Red Bull Air Race: Reporting on the Grand Finale
03.10.2009 / Barcelona, Spain
Max McLaren joined the Red Bull Reporter team in Barcelona for the Red Bull Air Race Grand Finale. He was selected to write a report on the event so give it a read to see what the weekend entailed....
Red Bull Air Race: Reporting on the Grand Final
Spectators Flocked as the Red Bull Air Race headed to Barcelona...
The 2009 Red Bull Air Race has spanned 3 continents, from Abu Dhabi in Asia, San Diego and Windsor in North America, to Budapest and Porto in Europe. With a thrilling climax in prospect, Barcelona was set to host the 6th and final Air Race of this year’s Championships. The buzz in the air, not only from the constant whirring of planes, was all too evident as Red Bull dominated the landscape.
For those unaware of what the sport entails, perhaps a few words would be apt: Speeds reach 370 km/hr while the pilots, from an assortment of countries across the globe, have to withstand forces as high as 12G. Having viewed the Air Race at close quarters, my evaluation would be to describe the aeroplanes as acrobats in the sky, manoeuvring their way through a series of ‘floating gates’ that mark out the race-course. To call it fast and frantic would be an accurate description; to label it as without risk would be mistaken. Perhaps that is why the sport is growing at such a rapid rate. After all, the finale of this year’s competition in Barcelona’s exquisite surroundings drew over 1 million spectators. Indeed, the afore mentioned ‘floating gates’ sat almost within touching distance of the masses that lined the sandy shorelines of the Front Maritim.
Two pilots were in contention for this year’s crown. Would it be Britain’s Paul Bonhomme or the defending champion, Austria’s Hannes Arch? The former had results on his side, amassing 55 points over the season with three second place finishes and two victories, in Windsor and Porto respectively. The latter, however, was still hot on Bonhomme’s heels with 51 points and had last year’s experience of delivering when it counted. Needless to say, with such a small gap between the two, the pressure was palpable and the margin for error limited. Excitement and enthusiasm exuded from the spectators during the pre-race entertainment as Red Bull parachutists fell through the clear blue Catalonian sky… They knew that today would mark the crowning of the 2009 World Champion.
Saturday marked the day of qualifying and although engine problems plagued Arch’s aircraft in training the day before, the Austrian proved that Bonhomme would have to deliver to avoid missing out on being crowned World Champion for a third successive year. Both made it into the Top 12, though the Brit, who’d seemed relaxed and confident in training, was penalised for clipping a pylon, eventually ending qualifying in 4th place. However, the title chase took another intriguing twist as Arch’s run time of 1:21.06 netted him the 1-point to close the gap on Bonhomme to just 3. Speaking afterwards, Bonhomme said that the point did not matter, ‘In the lead-up to the race I’ve talked about not peaking too early. Clipping the pylon was a schoolboy error and I got too relaxed, but it was a good run.’ Despite Arch claiming 1 point, the fact remained that were Bonhomme able to get onto the podium (something he had done in all 5 of this year’s races) he would be champion, regardless of where his Austrian counterpart finished. However, in true British style, all those that flocked to Bonhomme’s team-hanger on Saturday evening exchanged anxious and worried words. Bonhomme on the other hand seemed composed, relaxed and confident, appearing to dispel memories of the previous two seasons.
So it all came down to Sunday… Could this be the year that Paul Bonhomme wrestled that monkey off his back to deliver the win that so many in attendance claimed was his by merit? One determined Austrian defending champion certainly had other ideas. The order of the afternoon was initially the Wild Card, where two positions would be competed for between the 5 pilots whose qualifying times put them outside the Top 12. The two fastest wild card entrants would complete the ‘Top 12’. The fastest 8 from said ‘Top 12’ would make the ‘Super 8’s’. The fastest 4 from the ‘Super 8’s’ would in turn make up the ‘Top 4’ and from there would eventually come 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Bonhomme, therefore, knew how his afternoon would have pan-out – make the Super 8’s, then the Top 4 and ensure he made the podium. No mistakes or Arch could steal the Championship from underneath his nose once more.
One of the stories of the 2009 Championships has been the emergence of rookies. It seemed Barcelona had read the script and rookies Pete McLeod and Yoshihide Muroya secured the two Wild Card positions to stake their claim in the ‘Top 12’. Bonhomme appeared nervous as his first run of 1:24.46 gained him 7th position, gaining a spot in the Super 8’s by a whisker, hardly appeasing the apprehensions of his anxious band of followers. From then on, however, he seemed at complete ease with the track, cruising his way into the Top 4. Nonetheless, Arch was still in pursuit – he too coasted into the Top 4, along with Nigel Lamb and Matthias Dolderer. The scene was set; the climax was impending; the neutral was on the edge of his sun-lounger…
Lamb flew first, with an impressive time of 1:23.84; Dolderer could not match it, posting 1:24.32. So it was simple, Bonhomme needed to beat Dolderer’s time to secure 3rd place and win the Championships. Emphatically, the Brit made it round the course in 1:22.87. Arch was unaware of the result, yet his error-strewn run of 1:27.04 proved irrelevant. Thus it was decided: 3rd place Matthias Dolderer, 2nd place Nigel Lamb and in 1st place… Paul Bonhomme – he did not want to limp over the finish line, he wanted to stride over it. Upon hearing the result in his cockpit, Bonhomme could hardly contain the emotion, every ounce of ecstasy oozing from his aircraft. He had done it; he was the World Champion of the Red Bull Air Race 2009.
And so to the press conference… There was talk of the ‘immense pressure’ on both Bonhomme and Arch. However, what was more telling was the one word that Bonhomme could not avoid mentioning – relief. He had endured 2 years of coming second; 2 years of being within touching distance; so close yet so far. Barcelona, however, bore witness to a pilot at the top of his game; those in attendance could not have seen a more deserving champion crowned.
What do we have in prospect for 2010? First thing’s first, we’ll have more races in more glorious locations; an exciting batch of rookies will undoubtedly improved even further to make the Air Race more competitive; more thrills; more pylon hits; more engine troubles and drama. Arch was graceful in defeat, though perhaps the mind games have already begun. The Austrian repeatedly mentioned how hard it was being defending champion, something Bonhomme will have to contend with in 2010. For now though Paul, go and enjoy that well deserved magnum of champagne.