Australian pilot Matt Hall blew the Red Bull Air Race World Championship open with a win at the sport’s first race at Lake Balaton, Hungary.
Finishing second, Great Britain’s Ben Murphy clinched the first race podium of his World Championship career, and in third, Canada’s Pete McLeod grabbed his first race podium since 2018.
Meanwhile, an early exit for Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya enabled defending World Champion Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic to jump to the top of the overall standings despite hitting a pylon in the Final 4.
About 100,000 spectators on the beaches of the resort town of Zamárdi, Hungary, were introduced to the Red Bull Air Races on July 13-14, 2019, as fickle winds that went from blustery to calm defied the 14 pilots of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in the racetrack over Lake Balaton.
After winning the initial two races of the season, Muroya hoped to wrap up the World Championship in Hungary, but it was not to be, as he lost his opening round head-to-head against Hall, a three-time overall runner-up who had declared his intention to win the season’s last two races and claim the title.
By the Final 4, Šonka already knew that he would be taking the overall lead from Muroya, but by how much?
Hall, Murphy and McLeod all managed times under 59 seconds, with Hall the best at 58.839, just 0.118s ahead of the former Red Arrows Team Leader Murphy. Šonka failed to capitalize on the chance to take maximum points, clipping a pylon in only the fourth gate, for a three-second penalty and a finish at 1:02.391.
Now it all comes down to the last race of 2019, the season finale in Chiba, Japan, on Sept. 7-8.
According to race officials, 28 points is possible in that race: Three for the winner of qualifying and 25 for the race winner.
That means it could be anyone’s season: Šonka’s overall lead is precarious, at 65 points to 61 for Hall and 55 for Muroya. Also, a slew of contenders, including Murphy and 2018 overall podium finisher Michael Goulian of the USA, are in position to seize a place in the top three.
Muroya has won 50% of his previous races in Chiba, but last year it was Hall who triumphed there, with Šonka in third and Muroya in last place.
Begun in 2003, the Red Bull Air Races will wrap up its run in September in Japan, as Red Bull officials announced in late May that this would be the championship’s final season.