Abu Dhabi 2009: New Air Race Season Takes Off!

Frazz MartelloCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

As qualification day for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship’s first race in Abu Dhabi dawns, training has thrown out some interesting anomalies which look set to make 2009 a sizzler! With only six races, every point will be crucial.

Training Round Up:

Training 1 brought with it the usual “learning curve” of a new track and location. The experienced Peter Besenyei was disqualified along side rookie Yoshihide Muroya for Course Deviations showing that both the old and new were subject to the difficulty of the new course.

Reigning champion, Hannes Arch, managed to clock up a disastrous 16 penalty points. Paul Bonhomme and Nigel Lamb delivered the top runs although, for both, it was only achieved on their final attempt. Only the top two along with Alejandro Maclean and Michael Goulian were able to get through the first round penalty free.

Have these four flown their aircraft more during the winter, or is this simply a lucky day? The balance between aircraft potential and pilot skill comes from time spent flying and without this finely tuned equilibrium, a fast plane is merely a commodity.

Training 2 saw the field settle as the penalties began to drop off and the pilots, most now experienced in the track, started showing what their newly modified planes are capable of. Breitling’s Nigel Lamb showed that his MXS “Weight Reduction” winter strategy has paid off as he ended top, while Paul Bonhomme’s “drag reduced” Edge came in second.

Hannes Arch popped in at number 3 followed closely by a very promising Nicolas Ivanoff in his seemingly fast new Edge. The biggest surprise in the second session came from rookie Matt Hall who just pipped Peter Besenyei to the post and cheekily out of the final spot in the Top Ten.

Nicolas Ivanoff blew away the competition during Training 3 with an impressive performance that saw him jump into the lead by 0.8 of a second including a 2 second penalty. If this is a taste of what is to come from the unassuming Frenchman, we are witness to the start of a major upset. He will be hoping to be more consistent this season.

Hannes Arch came in second followed by Nigel Lamb and Paul Bonhomme respectively. Rookie Matt Hall once again delivered in the upset stakes by beating Alejandro Maclean, Peter Besenyei and Michael Goulian. Sergey Rakhmanin put in a much more believable performance for someone at his level, coming in at seven.

Onto Training 4 and the harsh desert heat and tricky winds were evident in the track times with the fastest time in Training 3 at 1:26.4 having dropped down to 1:32.4 in Training 4. Nigel Lamb once again delivered a first, but Paul Bonhomme was merely 0.19 of a second hot on his heals.

Peter Besenyei delivered an uninspiring third place that was 2 seconds slower than the top two suggesting he is still somewhat off the pace. Hannes Arch will no doubt be disappointed with his seventh place result, due entirely to 6 seconds worth of penalties as would Nicolas Ivanoff’s speedy disqualification. The result saw the new rookie on the block, Matt Hall jumping up to fifth, which for a first time out can be likened to that of Lewis Hamilton. Perhaps we will hear more of this comparison as the season progresses.

The Americans, Kirby Chambliss, Michael Goulian and Mike Mangold didn’t really stand out in the training sessions results. Perhaps they are saving their major speed for the Qualification and Race stages. Michael Goulian has reportedly increased the leading edge of his wing, but this so far has not shown any of the lead it could potentially deliver. Mike Mangold only managed to do one training session without penalties, but his sector times are fast and smart money would be on Mangold to outshine his fellow countrymen this year.

Peter Besenyei and Alejandro Maclean will surely be disappointed with the training sessions unless they, like the Americans, are hiding their speed for the right moment. With Peter Besenyei’s undeniable talented and experienced, he will certainly be hoping to do better than in seasons past. If he is able to match his new MXS’s pace to that of Nigel Lamb, he will surely accomplish this. Alejandro Maclean’s inconsistencies could cost him dearly with so few races.

Sergey Rakhmanin, and Nicolas Ivanoff are no doubt the dark horses in this year’s competition with their new and faster race planes. Both have struggled in the past with under-performing aircraft and finally have the chance to show the air racing community the skill they have shown in other competitive arenas. These two pilots have much to prove this season.

Matt Hall clearly outshone the rookies in training with Matthias Dolderer consistently performing second best, Pete McLeod third best and Yoshihide Muroya fourth. Yoshihide Muroya put in some very impressive fastest sector times, but his conservative, high level flying cost him in penalties.

Once he settles down he looks set to be Matt Hall’s closest rookie competitor. Mentors Steve Jones and Claus Schrodt’s guidance in these early days will be crucial to the safety of the new entrants.

The most disappointing performance of the day came from Glen Dell. Massive development to clean up the aircraft’s cowling and a specially built practice track in South Africa has done little to improve performance. Matt Hall’s sterling start will certainly be salt in the wound. The unconfirmed rumours of a forced landing due to fuel problems earlier in the week may well have affected Glen Dell’s confidence.

Qualification will begin at 3 o’clock in the afternoon local time, which will bring with it the heat of the desert. Starting these aircraft at such high temperatures is not easy and Hannes Arch and Glen Dell will surely be at an advantage with their winter in the African summer heat.

No doubt another exciting day lies ahead.