Heavy rain showers and gusty wind threatened to cancel the season finale of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, but ended up merely delaying the high-flying action. In fact, once the planes took to the air, the inclement weather served to intensify the competition as the swaying race gate pylons created an extremely technical and constantly changing course for the pilots to navigate. Four pilots from four different countries entered the weekend with hopes to take home the championship title, and it was an all-out battle to the last.
The racing was heart stopping from the very beginning, with Martin Šonka (CZE) and Yoshi Muroya (JNP), ranked first and second in the standings, going head-to-head in the Round of 14. Flying first, Muroya’s championship hopes seemed to be over when he incurred a two-second penalty – but strong winds forced a pylon hit for Šonka and with it a three-second penalty that advanced Japan’s hero to the Round of 8.
The other two pilots with a chance for the championship, Pete McLeod (Canada) and Kirby Chambliss (USA) also stumbled in the opening round and did not advance past the Round of 14. After his early pylon hit, Šonka watched nervously as the other pilots raced, and luckily ended up advancing as the round’s fastest loser (as he had posted the fastest time of all the head-to-head losers). When title contenders Šonka and Muroya both won their Round of 8 heats, it all came down to the Final 4.
With everything on the line, Muroya raced first and was fearless, setting a new track record of 1:03.026 that 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany and Spain’s Juan Velarde just couldn’t match. For the final flight of the day, the pressure all was on Šonka, who needed to take first or second place to lock up the 2017 championship. The Czech pilot flew cleanly under the pressure, but with a technical issue plus a wing stall in the Vertical Turning Maneuver, he could manage only 1:07.280, meaning both the race win and the Red Bull Air Race World Championship belonged to Muroya.
“This is an amazing chapter for motorsports to win a race here. It was the tightest championship ever with the four of us close right up until the end. We were behind at the start of the season, so it was the long way and the hard way, but we made it,” said Muroya as he held back tears. “I thought the timing was broken when I saw my time in the Final 4, and before the race our computer would have said it wasn’t possible, so something was pushing me quite a lot. That was the fans, my family and my team, so thanks to them for making it happen.”
The clinching of Japan’s first ever World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway marked a remarkable new milestone in the history of the century-old racetrack, where just this year Takuma Sato – who was on site all weekend to cheer on countryman Muroya – became the first Japanese racecar driver to win the famed Indianapolis 500.
History was also made in the Challenger Class, when pilot Mélanie Astles of France became the first woman to claim a major motorsport win of any kind at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Germany’s Florian Bergér became the first pilot ever to win back-to-back Challenger Cup season championships.
Results Master Class race Indianapolis 2017:
1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 2. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 3. Juan Velarde (ESP), 4. Martin Šonka (CZE), 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 6. Mikaël Brageot (FRA), 7. Michael Goulian (USA), 8. Matt Hall (AUS), 9. Cristian Bolton (CHI), 10. Kirby Chambliss (USA), 11. Pete McLeod (CAN), 12. François Le Vot (FRA), 13. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO)
Final standings, 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship: 1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 74 pts, 2. Martin Šonka (CZE) 70 points, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 56 pts, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 53 pts, 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 43 pts, 6. Matt Hall (AUS) 40 pts, 7. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 39 pts, 8. Juan Velarde (ESP) 37 pts, 9. Michael Goulian (USA) 28 pts, 10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 24 pts, 11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 16 pts, 12. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 14 pts, 13. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 9 pts, 14. François Le Vot (FRA) 9 pts
Results Challenger Class, Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2017: 1. Mélanie Astles (FRA), 2. Luke Czepiela (POL), 3. Ben Murphy (GBR) 4. Florian Bergér (GER) 5. Kevin Coleman (USA), 6. Daniel Ryfa (SWE)
Final Challenger Cup Overall Standings 2017: 1. Florian Bergér (GER) 38 points, 2. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 34 pts, 3. Luke Czepiela (POL) 34 pts, 4. Kevin Coleman (USA) 27 pts, 5. Mélanie Astles (FRA) 23 pts, 6. Ben Murphy (GBR) 19 pts, 7. Baptiste Vignes (FRA) 14 pts, 8. Kenny Chiang (CHN) 12 pts, 9. Daniel Genevey (HUN) 12 pts
ABOUT RED BULL AIR RACE
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship celebrated its landmark 75th race at the 2017 season opener in Abu Dhabi. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 10G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.