Šonka ready to defend title

The Czech pilot won last years’ Red Bull Air Race World Championship

Czech pilot Martin Šonka kicks off his seventh season in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 8–9. This time he will enter the race as the holder of the World Championship title, which all the 13 other pilots will be trying to take from him.

Šonka acknowledges that keeping the title will be challenging. So far, nobody has won twice in a row since the 2009 and ’10, when Paul Bonhomme won. Nobody has won twice since the sport was reorganized in 2014.

Last season ended in November, but for Martin Šonka that didn’t mean much. From the moment he unpacked the championship trophy, he has constantly been busy. He did find a few moments for rest and his family, though.

“The activities were really challenging. The various social events and interviews were numerous and they did not end with the new year. However, I am very glad because this is a good way to raise the standing of aviation a little higher compared to the past, and the attention continues. In addition, I have been able to meet a lot of new, interesting people, and that's always nice,” Šonka said.

“As the new season approaches, however, it has become necessary to focus a little more on preparation. We're starting this very early this year,” he added.

He enters the season as the world title holder, but he does not want to let this go to his head. Defending the title is always harder than getting the title for the first time, Šonka said.

“There is nothing else to be said except that we want to win races, just as we did in previous seasons. It is extremely important to be especially consistent, as each point can play a role, and air racing has been very volatile over the past two years. After all, the last two seasons have always come down to the last flight in the championship. We do not want to increase the pressure on us. On the other hand, we would love a second championship and of course we will do our best to achieve that,” he added.

The competing 14 pilots must also prepare for rule changes. One key change involves the Over G penalty. Last season, going over 10G for 0.6 seconds resulted in a two-second penalty for Master Class pilots, while reaching 12G was an automatic DNF (did not fly) for the run.

In 2019, a one-second Over G penalty will be incurred if a pilot reaches 11G, while reaching 12G will still result in an automatic DNF.

There is also a revision in awarding points. For the first time since 2010, points will be awarded in qualifying: three points for the fastest, two for second place, and one for third. In addition, pilots will continue to receive Race Day points according to their final placement, but the allotment has changed, and bonus points will be added for advancing through the rounds, with five points for advancement to the Round of 8 and three points for advancing to the Final 4.

Given that the World Champion has been decided by five points or fewer in the past two seasons, these extra scoring opportunities could be crucial, and the new allotment is sure to shake up strategies.

“Yes, that is true and it will be interesting,” Šonka said, adding that first-place pilots can now get 25 points and only the last-place pilot will not score points.

Unlike some other teams, Šonka’s team has no changes. The team coordinator remains older brother Josef Šonka. The tactician and analyst is Petr Františ from the University of Defense. The engineer will be Lance Winter, and Ivan Krakora will provide communication and marketing.

“We have had a couple of seasons with this composition and we will want to take advantage of the crucial experience we have accumulated. We must concentrate on every flight, and not underestimate anything. Only hard work has led us to results, and we want to get it done,” Šonka said.

This year's full calendar is not yet clear. It should have eight races again, of which three are known. The first race is in Abu Dhabi, and there will be one in the Czech fan’s favourite spot of Budapest, and also again in Japan.

Red Bull Air Race www.redbullairrace.com
Martin Šonka www.martin-sonka.cz

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