Šonka second at Abu Dhabi

The Czech pilot missed by three thousandths of a second in the Red Bull Air Race

In one of the closest finals ever experienced in the Red Bull Air Race World Championships, defending champion Martin Šonka in his final flight lagged behind Japan's Yoshihide Muroya by only three-thousandths of a second, representing a mere thirty centimeters.

Šonka finished second in the Final 4 at Abu Dhabi, the first race of the eight-race 2019 season. Third place went to American pilot Michael Goulian.

Under the new scoring system, Muroya has 28 points, Šonka has 22 and Goulian has 21.
In Abu Dhabi, Šonka had been consistently flying fast in training, and finished fourth in the qualification, just missing extra points now given to the top three qualifiers.

In the Round of 14 he went easily past Chilean pilot Christian Bolton, who was disqualified for exceeding the maximum allowable overload of 12 G. Bolton is now in the last place in the series, and the only one of the 14 pilots to have zero points.

In the Round of 8 he faced Australian pilot Matt Hall. Šonka received a one-second penalty. He eventually overcame his opponent by more than two-tenths of a second, though..“It was exciting because I made a mistake and got a penalty. Otherwise, it would not have been exciting, we would have been faster. So for the finals, the task is to fly first and foremost cleanly,” he said in a television interview before the final race.

Muroya, Goulian and Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff advanced with Šonka to the Final 4.

Ivanoff was supposed to fly first, but his plane did not start. This automatically put him in fourth place.

Muroya set the pace with a near perfect run, crossing the finish gate in 53.780s. Michael Goulian entered the track next and was ahead at the halfway point, but a slower second lap saw him finish with a time of 54.009s, which would eventually see him finish third overall.

That left Šonka to fly last and knowing what time he needed to beat to win, the current World Champion went full throttle into his run. At the halfway point, Šonka was ahead, but then he dropped behind. Šonka then pushed hard and nearly clawed back the time he lost, but he stopped the clock at 53.783s, a fraction slower than Muroya.

“We are not the most fortunate now, it was very tight, but it was a beautiful race. A little disappointing of course, but it is true that Yoshi was flying great here, he also won the qualification and deserved it. Last year, we finally rejoiced in Wiener Neustadt, this time someone else was faster,”Šonka said.

The second Czech pilot Petr Kopfstein finished 10th in the opening race.

The 2019 season has eight races, and the date and location of the next race still is not clear. The third race will be in Kazan on June 14 and 16, and then it will come close to home with a race at Budapest on July 13–14. Other races will be in Chiba, Indianapolis and Saudi Arabia. Another race in Asia still has not been announced.

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