Michael Goulian said the championship wasn’t even on his mind as won the Red Bull Air Race at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 7. Yet he is now the man to beat with just one race to go.
It will all come down to Texas, when Goulian straps into his No. 99 on Nov. 17 and 18 for a few more passes between the pylons, separated from his rivals by a handful of points in a sport where just a few hundredths of a second can make the difference between a podium and a day with nothing to show for it. At the end of the weekend’s racing over the famous Brickyard, it came down to about half a second separating Goulian from second-place pilot Pete McLeod, who had beaten Goulian earlier in the day in the Round of 14, putting Goulian’s march to his first Red Bull title in peril.
“I wasn't even thinking about the World Championship this weekend, but to win in Indianapolis as an American and a fan of the Indy 500 since I was a kid. Knowing I'm going to get my plane out on the track and kiss the bricks is still so surreal,” Goulian said in post-race comments reported by Red Bull. “I met Pete at breakfast today and we both said let's just fly fast. I flew well and when I heard Pete had flown a 1:04 I thought 'oh gosh.' But mission accomplished for both of us. Everybody wanted a fight to the finish for the World Championship, and that's what they're going to get.”
Texas native Kirby Chambliss provided his fellow American an assist in that fight to the finish, beating Martin Šonka in the Round of 14 to stop the Czech pilot’s streak cold after three consecutive race weekend victories had catapulted him to the top of the standings. Chambliss, who has endured a frustrating season with little in the way of good luck and plenty of the other kind, was not happy to miss out on the finals.
“I was able to take Šonka out in the Round of 14 and I guess I found the racing line, but then in the Round of 8 I guess I lost it again,” Chambliss said in his own Red Bull interview after the race after Ben Murphy flew a clean 1:05.428 to beat Chambliss by more than 4 seconds, including a 2-second gate penalty. “I heard Ben’s time and I knew I had to go for it.”
The Texas Motor Speedway awaits the field next month, with three of those pilots having enough points for their season’s work to put the championship in reach: Goulian, Šonka, and Matt Hall, who are separated by just seven points after seven races in a series were the winner takes 15. Goulian has already secured his best season as a Red Bull race pilot to date, so he will be playing with house money as he fights to that finish in a race he might not even have to win to celebrate as the new champion.