Red Bull Air Race pilot Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic claimed his third World Championship Master Class series win in a row during a razor-thin 0.036-second victory over defending champion and top qualifier Yoshihide Muroya of Japan Sept. 16 in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. U.S. pilot Michael Goulian, who arrived at the top of the leaderboard for the sixth of eight races in the series, dropped to third place overall after a costly two-second penalty in the opening Round of 14 races.
“I can’t describe the feeling of winning three in a row, there are no words,” Sonka said during post-race comments provided by Red Bull. His 59.288-second time propelled Sonka to his latest victory and followed wins in Budapest, Hungary, and Kazan, Russia, while he rallied back from two disqualifications earlier in the racing series. He kissed the aircraft’s fuselage after landing, which he said saluted the efforts of “the whole team.” He said the comeback signified “an incredible season for us” in the face of the season’s earlier challenges.
Hall's elation was evident when an in-flight camera captured him clapping in the cockpit after learning of the third-place finish. “It’s good to be on the podium, but it was disappointing to get to the podium and not get to the first step, especially when it’s eight one-hundredths of a second from first to third,” Hall said during post-race comments. The top three finishers were separated by less than eight one-hundredths of a second, marking the closest competition to date.
Goulian reflected on a couple of mishaps during heat races that he said were glitches but cost him dearly when he was unable to compete in the Final 4. “In the first vertical turn, I stalled the airplane at the top. Going into the second VTM, I was leery of stalling a second time, so that conservative flying across the top allowed the airplane to go downwind too far, which pinched me on the recovery gate. We have two more races to try to win the World Championship. My plan is to do what we’ve been doing—this was just an anomaly.”
A balky magneto and a rough-running engine for fellow U.S. competitor Kirby Chambliss during the Round of 8 led to a "did not start" issue and eliminated his chance for a win.
An estimated 40,000 race fans waved red, blue, and white flags under a sparkling late-summer sky to watch the action near Europe’s Alps, castles, and cobblestone streets not far from Vienna. The event was the season’s first race over land and the first with a standing start that allows pilots to enter the starting gate seconds after they begin rolling down the runway.
With two races to go, Sonka is in the overall lead with 64 points, followed by Hall with 58 points, and Goulian with 55 points. Muroya and France’s Mika Brageot round out the top five.
The Red Bull Air Race World Championship series travels stateside for its next two races to close out the season. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Oct. 6 and 7 race. (The Brickyard Bash that was scheduled to take place during the Indianapolis race has been canceled.) The season finale is Nov. 17 and 18 in Fort Worth, Texas.