Smoke on for 2009: A Season Preview of the Red Bull Air Race

Sheiban ShakeriSenior Analyst IApril 12, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 01: A pilot competes while flying over the Detroit River during the Red Bull Air Race on June 1, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Welcome back to the Red Bull Air Race for 2009!

2008 was a year when the Red Bull Air Race was making the turn into a serious sport, and now with four rookies added into the mix and a completely revamped system, expect some really close times and even a few disappointments in the mix.


Four rookies join the Red Bull Air Race World Series in 2009, the largest influx in the short history of the sport.

The rookies are Matthias Dolderer of Germany, Matt Hall of Australia, Pete McLeod of Canada, and Yoshi Muroya of Japan.

These four pilots will challenge the old order of 11 pilots and with a new system that will debut in Abu Dhabi later this week. Expect shakeups!

Of the four rookies, I expect either Muroya or Hall to have the best setup and rank the highest of the four rookies.

My reasoning for Hall is because he has Dennis Sawyer as his technician, but Sawyer's magic worked on the Edge 540 when he was with Mike Mangold while Hall is using a new and improved MXS.

My reasoning for Muroya being a possibility as being the highest ranked rookie here is because he is under the guidance of former Red Bull Air Race pilot Steve Jones.

Jones took two podiums last year and knows the ins and outs of controlling an Edge 540, the aircraft that Muroya will be flying. Can Jones teach his craft to Muroya?

The Experienced Pilots

Currently, the experienced order of pilots number 11 and with a new format, they are in the same boat as the rookies to a certain extent. However, these pilots do have experience on their side.

Hannes Arch is now a disciplined champion but people like Paul Bonhomme, Mike Mangold and Kirby Chambliss are in the hunt for their crown.

The top four aren't the only ones in the hunt for a championship. Further down the field, Nigel Lamb, Alejandro Maclean, Michael Goulian, Peter Besenyei, and the others are looking to make an impact in the championship.

Besenyei, Sergey Rakhmanin, and Nicolas Ivanoff have upgraded their wings. The latter is focused with an Edge 540 (a more difficult plane to fly than the Extra 300SR) while Besenyei and Rakhmanin have wings of an MXS, a much more sensitive plane to fly than the Edge 540 they had.

Besenyei and Rakhmanin should expect little or no help from the more experienced MXS pilots, Nigel Lamb and Alejandro Maclean. We saw last year how the sport turned serious, with more effort being put into the planes, like Hannes Arch's new canopy.

With this little bit of precedence, it's safe to say that Besenyei and Rakhmanin will be struggling at the first one or two races of the season.

The Races

With that said, there are only six races this season as opposed to eight in 2008. A bad economy being the reason for so few?

Either way, there is a new format for the race which can have the possibility of putting the rookies over the top of the experienced order of pilots.

New penalties are in as well: a six-second penalty for touching a gate, while two seconds are given for incorrect positioning between a gate or flying too high.

Still, with the times so close as they were, this might just end up being the same situation as last year.

Overall, a new era begins for the Red Bull Air Race. 2009 is a year remembered for bringing the Red Bull Air Race into a more international arena. Twelve nationalities in total will be on display and more will come in the future; it's only a matter of time.

On Thursday, it'll be smoke on in Abu Dhabi!

Stay tuned to Bleacher Report's Red Bull Air Race section as Sheiban Shakeri will be covering the Abu Dhabi round of the Red Bull Air Race on location.