Three races down, three to go, and three different winners so far—Hannes Arch, Nicolas Ivanoff and Paul Bonhomme! The championship is as wide open as it was at the beginning of the season.
As well, seven different pilots have challenged for the win this season—Hannes Arch, Paul Bonhomme, Peter Besenyei, Kirby Chambliss, Nicolas Ivanoff, Nigel Lamb and Mike Mangold.
The season opener of the Red Bull Air Race started off in Abu Dhabi, and the biggest news came before the race when it was announced that the Emirate will get the privilege of hosting the opening round of the world championship until 2011.
To add to that, 2008 world series champion Hannes Arch received sponsorship from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. He is now carrying "Abu Dhabi" on his wings, his flight suit, and in his hangar. He has become known as "Air Abu Dhabi!"
The race itself was a spectacle to watch. With a newly designed track, second place man Paul Bonhomme commented that it was very well-designed track compared to the previous year's track since different lines and angles could be taken, whereas last year it was a waiting game of getting through the gates.
Hannes Arch was the winner of that race with Bonhomme and Ivanoff right behind him. Nigel Lamb was the unlucky fourth, but his MXS keeps improving by the day. To add to that, Arch also won the qualifying round and took one crucial championship point as well as setting the fastest time thus making an air racing hat trick for the Austrian.
Abu Dhabi also was the debut ground for four new pilots to the series: Matthias Dolderer of Germany, Matt Hall of Australia, Pete McLeod of Canada and Yoshi Muroya of Japan.
Hall was the most profitable rookie in this round with him taking fifth place and just a hair out of the final four. Dolderer was the second-most profitable rookie in the Emirates with an 11th place finish and one point to his name in his first race.
The unluckiest pilots in Abu Dhabi was a tie with Michael Goulian and Pete McLeod.
Goulian, the amicable Bostonian, did not have an antenna properly connected, which would broadcast all sorts of information to the race stewards in the tower as a way to ensure that he flies properly. His time was upheld, but he wasn't allowed to compete in the second round of qualifying. With the race, he was too slow and didn't make it past the Wild Card.
McLeod on the other hand put two clean albeit slow times during qualifying but when it came to the race, the Canadian hit a pylon and had to perform an SCO (Safety Climb Out) because of some fabric stuck to the wings of his Edge 540 aircraft. He came in last place.
The Red Bull Air Race moved to San Diego and home race for the three American pilots—Mike Mangold, Kirby Chambliss and Michael Goulian.
Goulian just wasn't able to capitalize and ended up out of the points while Matt Hall put in a second fifth place finish in a row.
Hannes Arch was able to win the qualifying again, but came short in the Final Four round after hitting a bird. His aircraft survived, but there was plenty of organic matter on the aircraft and the tailplane was pretty damaged. Arch came third in the second round of the race but had an extra point added because of his winning the qualifying round.
Nicolas Ivanoff was able to set the course record and take the win while Paul Bonhomme came second for the second time this year.
Peter Besenyei was the unlucky fourth man in his MXS.
The Americans didn't fare very well in San Diego with Goulian again out of the Top 12 round and Chambliss getting disqualified for going over-g. Mike Mangold was the most successful of the three but still wasn't able to make it into the Final Four round. He ended up taking an early bath as well with his two countrymen with his seventh place finish.
The South African sophomore, Glen Dell, was able to finally get into the points by taking a ninth place and three points here thus ending his points drought.
Overall, San Diego was an interesting race with a Saturday qualifying filled with pylon hits and a Sunday filled with suspense!
The Red Bull Air Race returned to the world's longest undefended border and also to one of the busiest points—Windsor, Ontario. Across the river is Detroit, where the third round was hosted in 2008. This was also the home race for Pete McLeod, whose base is only a two-hour drive away.
The third round was hampered by two pieces of bad news. First, Peter Besenyei would not fly in Windsor because of a crash landing in a wheat field earlier that week damaged his MXS to the point that it could not be ready in time.
As well, the safety of Yoshi Muroya's Edge 540 was compromised after hitting a pylon in compensation training on Friday and thus would not be given the green light to fly either.
All eyes might have been focused on the 25-year old Canadian, but it was American Kirby Chambliss who stole the show and denied Hannes Arch a third consecutive qualifying win on a cloudy Saturday.
"I'll take that point," said Chambliss over the radio after learning that he set the course record and had won the round.
Come Sunday though, the story would be very different. With Pete McLeod able to keep himself out of the Wild Card round and into the top 10 on Saturday. He got himself in 11th after taking a two-second penalty. The Canadian crowd went wild as their man came in second-to-last!
The race had by far the most pylon hits as Sergey Rakhmanin pipped the start/finish gate to start things off. Mike Mangold and Michael Goulian also hit pylons as the latter had to SCO because of pylon got stuck on his tail.
Matt Hall had quite possibly the most interesting round during the Super Eights as he touched the start/finish gate when entering the track and crashed head-on into the quadro and had to SCO. He later admitted that he thought he could gun for a podium place and a win foregoing the fact that he was learning.
The Final Four had two Americans - Mike Mangold, and Kirby Chambliss—up against two Europeans—Paul Bonhomme of Great Britain, and Hannes Arch of Austria.
While many believed that this round was in the bag for Chambliss, the American made a mistake, incurred a two-second penalty, and was able to hang on for third place.
Mike Mangold was just too slow and with a two-second penalty, he was effectively out of the running.
Hannes Arch couldn't keep his cool, took a penalty, and lost out but was able to come second behind Paul Bonhomme whose consistent flying all week earned him the maple leaf trophy.
Last year, the top four was Chambliss, Bonhomme, Arch and Mangold. In 2009, it was Bonhomme, Arch, Chambliss and Mangold.
Overall, with three different winners and the championship fight still going strong, Budapest on Aug. 19 and 20 will be a real test for Arch and Bonhomme, since they are only separated by one point.
Will the rookies be able to mix things up again? Will Kirby Chambliss and Mike Mangold give Hannes Arch and Paul Bonhomme a run for their money? Budapest will tell all!