Massive crowds of Czech fans among 135,000 spectators in Budapest, Hungary, for the fourth round of the Red Bull Air Race 2018 this weekend were ecstatic as Martin Sonka took his first win of the season.
With Budapest just an hour flight from his base in the Czech Republic, Sonka considers the classic stop in Hungary to be his home race, and he was unstoppable all weekend, starting with the top time in Qualifying.
But Mikael Brageot of France, the youngest pilot in the World Championship at only 30 years of age, challenged hard in his first-ever Final 4, finishing just 0.347 seconds behind Sonka’s 57.502.
The other Final 4 contenders were the pair who came into Budapest tied in the points at the head of the overall leaderboard, Australian Matt Hall and American Michael Goulian. When Goulian had a nightmare run with seven seconds of penalties, Hall’s third was enough to give him the standalone World Championship lead.
Sonka, who finished second in the 2017 World Championship but had technical disqualifications in the first two races of this season, was clearly relieved.
“It’s incredible. There was huge energy from the crowd coming into the cockpit the whole race, and I can tell you it’s a beautiful view from the top of the podium. I love it every time,” said the pilot, who had logged two race wins in previous years. “It’s very important, because this is the middle of the season and it was crucial to stay in contact with the top pilots. We’ve had a lot of tech issues, and every member of the team was working hard for this moment. Budapest is a unique venue and because so many Czech fans are here, it’s very special to be able to give them this gift.”
The stakes will be even higher at the next stop with a return to Kazan, the sports capital of Russia, kicking off the second half of the season Aug. 25-26, 2018.
Hall, twice a runner-up in the World Championship, now leads Goulian by two points, 45 to 43.
Sonka’s new tally of 34 points puts him in a strong third overall and breaks him free of a tie with defending titleholder Yoshihide Muroya of Japan, who finished 11th in Budapest thanks to a Did Not Finish penalty for exceeding maximum G.
And with 27 points, Brageot now holds a career-best fourth overall after shaking loose from his own overall tie with 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany, who did not race in Budapest due to medical reasons.
Muroya and Dolderer have dropped to fifth and sixth, respectively, and will have their work cut out for them in Russia.