An intense battle for supremacy in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is set to be ignited in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates this Friday, when Australia’s Matt Hall begins his campaign for a maiden world title after finishing runner up three times previously.
Hall finished second in the 2018 season to the ever-consistent Czech pilot Martin Šonka, with just five points separating the pair. In third was American Michael Goulian, who had one hand on the trophy last November before faltering at the final hurdle to finish a meagre seven points off the pace and fall from title favourite, to bronze medallist.
On the eve of a new season, it will be last year’s top three who will be favoured to duke it out for victory in the Emirates this weekend. The event begins with qualifying on Friday before the main race on Saturday.
Having come so close to sealing the world championship deal on a trio of occasions, Hall knows the importance of beginning his campaign on the front foot. While a win in the first race of 2019 would be the dream start, the Aussie knows that a strong bag of points is the key at the start of this gruelling world championship.
“It’s always hard to say how you are going to go at an individual race, the world championship is about consistency over a season,” Hall said.
“While we like to think we can win any race out there – and we think we can win this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi – it is all about being in the top four if you can be. We want to be in the top four and maybe win it.”
Although much of the focus will be on the top three from yesteryear, there will be plenty of other strong challengers from the 14-pilot strong field. Among those looking to regain their foothold atop the pecking order will be former world champions Yoshihide Muroya of Japan (2017) and Germany’s Matthias Dolderer (2016).
Muroya found himself slightly off the pace in 2018 and finished his title defence in fifth, while Dolderer will be looking to bounce back after a dismal campaign that included missing the fourth race in Budapest due to illness.
With no shortage of pilots boasting strong credentials, Hall remained unwavering in his belief that he has team and the tools to once again be a top contender.
“The track is identical to what we had in Abu Dhabi last year, so everyone is going to be fast and knows where the fastest line is. We can all study the video from the winner last year,” Hall said.
“Our aircraft is a lot faster than it was this time last year when we came fifth. We want to capitalise on having a faster plane.”
Hall’s previous best result in Abu Dhabi was second place in 2015. That year the Aussie found himself in a furious head-to-head championship battle with the most dominant pilot the Red Bull Air Race has ever witnessed, Paul Bonhomme of the United Kingdom.
Along with a new season comes a handful of rule changes that have the potential to upset the pecking order. First and foremost, points will be awarded to the top three in qualifying. It’s a rule which could make or break a championship campaign.
Meanwhile a change to the ‘over-G’ rule will see pilots allowed to fly to 11G in the track without penalty, before receiving a time penalty if they break that mark. Any pilot who breaks 12G will be disqualified from that session.
Previously, pilots were only allowed to exceed 10G – but remain under 12G – for no more than six tenths of a second at a time.
The opening round of the 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship will take place in Abu Dhabi, UAE this weekend. Friday February 8 will see qualifying take place from 4pm local time/11pm AEDT. Saturday’s main race will be contested over three stages beginning at 2pm local time/9pm AEDT.
Australian fans can watch all the action LIVE at www.redbullairrace.com/live.
VIDEO: A look ahead to the first race of the 2019 season from the Red Bull Air Race YouTube channel.
Story supplied by Matt Hall Racing.