 23 in Kazan, Russia, will mark the beginning of the eight-race season’s second half, with Chambliss suddenly in the hunt, trailing Muroya by 14 points in a series where each race winner collects 15. Chambliss is now fourth, trailing McLeod by just one point.
While Chambliss is likely also looking forward to Russia, the Budapest race was both a supreme spectacle and a series of three near-perfect flights that Chambliss and his fans will surely remember.
"I love Budapest. I have to thank my team, it's not a one person effort, I can't thank them enough,” Chambliss said in post-race comments posted online by Red Bull. “I'm super stoked.”The race series is the official world championship of air racing, and will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October. AOPA is once again hosting a party, and offering special discounts for members, so find the details and purchase tickets here, and make your plans to attend what could be a very exciting season finale.