Tension was in the air at the qualifying event for the Red Bull Air Race season opener in Abu Dhabi on Friday, February 8, as a new rule awarded world championship points to the top three pilots.
The 2017 world champion, Yoshihide Muroya, of Japan, seized the opportunity, earning three points and top of the overall standings in first. Canada’s Pete McLeod took second, and the US’s Michael Goulian, earned third.
With 25 points on offer to the winner of Saturday’s race, February 9th, in less than 24 hours any one of the 14 international pilots could claim the head of the overall leader board.
Muroya, who has not won a race since he clinched the 2017 title, avoided the over-G penalties that have sometimes been his nemesis to deliver textbook vertical turning manoeuvres on his way to a time of 53.024. McLeod logged 53.240 and Goulian’s time was 53.400.
Based on the new points system, the winner of qualifying earns three points, the second place finisher takes two points and the third-place pilot earns one.
Goulian was awarded one point, but although McLeod came in second to Muroya, based on a post-race technical inspection, the race committee decided not to award the Canadian two points, due to the fact that one magneto was out of the limit on his race plane.
It was apparent that the issue was not intentional, and so McLeod’s second-place ranking will be maintained.
Defending World Champion Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic finished fourth, exactly a half second behind his long-time rival Muroya, and from top to bottom, the entire field of 14 pilots were separated by just 1.568s.
The 2018 World Championship was determined by only five points, so the points picked up in qualifying across the season could make a critical difference overall at the end of the season.
Qualifying determines the brackets for the head-to-heads of the opening round of race day on Saturday, February 9th.
The spectacular Red Bull Air Race was first established in 2003, and is an international series of air races where competitors have to navigate round a challenging course in the fastest time.