There’s been a lot of talking, there have been a lot of modifications but now it’s time for the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race to strap in and get back in the air. Both Master Class and Challenger Class racers flew free practice session today and the North Americans shared their reactions.
Reigning Red Bull Air Race World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany showed his title-winning form delivering a time of 52.564 in Free Practice 2 that looked to make him the only pilot of the day to break 53 seconds. Then suddenly Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic, with just a single season of experience behind him, blazed in with a confident 52.746. Rounding out the top five times of the day were Juan Velarde of Spain (53.055) and Americans Michael Goulian (53.070) and Kirby Chambliss (53.084, the best time in Free Practice 1). Pete McLeod also finished in the top 5 in the opening session but fell behind in the second.
Jim DiMatteo, the Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race said, “I think all the pilots come with excitement – maybe some new modifications with their planes, some areas that they want to personally improve – but just an overall excitement“.
Free Practice sessions are an initial chance for the race teams to assess their mindset and modifications in the actual racetrack and figure out their optimal lines, making adjustments as necessary before Qualifying.
Pete McLeod / CANADA
“The trick in this track is to not over G, which three of us did in a row in Free Practice 2. It’s a simple track so I think the fastest raceplane will win. Ultimately if you want to be fast and with a chance to win you have to be right on the limit.” Pete is sponsored again this season by Garmin Virb.
Kirby Chambliss / USA
“It’s so fast up until the first Vertical Turn Manoeuvre that you’ve really got to be on your G-game and not make a mistake. There is still a chance you could over-G on the second lap as well. It’s going to be the person that stays out of the penalties whilst still being right on the edge.”
Mike Gouldian / USA
“It’s one of those tracks that aren’t complicated so it’s going to be a really close race. To win here you’ve got to fly consistently at your best. Two or three small mistakes will see you down the timesheet. We are expecting an over-G at some point. We’ve decided that that we’d rather lose being aggressive in the track than playing it safe!”
Before the second Free Practice Mike tweeted, “We know where that time is, so we’ll go out and grab it.” Team #99 is proud to be partnered again with Hartzell Propeller, Cirrus Aircraft, and Bose Aviation for the entire 2017 air race season. In addition to these team partners, team #99 has brought three personal sponsors back for 2017: Whelen Engineering, Goodyear Aviation, and Aviall.
Results Master Class Free Practice 1, Abu Dhabi: 1. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 53.084, 2. Juan Velarde (ESP) 53.220, 3. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 53.934, 4. Pete McLeod (CAN) 54.004, 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 54.105, 6. Martin Šonka (CZE) 54.228, 7. Michael Goulian (USA) 54.692, 8. Mikael Brageot (FRA) 55.020, 9. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 55.261, 10. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 55.841, 11. Matt Hall (AUS) 55.976, 12. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 56.220, 13. Matthias Dolderer (GER) DNF, 14. François Le Vot (FRA) DNF
Results Master Class Free Practice 2, Abu Dhabi: 1. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 52.564, 2. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 52.746, 3. Juan Velarde (ESP) 53.055, 4. Michael Goulian (USA) 53.070, 5. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 53.216, 6. Mikael Brageot (FRA) 53.392, 7. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 53.428, 8. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 54.642, 9. Matt Hall (AUS) 55.148, 10. François Le Vot (FRA) 55.444, 11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 55.498, 12. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 55.580, 13. Pete McLeod (CAN) DNF, 14. Martin Šonka (CZE) DNF
Qualifying takes off in Abu Dhabi on Friday, 10 February, followed by Race Day on Saturday, 11 February 2017.
Kevin Coleman / USA
The American burst onto the scene last year, finishing second in his first three races and then winning in Ascot. He finished third overall for the season. Those who know him on the air show circuit here in North America know he is always striving for improvement and he could do well in Abu Dhabi. He said after the Challenger Class Free Practice, “I felt really good out there, I’m flying clean and I felt confident. I tried a couple of different things in the second section and they didn’t work out. The problem is I need to get better on the vertical turn and I need to find some speed. I need to be faster throughout the whole track.”
The Challenger Class was launched in 2014 to give a select group of outstanding pilots the chance to build their Air Racing skills to the elite level necessary to compete for the World Championship. Racing in real-world conditions is part of that development, and in Abu Dhabi the Challengers are flying precisely the same racetrack as the elite Master Class pilots.
Free Practice 1 was a hotly contested session, with all seven Challenger pilots flying within three seconds of each other. In the first session Melanie Astles flew the quickest time, 1:01.380, and was just 0.023s faster than current Challenger Class Champion Florian Berger. Former RAF Red Arrows lead Ben Murphy was third on the timesheet in Free Practice 2. Coleman finished 6th in the first and 7th in the second Free Practice but keep in mind these sessions are all about figuring out lines and race strategy.
Results Challenger Class Free Practice 1, Abu Dhabi: 1. Mélanie Astles (FRA) 01:01.380, 2. Florian Bergér (GER) 01:01.403, 3. Luke Czepiela (POL) 01:01.952, 4. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 01:02.258, 5. Ben Murphy (GBR) 01:02.727, 6. Kevin Coleman (USA) 01:02.737, 7. Baptiste Vignes (FRA) 01:04.028
Results Challenger Class Free Practice 2, Abu Dhabi: 1. Florian Bergér (GER) 59.172, 2. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 1:00.540, 3. Ben Murphy (GBR) 1:00.928, 4. Luke Czepiela (POL) 1:01.490, 5. Mélanie Astles (FRA) 1:01.600, 6. Baptiste Vignes (FRA) 1:01.916, 7. Kevin Coleman (USA) 1:02.494