Michael Goulian aims for the top of every podium these days. Despite being edged out by Martin Šonka in the finals of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship race in Kazan, Russia, the American airshow star (and AOPA ambassador) heads to the final three races of the season in a better position than ever to win it all.
Less than two-tenths of a second separated the top three finishers on Aug. 26, with Šonka flying a masterful final run through the course to edge out Goulian and fellow American Kirby Chambliss, whose third-place finish matched his best result of the season. Chambliss had qualified eighth, and shaved nearly 1.6 seconds off that time through the twisting course in the final run.
All four of the finalists cracked 53 seconds, and Goulian’s 52.238-second effort, while leaving him short of race victory, sets him up for a real shot at the championship as the season heads to Austria, followed by two U.S. stops: Indianapolis on Oct. 6 and 7 (where AOPA will host a party Oct. 6), and Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 17 and 18, where the champion will be crowned. For Goulian, a Massachusetts native and U.S. National Aerobatic champion who has also won several honors as an airshow performer, a Red Bull title would be his first.
“It feels really good and I like how we’re doing and how the team is progressing,” Goulian said in post-race comments posted online by Red Bull. “I feel my flying today is the best I’ve done all year. I went out there today to win this race, not just get more points.”
Chambliss, trailing Goulian (55 points) by 36 points after five of eight races for the year, is unlikely to add another Red Bull Air Race World Championship trophy to his own collection in November, but his finish in Russia was a welcome bounce-back following a tenth-place finish in Budapest, Hungary, and finishing thirteenth prior to that in Chiba, Japan.
Another American pilot also enjoyed his trip to Russia: Kevin Coleman, who had not raced since the season opener in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February, took first place in the Challenger Cup race, posting a time of 58.316 seconds to leave the field behind, and move him up to third place in the season standings among the pilots vying for a spot in the main event.
Šonka won the weekend after a tough start of his own, qualifying twelfth before posting a blistering top speed in the Round of 14 and eventually outpacing Goulian in the finals by 0.115 seconds.
Goulian, in an email to fans, said the course in Kazan demanded that a perfect line take priority over pure aggression, and he made steady progress shaving fractions of a second on race day.
“We are going to try to keep winning. This is not a time to play defense,” Goulian said. “We will just keep our foot on the gas and try to be consistent. When the opportunity to win arises, we will take it.”