The 2018 edition of the Red Bull Air Race will start this weekend, with the Abu Dhabi race as the season opener. In the Master Class, fourteen pilots and their teams would be fighting for the World Championship, whilst the ten Challenger Class pilots would compete in the Challenger Cup.
On this point we will use those few hours that left to the Abu Dhabi race to recall the highlights of the 2017 edition, together with a few information about the expected changes for the upcoming season.
Martin Šonka on the race track.
It may be said that there was no such exciting and dynamic Red Bull Air Race season as 2017 was. The fierce fight for the championship was the trademark of the last edition of the Air Race and it lasted to the final race in Indianapolis. Before the second to last race, at Lausitzring in September 2017, there were still four pilots that could reach for the World Championship – Muroya, Šonka, McLeod and Chambliss. When the 7th race was won by Muroya, followed by Hall and Šonka, it become clear that only the Japanese and Czech pilots would be involved in the final battle in Indianapolis.
Yoshihide Muroya takes off to the race.
Both Muroya and Šonka started the final race fast and furious, the Round of 14 was won by Yoshi and Šonka hit the pylon. It looked that this would mean the end of the race for the Czech pilot, but he managed to advance to the Round of 8 as the fastest loser. They survived to the final round, which belonged solely to Yoshi – he not only won the round but also set the track record.
The happy winner of the Red Bull Air Race 2017 – Yoshihide Muroya.
Eventually Muroya won the season with 74 points, reaching the first place in four races: San Diego, Chiba, Lausitz and Indianapolis. Šonka won the second stage with 70 points and two wins during the season, in Abu Dhabi and Porto.
And when talking about the Lausitz race, the incredible duel between Matt Hall and Mikaël Brageot should be mentioned. They met together in the Round of 8, racing in the first pair of the round, and this was one of the most incredible challenges of the season. Everyone was standing amazed when the official results were announced as the difference between them was just 0,002 seconds! Matt Hall was the faster one, advanced to the next round and finally finished the second place in the Lausitzring race.
Lausitzring, Matt Hall´s hangar – the final preparations before the Qualification Round.
sMikaël Brageot made his Master Class debut in the 2017 season. He was also the only one in the race to fly the MXS-R airplane as the other Master Class pilots were flying Edge 540s. Brageot´s aircraft was the one that attracted the most attention – painted in the World War II warbird style the MXS-R was for sure the one standing out from the crowd.
Mikaël Brageot and his MXS-R Skyracer.
Kazan, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia, was the new Air Race location added to the race sites in 2017. The pilots and their teams visited this picturesque city on the Volga river in July and it looks that the new location worked well, because the Red Bull Air Race would return to Kazan in 2018.
The Challenger Cup 2017.
The 7th race of the season was also, the most probably, the farewell to the Lausitzring track, as the Air Race location. This track was not so successful in the past years as previously expected and there were several rumours about its future. Finally, it was sold to DEKRA in 2017. The circuit will be now used as a road car test ground and closed to the public. Another rumour that even if used by DEKRA the Lausitzring would still be hosting the Red Bull Air Race in 2018 was not confirmed: there is no German location in the 2018 Air Race calendar.
This is a very bad news for German, Czech and Polish fans, as the Lausitzring, located between Dresden and Berlin, was easily accessible for all of them. Especially the Czech Air Race lovers used to come there in hundreds, if not thousands, to support two Czech pilots competing in the Master Class – Martin Šonka and Petr Kopfstein.
Petr Kopfstein takes off at Lausitzring.
At the end of the 2017 season Peter Podlunšek, the only Slovenian pilot in the championship, decided to retire from the Red Bull Air Race. During the 2014 and 2015 seasons he was flying in the Challenger Class and advanced to the Master Class for following two seasons.
Peter Podlunšek on the race track.
Melanie Astles´ victory in the Challenger Cup race in Indianapolis is the last, but certainly not least, highlight of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race season. Astles is the only woman in the Air Race and her victory in Indianapolis automatically made her the first woman to win the Challenger race.
The most significant change in the upcoming 2018 edition is also related to the Challenger Class. This year, the Challenger Cup pilots will fly the same airplane that is the favourite choice of the Master Class pilots – Zivko Edge 540 V2. That change, from the two-seat Extra 330LX to the advanced aerobatic and race special, will surely bring a new charisma to the Challenger Cup competition.
Challenger Cup 2017 – the last season with Extra 330.
Ben Murphy advanced to the Master Class after his two seasons in the Challenger Cup. He is not only the experienced aerobatics pilot but also the former Royal Air Force pilot, with more than 1,000 hours in the Harrier V/STOL airplane. Murphy was also a Team Leader of the world-famous Red Arrows aerobatic jet team and Team Leader for the Blades Aerobatic Display Team. In the 2018 season he will fly the Edge 540.
Italy and South Africa will make their debut in the Air Race, thanks to Dario Costa and Patrick Davidson who join the Challenger Class.
Just a few minutes to start the race – Velarde and Chambliss, Lausitzring.
The 2nd race of the season will be hosted by Cannes, beautifully located on the French Riviera. This means that another new location is added to the Air Race calendar, the location that certainly would please the French and Italian fans of the championship. There are still three locations for the 2018 season not announced officially by the Red Bull Air Race officials, but according to the Wikipedia it would be Bilbao, Astana and Perth.
The 2018 edition of the Air Race will bring also the change in the Master Class race rules: previously going over 10G for more than 0.6 seconds resulted and automatic ´DNF´ (Did Not Finish), now the pilots will be able to continue the race, receiving just the two-second penalty.
Michael Goulian on the race track.
Inside the Yoshihide Muroya´s hangar, Lausitzring.