The Red Bull Air Race season began last weekend with the largest number of pilots competing at 15 including four rookies.
So, how did the rookies fare in their first race? Well, to put it diplomatically: they played the game safely and appeared to make a clean transition into this new sport, but they weren't perfect.
In this article, I'll be looking at how each rookie performed in their first Red Bull Air Race.
Matthias Dolderer (GER) - Edge 540
The German is no stranger to the Red Bull community. Dolderer was an official pilot for the Flying Bulls since 2002.
After his race status for 2009 turned active, Matthias got his team and aircraft together for Abu Dhabi.
In the season opener this past weekend, Dolderer got off to a shaky start; in Qualifying 1, he went just under 1 km/h over the maximum entry speed limit of 370.4 km/h and automatically got disqualified.
A reporter in the German media jokingly said to me later on that Matthias Dolderer now holds the world record for fastest time in the Red Bull Air Race ever! Perhaps a little too much excitement got into him but that was an unfortunate start.
Nonetheless, there are two qualifying sessions and Dolderer was able to put a respectable time of 1:40.22 with a two-second incorrect-level flying penalty and 14th overall in both qualifying sessions. A decent start and a good bet to make the Wild Card and into the Top 12 on Saturday.
Matthias Dolderer's goal for Saturday, as he put it, was that he would try to make the wild card and if that doesn't work out, he'll have a beer! Well, he flew a clean wild card session and was second to Glen Dell thus getting the privilege of racing in the Top 12 session.
In the Top 12 session, Matthias came 11th of 12 with a time of 1:34.59 and no penalties. He didn't make it into the Super 8 session, but he did take one championship point in his first race - quite the accomplishment for a rookie.
He may not have made it into the Super 8 session, but I'm sure that Matthias Dolderer really enjoyed that cold beer after the race. I suppose it was a win-win situation for him in that respect!
Matt Hall (AUS) - MXS
The former Top Gun in the Royal Australian Air Force got the old order of pilots shaking by achieving a fifth overall qualifying position.
In his first session, Hall flew what looked to be a disciplined race in his MXS aircraft but hit a pylon after the chicane (pictured). He still had one more qualifying session to go and he learned from his mistake by posting a 1:32.92 and fifth fastest overall for Friday.
With a fifth place, Hall was pretty much guaranteed points but only if he could continue this trend
For the race on Saturday, Hall impressed the crowds as he made it into the Super 8 and just lost out on making the Final 4 by a sliver against Nigel Lamb in another MXS. Still though, Hall made himself known to the old order of pilots and when asked about his impressive performance, he attributed it to "beginner's luck maybe."
Pete McLeod (CAN) - Edge 540
The youngest ever Red Bull Air Race pilot in the series' short history had an excellent start as he put in not one, but two clean runs in qualifying. He was also ecstatic because as he told me, "my goal was to keep the time at under 1:40," and he did that twice with a 1:39.12 in Q1 and then a 1:38.67 in Q2.
It looked like the Canadian would be another sure bet to make it into the Top 12 but it wasn't meant to be as he lost his cool in the Wild Card, hit a pylon and performed a Safety Climb Out (SCO) with a disqualification and 15th overall in his first race.
A real shame but a learning experience nonetheless since his rookie year wasn't about scoring points but about learning as much as possible.
Yoshi Muroya (JPN) - Edge 540
The first Asian in the Red Bull Air Race made quite an impression in his first race.
Muroya started off with some trouble in Qualifying 1 on Friday as he touched a gate, flew an incorrect level and flew too high all in one session. A grand total of 10 seconds in penalties and a total time of 1:43.18. Had he flew a clean qualifying, he might have been able to be fourth overall.
Anyhow, in Qualifying 2, erratic flying, and a defective pylon caused Muroya to make an involuntary SCO. It was unfortunate as he qualified 15th overall.
On Saturday's race day, Muroya was able to improve on that, albeit with six seconds worth of penalties for mainly incorrect level and knife flying. Not the best start for the Japanese pilot. Was Abu Dhabi a setback for him or just part of the learning curve?
Anyhow, that concludes my look at the rookies for 2009 after their first race. The biggest winner was far and away Matt Hall while Matthias Dolderer took his first point. Pete McLeod put in clean times but lost his cool during the most important part while Yoshi Muroya accumulated unnecessary penalty points.
These four pilots are on a learning curve and by the time the season ends, we'll see how they've grown and improved.
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