The Red Bull Air Race World Championship will be decided at the final stop in Las Vegas Oct. 17-18, with Britain’s Paul Bonhomme looking to clinch his third title despite a challenge from Australia’s Matt Hall.
Bonhomme is clinging to a slim eight-point point lead over the hard-charging Australian with 12 points up for grabs for the winner, but Hall (59 points) has been more consistent this season and is full of confidence that he can claim the title if Bonhomme (67 points) stumbles in the pressure-packed season finale.
“An eight-point buffer is nothing – that could be wiped out instantly,” Bonhomme said after winning the last race in Fort Worth, Texas, his fourth victory in seven races so far this year. This is Bonhomme’s sixth straight championship fight on the final day of the season, even though he only has two titles to his name.
Bonhomme instead has memories of his leads being wiped out in the final race in both 2007 and 2008 seasons, when Mike Mangold (USA) and then Hannes Arch (AUT) came from behind to snatch away the titles. In 2014 Bonhomme also had a shot to win the championship in the final race, but ended up third overall behind Nigel Lamb (GBR) and Arch after getting only fifth in the season finale.
Despite his dominance this season, Bonhomme has not been able to shake off the challenge from Hall, who has won second place four times this season. Hall has had a total six podiums in seven races and finished no worse than fifth.
Bonhomme, by contrast, had a disastrous eighth place finish in the second race of the season in Rovinj, winning just 1 point after getting eliminated in the Round of 8 after he just barely exceeded the 10g limit on a tight turn.
Rather ominously for Bonhomme, he got his worst result of the last season in Las Vegas — seventh place — on a day that heavy winds forced the cancellation of the race and Qualifying results were counted.
Hall said that he believes he could have pushed for the victory in Fort Worth but decided not to risk it in an all-or-nothing gamble there in the penultimate round of the season in order to keep his chances alive in the final.
Hall could win the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Las Vegas if he takes first (worth 12 points) and Bonhomme finishes sixth (3 points) or lower. Hall could also win with a second place finish in Las Vegas (worth 9 points) if Bonhomme finishes ninth or lower (0 points).
“He needs to make a mistake for me to win it,” said Hall, who added he will be flying more aggressively in Las Vegas with the title on the line than he did in Fort Worth where his main aim was to keep the race alive. “We’ve been consistent all year so we’ll keep pushing him all the way. There will be nothing to lose in Las Vegas so I can take more risks there.”
There will also be an intense five-way battle for third place overall in Las Vegas with just 11 points separating Arch, Martin Sonka (CZE), Nigel Lamb (GBR), Pete McLeod (CAN), and Matthias Dolderer (GER) — all of whom have a shot of grabbing the third and final spot on the 2015 podium.
World Championship Standings: 1. Paul Bonhomme (GBR) 67 points, 2. Matt Hall (AUS) 59, 3. Hannes Arch (AUT) 30, 4. Martin Sonka (CZE) 28, 5. Nigel Lamb (GBR) 20, 6. Pete McLeod (CAN) 19, 7. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 19, 8. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 18, 9. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 13, 10. Michael Goulian (USA) 10, 11. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 9, 12. Peter Besenyei (HUN) 8, Juan Velarde (ESP) 0, Francois Le Vot (FRA) 0.