What Does 2009 Hold For Air Racing's Experienced Pilots? Pt. 3: Positions 1-4

Sheiban ShakeriSenior Analyst IMarch 10, 2009

In Part III of air racing’s 2008 pilot review and what to expect for 2009, I look at the top four pilots of last year’s Red Bull Air Race series.

Part I of the series talked about the bottom third while Part II talked about the mid-field.

So without further ado, I will take a look at Mike Mangold, Kirby Chambliss, Paul Bonhomme and Hannes Arch.

Mike Mangold (USA)

  • 2008 Position: Fourth (44 points)
  • 2008 Race Number: 1 (No. 11 for 2009)
  • 2008 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2009 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2008 Status: Fifth year in the Red Bull Air Race

Mike Mangold was a double Red Bull Air Race World Champion, the first pilot to be in that position since the air race became a world series by winning the championship in 2005 and 2007.

In 2008, Mangold just could not defend his title. While Paul Bonhomme, Kirby Chambliss and Hannes Arch were fighting for wins, Mangold was caught in the dust and just could not keep up—a big change from 2007 when he was in the fray fighting with Bonhomme.

Even with his inability to keep up, Mangold still had high spirits when talking with reporters and others. He only really lost his temper after a mistake by his mechanic Dennis Sawyer barely got him qualified inside of the top eight in the fifth round in London. Apart from that, he’s been a top bloke!

With Dennis Sawyer gone to work with Australian rookie Matt Hall, Mike Mangold could have a harder time to compete for the top spot. Then again, maybe 2009 is for him to rebuild and become a stronger pilot with a stronger team than before.

Kirby Chambliss (USA)

  • 2008 Position: Third (46 Points)
  • 2008 Race Number: 4 (Same for 2009)
  • 2008 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2009 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2008 Status: Sixth year in the Red Bull Air Race

Kirby Chambliss came off a winless 2007 and from the start of the 2008 season in Abu Dhabi appeared uncomfortable. However, those jitters were gone by the second round in San Diego when Chambliss took an impressive third place and was the first pilot of the year to beat what was the unbeatable Bonhomme in Detroit.

After that, things started looking up for the pilot from Arizona as he was able to win the fifth round in London as well as take a solid podium in the seventh round in Porto – but it wasn’t meant to be for the American as he was outperformed by Hannes Arch and Paul Bonhomme.

The main reason for the 2006 champion’s inability to reap the benefits more had to do with his ‘all or nothing’ attitude that he harbored. He had to win it because “number one is everything… number two’s nothing.” Unfortunately, pushing too hard in the sixth round in Budapest and incurring a penalty in the final round in Perth did not help his cause out.

However, 2009 is a new season, a chance to redeem oneself from the failures of the previous year. Chambliss has a good team that can get his plane to top specs and he himself is a world-class pilot that can race a good race. All he has to do is not push too hard or else he runs the risk of hurting his chances for a championship.

Paul Bonhomme (GBR)

  • 2008 Position: Second (54 points)
  • 2008 Race Number: 2 (#55 for 2009)
  • 2008 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2009 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2008 Status: Sixth year in the Red Bull Air Race

The story of Paul Bonhomme has to be the biggest up and down experienced this year. Bonhomme came off a 2007 season coming second to Mike Mangold but only after countback showed that he had qualified lower than the American. Apart from lower qualifying, he was completely equal to Mike Mangold in terms of wins, podiums and fifth places in 2007.

2008 was meant to be revenge and to take a title he was supposed to get the year before.

In the first two rounds, Bonhomme appeared to be invincible. He was consistently fastest and his flying was consistent. The Englishman looked like he had it all and this was the year when he would finally get to taste the victory champagne.

However, it all went wrong for him in London. It appeared that the weekend was cursed after he hit a flock of birds in training and killed three, then hit a pylon after “flying like a bloody idiot” in the race.

It just went from bad to worse in Porto. After pulling over-g’s in qualifying, Bonhomme was disqualified from the super eights and had to compete in the Point One round the next day.

As well, his aircraft had to be taken apart for inspection due to legal reasons. The next day was no consolation after he received a three-second penalty for incorrect leveling through a blue gate – he had turned too quickly while he was still in-between the gates.

He had effectively handed over the championship to Arch. In the final round in Perth, Bonhomme was able to reclaim some of his glory by winning the final race of the season, but coming second for the second time when it all went right at the beginning and came crashing towards the end has to be the biggest pain in the backside.

Maybe the third time’s a charm!

Hannes Arch (AUT)

  • 2008 Position: First (61 points)
  • 2008 Race Number: 28 (Same for 2009)
  • 2008 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2009 Aircraft: Edge 540
  • 2008 Status: Second year in the Red Bull Air Race

Whoever put money on Hannes Arch winning the world championship certainly won big.

Nobody expected Arch, in his second year, to become champion. It was believed that his second place against Bonhomme at the opening race in Abu Dhabi was a fluke.

But, consistency was the biggest reward for the 41 year old Austrian. In eight rounds, Arch was on the podium seven times – twice on the top step. Along with Paul Bonhomme losing his cool, Arch was able to capitalize on that, even though along the way, it appeared that Kirby Chambliss would have had a better chance of beating Bonhomme and continued the American domination of the premier series of aeroplane racing.

Surely since he’s champion, Arch doesn’t need to improve on anything, right?

Wrong! Arch’s biggest problem in the Red Bull Air Race was his inability to beat Paul Bonhomme in a head-to-head flyoff. He has faced off against Bonhomme several times throughout 2008 but was never able to beat the Englishman. Every time that the finals or semi-finals were Arch vs. Bonhomme, he would always either be slower or he would make a costly mistake like hitting a pylon.

That was best demonstrated in the first place flyoff in Rotterdam when after attempting a new maneuver in the wrong conditions, Arch went smack into a pylon and couldn't continue because he still had a lot of pylon on his wings and was being pulled down. This resulted in his disqualification and automatically put him in second place for that round.

With the new format, Arch might have it easier in 2009, but like many teachers say about their students: it is the participant who determines his destiny.

The 2009 Red Bull Air Race season starts on April 13-14 in Abu Dhabi. Smoke On!