The season kickoff of the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championship turned expectations upside down, including the favorite finishing ninth and the bottom-ranked pilot earning his first-ever podium.
In the first race of the season, held March 11-12 in Abu Dhabi, Nicolas Ivanoff’s time of 58.550 was barely a tenth of a second faster than Matthias Dolderer of Germany in second place (58.660).
François Le Vot of France, who is beginning only his second season and was ranked 14th, captured his first career podium with 1:02.281 for third place.
With the retirement of 2015 World Champion Paul Bonhomme, the 2016 title is anyone’s to seize, and the heat was on, according to race officials.
The day was packed with shocks: Matt Hall of Australia, who was ranked number one after finishing second overall last year, hit a pylon and failed to advance beyond the opening round for only the third time in his career.
Another favorite, 2008 World Champion Hannes Arch, gave fans a similar surprise after flying brilliantly through the early rounds only to earn a disqualification in the Final 4 for passing the Safety Line. Subsequently, he was awarded 0 points.
The season-opening victory makes Ivanoff the early leader in the points as the campaign for the World Championship begins across seven more races in six countries.
“I propose we end the season right now,” he joked. “Actually, we worked really hard for this in training and I was not stressed coming into the race – but I knew we had to be really careful. I’m very happy for my team and my fans.”
Tickets for all stops of the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championship – including the next race in Spielberg, Austria on April 23-24 – are on sale now.
Results: 1. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 2. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 3. François Le Vot (FRA), 4. Hannes Arch (AUT), 5. Kirby Chambliss (USA), 6. Michael Goulian (USA), 7. Pete McLeod (CAN), 8. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 9. Matt Hall (AUS), 10. Juan Velarde (ESP), 11. Nigel Lamb (GBR) , 12. Peter Podlunšek (SLO), 13. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) , 14. Martin Šonka (CZE)
World Championship Standings: 1. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 15 points, 2. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 12 pts, 3. François Le Vot (FRA) 9 pts, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 6 pts, 5. Michael Goulian (USA) 5 pts, 6. Pete McLeod (CAN) 4 pts, 7. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 3 pts, 8. Matt Hall (AUS) 2 pts, 9. Juan Velarde (ESP) 1 pt, 10. Hannes Arch (AUT), 11. Nigel Lamb (GBR), 12. Peter Podlunšek (SLO), 13. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 14. Martin Šonka (CZE)