Red Bull Air Race pilot Matt Hall knew he “had to go for it” to stay ahead of his closest points competitors Martin Šonka and Yoshi Muroya to claim victory July 14 at Lake Balaton, Hungary, during the penultimate race of the fading Master Class series.
U.S. pilots Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss posted top-10 finishes in the event, but Goulian’s fifth and Chambliss’s tenth overall positions mathematically eliminated them from the abbreviated season’s championship.
Chambliss said he was happy with his flying, but he was also held back by engine troubles. “We know that ever since Abu Dhabi we’ve had some performance loss with the motor—we’re trying to fix it. Martin [Šonka] is tough, and I did what I could to put the pressure on him. He withstood the pressure and moved forward, I didn’t."
Australia’s Hall said he felt the “gates going past” his wingtips as he pushed hard to emerge victorious in the Final Four. His record includes 24 race podiums and seven wins, but he has never won a season title. “I just knew I had to go for it, because there’s no point in coming in second with the points at the moment,” he said during a post-race news conference.
Great Britain’s Ben Murphy scored his first podium with a second-place finish and McLeod claimed third. Japan’s Muroya was the early favorite with two wins in the shortened four-race format, but he made an early exit from Hungary after falling to Hall in the opening round.
Defending World Champion Šonka of the Czech Republic climbed to the top of the overall standings despite hitting a pylon in the Final 4, which penalized him by three seconds. “The lead is great, but it is just four points, and with 28 points on the table, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said in post-race comments. “To be the World Champion again would of course be awesome, but we are just concentrating on the racing.”
An estimated 100,000 spectators lined the beaches of resort town Zamardi as fickle winds that ranged from “blustery to calm” challenged competitors in the aerial racetrack over the lake, the race series posted on its news site. Retired Red Bull Air Race pilot Peter Besenyei proclaimed the venue “a lovely location” for the pilots when compared to Budapest, the race’s typical Hungarian stop. “They don’t need to worry about the very narrow Danube, so they have more options for how they turn through the gates.”
As the series winds down its existence, race director Jim Dimatteo of the United States was quick to thank “all the people of Hungary who make this such a special place.” The Eastern European country has hosted 13 of 93 races.
The idea for the air racing series germinated in the early 2000s. The 2007 season saw a series high of 10 races, but eight events have been the norm since 2014. Besides the Hungarian event, races for the shortened 2019 season were held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February; and Kazan, Russia, in June. The series finale will be held in Chiba, Japan, Sept. 7 to 8.