Red Bull Air Race 2017 Kicks off in Abu Dhabi
Thousands of eager residents thronged the Abu Dhabi Corniche on Friday, 10th February, as the 2017 Red Bull Air Race season kicked off in the Capital.
The sight of the world’s best pilots taking to the skies to perform gravity-defying stunts has made it an annual spectator sports in Abu Dhabi’s sporting calendar for last 10 years.
The season-opening Abu Dhabi race is the 75th in the illustrious history of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
The qualifying rounds on the first day that started at 3pm was a scorcher with 14 daredevil pilots blazing through a particularly fast track.
The Czech Republic’s Martin Sonka soared to the fastest time in Qualifying at season kickoff – his first Qualifying win since joining the World Championship in 2010. Sonka’s time of 52.097 in the changeable desert winds just edged out the USA’s Michael Goulian (52.458) and Kirby Chambliss (52.500).
Germany’s Matthias Dolderer comes into Abu Dhabi as the man to beat after claiming his first World Championship in 2016, a title that, in his words, he’s “on a mission” to defend. Last year, Dolderer started his charge to the championship with a second-place finish in Abu Dhabi. Sonka and the rest of the 14-pilot field don’t intend to let him seize early momentum this time, and an uncharacteristic penalty by the usually consistent Dolderer left him 11th in the Qualifying field.
“This is a very fast track and every little mistake counts, so you have to fly smoothly, and we’re entering the pull ups at a very high speed, so it’s easy to over-G,” said Sonka, who is in pole position, will face Slovakia’s Peter Podlunsek in Race Day’s opening Round of 14.
“We are happy not just with the result, but to prove to ourselves that we can fly fast and consistently with no penalties or mistakes – we have to do the same tomorrow.”
An Ardent Red Bull race fan, 62-year-old Billy Mantuano from Philippines, has not missed a single championship in the last decade. “This is my tenth year watching the daredevil pilots in action. This is one event I never miss,” Mantuana said. He said ten years ago, there used to be hardly a few hundred spectators on the corniche. “Every year the number is increasing – proof that the race is getting popular,” said Mantuana.
Brigida Mayuga, 53, another hardcore race fan, said it is nothing less than Formula 1 on the skies. “Every time I watch the pilots gyrate and do acrobatic stunts, I cannot stop to wonder how they do it,” said Mayuga.
In this pure motorsport, the aim of the pilots is to traverse through an aerial circuit featuring 25-metre-high, air-filled pylons. Using the most agile and lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370km/hr while enduring gravitational forces of up to 10G as they navigate a low-level slalom track. The final race will be held today.
Results of Master Class Qualifying:
1. Martin Sonka (CZE) 52.097
2. Michael Goulian (USA) 52.458
3. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 52.500
4. Pete McLeod (CAN) 53.016
5. Juan Velarde (ESP) 53.208
6. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 53.221
7. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 53.326
8. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 53.584
9. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 53.752
10. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 54.680
11. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 54.695
12. François Le Vot (FRA) 54.764
13. Matt Hall (AUS) 55.545
14. Peter Podlunsek (SLO) 56.776