Red Bull Air Race prepares for takeoff

Fifteen of the world’s top race pilots, including four rookies from four corners of the globe, will compete in this year’s Red Bull Air Race World Championship, which will touch down in six locations beginning with the traditional season opener in Abu Dhabi April 17 and 18.

The next stops will be in San Diego and Windsor in Ontario, Canada, before returning back across the Atlantic to Europe for stops in Budapest, Porto and Barcelona.

Flying at speeds reaching 230 mph and pulling up to 12 gs, the pilots will navigate unique and demanding race tracks, negotiating their way through 65-foot-high inflatable air gates in their bid to become the 2009 Red Bull Air Race World Champion. Austrian Hannes Arch, who became the first European to win the championship last year, will be seeking to defend his title this year.

Four new pilots from four continents will compete: At age 25, Canada’s Pete McLeod will be the youngest ever pilot in the race and he will be joined by three other rookies – Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya, Australia’s Matt Hall and Germany’s Matthias Dolderer.

Representing the U.S. in the races are Kirby Chambliss, who placed third in 2008, Mike Mangold and Michael Goulian.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship will revamp its race format in the 2009 season as part of its quest to perfect scoring and also to accommodate the largest expansion ever in the field to 15 pilots from 12 in 2008. The new format features a Qualifying Day with all pilots racing to be one of the 10 fastest to take them directly through to the Top 12 session on Race Day.

For the first time ever, Qualifying will also be a race for one championship point which will be awarded to the pilot with the best time in Qualifying. A Wild Card session will open Race Day with the five slowest from Qualifying getting a second chance by battling it out for the final two spots in the Top 12. Another change is with the scoring. The penalty time assessed for incorrect flying through an air gate has been cut to 2 seconds from 3 seconds. The penalty for touching an air gate has been lowered to 6 seconds from 10. The changes reflect the increasingly competitive field, where gaps between first and last place have narrowed considerably in the last five years, officials said.

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