He clipped a pylon during practice and damaged a winglet. Then, engine trouble on race day put Michael Goulian further behind the curve, forcing the lone American with a title shot to race all-out on Nov. 18 to have a chance to win his first Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Fort Worth, Texas.
A series of unfortunate events put Goulian, who had entered the weekend with the championship lead, up against Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic in the Round of 8 on Nov. 18 at the Texas Motor Speedway. While Goulian pushed and collected a pair of gate penalties, setting him back 4 seconds, Šonka flew a clean run in 53.031 seconds to earn a spot in the Final 4, followed by a 52.796 to take first place in Fort Worth, and the series championship with it.
Unlike some years, it took every one of the eight races since February to decide the 2018 championship, and three pilots had a chance at the title on Nov. 19. Australia’s Matt Hall managed to get to the Final 4 and flew a clean run, stopping the clock at 53.100. It would have been enough to make him a champion, had Šonka failed to find an extra three-tenths of a second on the course and claim the race and championship victories.
“As I came into the last flight I had a clear head. I knew that Matt Hall had flown a fast round, so I knew that I had to push a little bit, and definitely not make any mistakes or penalties, and that’s what I did,” said Šonka, now the reigning champion, in comments quoted by the World Air Sports Federation, or FAI, which sanctions the series as the proving ground for the fastest pilots.
Kirby Chambliss finished a tough season on a high note, taking third place in Fort Worth after a season marred by bad luck.
"It feels great. I was hoping for the first spot as always. I went out there and did what I thought I needed to do,” said Chambliss, who posted a 54.064-second final fun after setting the only sub-52-second time of the weekend in the Round of 8. “I was a little bit disappointed with the time, and surprised with the other guys' times, but hey, I'm happy to be on the podium. It's a good start for 2019 and we'll be fast.”
As Goulian and Chambliss look ahead to another campaign, Šonka, the former Czech Air Force fighter pilot who has logged five Red Bull Air Race seasons and finished second in 2017, has some time to celebrate before he, too, gets back to work. The 2019 schedule has not yet been announced, but racing will most likely resume in February.