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Goulian breaks out on top in 2018 Red Bull air racesGoulian breaks out on top in 2018 Red Bull air races

American race pilot Michael Goulian flew his way into first place on Feb. 3 as the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship’s eight-stop racing season opened in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Michael Goulian of the United States (center) celebrates with Yoshihide Muroya of Japan (left) and Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic (right) during the Award Ceremony at the first round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 3, 2018. // Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Goulian, who sits atop the leader board for the first time, racked up 15 points and put a string of nine winless Red Bull racing seasons behind him with his race-topping time of 53.695 seconds.

He crossed the finish line just ahead of 2017 champion Yoshihide Muroya of Japan, whose time of 53.985 seconds earned him a 12-point result. Czech pilot Martin Sonka (54.65 seconds, nine points) came in third, and fellow American Kirby Chambliss completed the final-four race in fourth place with a time of 54.768 seconds and seven points.

Goulian, who last won a Red Bull race in Budapest, Hungary, during the 2009 competition, said he went into 2018’s opening race feeling cautiously upbeat about his chances for a good showing, according to a news release sharing the final four pilots’ reactions to the race.

"It's been a long time coming to get that second win, but it feels great,” he said. “I was very fast all week and very consistent. I was excited for Qualifying, excited for the race, but I knew I couldn't get too excited. So we worked on just putting one foot in front of the other and make small improvements. I had a feeling we would do well today, but I didn't want to put the cart in front of the horse. We want to be consistent now and we want to win races, but our aim is make the Final 4, get the points and be in the challenge for the World Championship."

Michael Goulian of the United States performs during the finals at the first round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 3, 2018. Photo by Naim Chidiac/Red Bull Content Pool

Muroya, who in 2017 became the first Red Bull Air Race World Championship winner from Asia, said his runner-up finish was a good way to open the new season.

"This is my first ever second place so I'm happy,” he said. “We were quite quick all the way through so we didn't change anything. This is a very good starting point for the new championship. The team and I are satisfied with the result so it's a good start to the season."

The season opener was “an incredibly tough race for us,” Sonka said. “We started well, but then we slowed down and we had some issues with our system, so I can't be really happy because I didn't perform as well as I could have. I'm happy with third because I've seen how close everyone was here in Abu Dhabi."

Fourth-place pilot Chambliss said he would learn a lesson from his approach to the race that he would take into the coming rounds.

“It's not really where I wanted to be; you know we're in the Final 4 and I felt like we had a chance at a shot at it and maybe I played to too safe, maybe we should've gone all out and next time I'll try that. I could've taken a bit more of a risk as I finished fourth anyway so it wouldn't have made a difference if I'd not flown clean trying to go faster."

The next stop on the racing scheduled is Cannes, France, on April 21 and 22. Several racing destinations in Europe and Asia have not yet been announced. The seventh stop on the 2018 schedule will be in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Oct. 6 and 7, before the 2018 races conclude in November at a racing locale in Asia.

View the complete standings after the first race.

And, watch this exclusive in-cockpit interview below that AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman had with the Red Bull race pilot and airshow performer while Goulian flew inverted and in formation.

Topics: Air Racing

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