Michael Goulian bounced back from a disastrous DNF in qualifying and managed a fourth-place finish in Budapest, Hungary, as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship series rounded the halfway point of the season with Goulian just two points off the pace.
The veteran airshow performer and AOPA ambassador stopped the clock at 57.504 in his first head-to-head match-up on June 24, went on to secure another final four appearance, and would have won the day with a 57.256 in the final round but for a pylon strike and two gate penalties that piled seven seconds onto his official time.
Sonka laid down a clean run timed at 57.502 to win the race and climb into third place in the season standings, trailing Goulian by 9 points at the halfway mark with four races remaining. Matt Hall climbed into first place in the season standings with a third-place finish in Budapest, gaining two points on Goulian with whom he had been tied going into the weekend.
Goulian had a stressful qualifying run—stressful on the airframe, that is. Exceeding the G limit resulted in a DNF and cost him a qualifying time, and also put his crew to work pulling the Edge 540 race airplane apart overnight to inspect for overstressed parts and secure a sign-off from the race technical director.
The popular racing series now heads to Kazan, Russia for an August contest, followed by Wiener Neustadt, Austria, in September and a return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October, where Goulian and fellow American Kirby Chambliss will once again have a home crowd to fly for. AOPA members and guests can enjoy that contest and dine in the comfort of the Panasonic Pagoda next to the Yard of Bricks on Oct. 6, with tickets to that special event now available online.
Chambliss also was among the many who succumbed to an over-G penalty that bounced him out of the running in the first head-to-head round (the Round of 14, in which all 14 pilots race against each other, seeded according to their qualifying times). That two-second penalty was enough to allow Britain’s Ben Murphy to edge past and end Chambliss' weekend of racing. His own post-race remarks made clear that Chambliss, now in ninth place in the season standings, is one frustrated pilot:
“I was super surprised, and other than that (over-G), we were fast. But Lady Luck has to be on your side, and we're not seeing it this year,” Chambliss said. “So where in the hell is it? Honestly, there's not a whole lot I can change.”
Goulian, in an email to fans following his qualifying DNF on June 23, had struck a more optimistic tone going into race day. He would go on to keep his season-long streak of final-round appearances intact.