Matt Hall has roared into Red Bull Air Race World Championship contention with a commanding victory at the third race of the season in Lake Balaton, Hungary on Sunday (European time).
The result means the Australian will head to September’s Japanese finale full of hope that he can clinch his first ever world title.
While Hall prospered, his two fiercest championship rivals faltered.
Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya arrived at the Hungarian race as the championship leader and outright favourite to collect a third win on the hop. However, it was Hall who knocked the 2017 series champion out of the race in the first-stage Round of 14.
As Muroya’s day gurgled it was the man that beat Hall to the 2018 title, Czech pilot Martin Šonka, who continued to pose the biggest threat.
Both men won their way through the second stage Round of 8 and then progressed to the Final 4 shootout. In the final moments Hall was flawless, while his Czech adversary hit a pylon and tumbled to fourth.
The victory sets up a monumental three-way battle for the 2019 – and final ever – Red Bull Air Race World Championship crown. Hall has jumped into second, four points in arrears of Šonka, while Muroya falls to third, a further six points behind Hall.
Though a maiden title might be the one goal that Hall wishes for, the Aussie simply wanted to relish a seventh career air race victory, following a stressful lead into race day.
“I’m really glad to win before it [the series] ends,” Hall said.
“My wins have always come in groups and I haven’t had one for over a year now. Sometimes it feels like you’re winning and sometimes you’re not. It’s good to walk out of the championship at least a race winner this year, it’s a good feeling to win and prove we can do it against really solid competition.
“Yesterday we knew we were fast, but we made some mistakes in qualy and came sixth. I hate making mistakes, so I was really angry with myself. Coming back today I knew we were fast, but I just had to fly cleanly which I knew I could do.
“This will now be my fifth fight for the world championship title, and I know what that’s like. To tell you the truth, I’m not really looking forward to the two weeks leading into Chiba because it’s always stressful and a lot of pacing. But the race day itself is super exciting, so the reward is there, I just gotta go get it.”
Finishing second was Great Britain’s Ben Murphy – it the first podium of his career – while Canadian Pete McLeod came in third.
The 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship moves onto Chiba, Japan on September 7-8 for the series finale and final ever event in the history of the sport.
For Hall, Šonka and Muroya it will be a nervous wait, as the trio prepares to duke it out in what is anticipated to be one of the most exciting world championship battles in the series’ history.
VIDEO: Matt Hall speaks after winning the Red Bull Air Race event at Lake Balaton in Hungary.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
Martin Šonka (CZE) – 65
Matt Hall (AUS) – 61
Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) – 55
Ben Murphy (GBR) – 37
Michael Goulian (USA) – 37
Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) – 33
Juan Velarde (ESP) – 32
Mika Brageot (FRA) – 31
Pete McLeod (CAN) – 30
Kirby Chambliss (USA) – 26
Cristian Bolton (CHI) – 24
François Le Vot (FRA) – 21
Petr Kopfstein (CZE) – 10
Matthias Dolderer (GER) – 4