In a remarkable start to the 2017 Red Bull Air Race season, the Czech Republic’s Martin Sonka clinched his first race win since he joined the World Championship in 2010. Rising winds that brought the racetrack alive didn’t affect Red Bull Team Sonka pilot, whose time of 53.139 blew away his opponents by more than a second. Spain’s Juan Velarde was content with his 54.166, which turned what was already Team Velarde’s first-ever appearance in the Final 4 into their first podium finish. And Canada’s Pete McLeod (Team McLeod) continued the momentum he’d showed at the end of 2016 in taking third.
After a breakout season in 2015 where he finished in fourth overall, last year was rough for Sonka, starting with a disqualification penalty in Abu Dhabi. Now, he has not only set the standard for 2017 but finds himself at the top of the World Championship leaderboard for the first time. Defending titleholder Matthias Dolderer is in fourth overall after incurring a penalty in the Final 4. With newcomers Cristian Bolton of Chile and Mikael Brageot of France earning their first World Championship points, and Australia’s Matt Hall – second in the World Championship the last two seasons – getting a cutting-edge new raceplane soon, it’s going to be a heart-stopping season.
“Except for some l mistakes during practice, the whole week went well and I couldn’t be happier,“ said a beaming Sonka, who took four race podiums in his four previous seasons of Air Racing. “I’ve finally won my first race, I feel good in my raceplane, and this of course gives me confidence for the future. This was a totally different start compared to last season, and hopefully it will continue this way.”
Results Master Class Abu Dhabi:
1. Martin Šonka (CZE) 53.139, 2. Juan Velarde (ESP) 54.166, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 54.632, 4. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 55.227, 5. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 54.676, 6. Michael Goulian (USA) 54.960, 7. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 55.890, 8. François Le Vot (FRA) 55.973, 9. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 54.503, 10. Matt Hall (AUS) 55.332, 11. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 55.844, 12. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 56.740, 13. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) DNF, 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) DQ
World Championship Standings: Martin Šonka (CZE) 15 pts, 2. Juan Velarde (ESP) 12 pts, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 9 pts, 4. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 7 pts, 5. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 6 pts, 6. Michael Goulian (USA) 5 pts, 7. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 4 pts, 8. François Le Vot (FRA) 3 pts, 9. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 2 pts, 10. Matt Hall (AUS) 1 pt, 11. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 0, 12. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 0, 13. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 0, 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 0