The twelfth year of the Red Bull Air Race did not disappoint. Ace flying, close victories, and challenging courses and conditions made this year’s race one for the history books.
The championship opened in February in Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates. The beautiful but tricky course – featuring shifting wings and high temperatures – led to several eliminations by penalty and pylon hits. Just .08 seconds decided the winner of this race. Paul Bonhomme emerged victorious, followed by Matt Hall, and Pete McLeod in third.
The race continued in Chiba City Japan, known as the “City of Flowers,” to a sold-out crowd of 60,000 spectators. Bonhomme once again came out the master of the fickle winds and difficult track, with Hall just 0.382 seconds behind. Yet it was neither Bonhomme nor Hall who took home first in the next race in Rovinj, Croatia: it was Hannes Arch. His was the closest win in the race’s history. Arch quickly stole the lead from Martin Sonka, and Hall slipped into third by finishing just a fraction behind Sonka.
By the end of the race, Hall and Bonhomme were tied in the final standings. It was already looking like the ultimate victory would come down to these two ace pilots.
The fourth stop for the master pilots was Budapest, Hungary. Nestled on the banks of the Danube River, Budapest is largely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A smooth and disciplined approach to the race paid off again for Hannes Arch, who finished this course first in 59.350. But Arch’s long-time rival Bonhomme was not far behind, and finished second. A stall in a vertical turn set Martin Sonka back for a third place finish.
Ascot, England played host to race five, where spectators saw one of the most exciting race days of the championship. After two back-to-back wins, Arch fell into a disappointing eighth place after his engine failed to start before the Round of Eight and he was forced to retire. The win this time went to local hero Bonhomme, which was much appreciated by the crowd. Matt Hall took second, with Yoshihide Muroya getting onto the podium for the first time of the season with third.
From Ascot it was off to Spielberg, Austria where gusting winds resulted in numerous penalties and pylon hits. In the end, Matt Hall finally took first place at the podium for this race. Then it was off to Fort Worth, Texas for the second-to-last race of the championship, the results of which confirmed that the final championship would be a run-off between Hall and Bonhomme for first place.
Finally, the pilots arrived in Las Vegas, where this master class of champions took to the skies to declare an ultimate victor – and finished an incredible year of racing. Matt Hall won the Las Vegas race, and Bonhomme came in second, but Hall would ultimately miss his chance for a first-time championship victory. Instead, it was ultimately Bonhomme who took home the championship for the record-breaking third time. Hannes Arch was back at the podium to take home a trophy for third place overall.
Tricky courses, unpredictable weather, ace pilots, and some of the most beautiful locations on the planet all went toward making this year’s Red Bull Air Race season one to remember. We can’t wait to see what happens next year.