2009 Could be Paul Bonhomme's (GBR) year, but the season isn't over, so let us not jump to conclusions too quickly!
The Portuguese stop in the 2009 edition of the Red Bull Air Race saw both a return to form for the defending champion Hannes Arch (AUT) but an even bigger return for Bonhomme who not only won the race, but took the qualifying point just 24 hours earlier to build up a cushy four point lead over his rival with only one round left to go.
However, overshadowing these two men in the fight for the title was rookie Matt Hall (AUS) who only in his fifth Red Bull Air Race was able to step onto the podium and take home some hardware!
Rookie Matthias Dolderer (GER) looked like a contender for the Final Four, but two two-second penalties in the Super Eight round cost him dearly and left him in sixth.
Kirby Chambliss (USA) had a technical issue with his Edge 540 in the Super Eight round and couldn't compete at all. The fastest man in practice had to settle in eighth place with a DNS.
In the technical areas, the track in Porto seemed to have been giving the pilots of the MXS aircraft the most trouble. Overall, it appeared that two-second penalties for incorrect level flying (ILF) at various gates hurt them.
One of the reasons for this, and one that former Red Bull Air Race pilot and commentator Steve Jones alluded to was the 420 degrees per second roll rate. Since it is a pretty sensitive aircraft, the pilot might turn within the gate unconsciously.
Four pilots, as opposed to five, took part in this round. Absent was Glen Dell (RSA) for having an unsafe aircraft. Pete McLeod (CAN) was hoping to not make any errors but an unfortunate penalty left him down.
Sergey Rakhmanin (RUS) also had some trouble and couldn't improve in the Wild Card either.
The two experienced hands of Mike Mangold (USA) and Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) both went through as both put in disciplined races, but the latter took on a penalty.
An eventful round, the old order got shaken up again but this time with Michael Goulian (USA), Yoshi Muroya (JPN), Nigel Lamb (GBR), and Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) falling to the wayside. Muroya, Lamb and Ivanoff each took an ILF penalty of two seconds thus ending their races that day.
Further up, Kirby Chambliss broke into the 1:08 area by posting the fastest time of the day: a 1:08.88, just a hair faster than Bonhomme.
Matthias Dolderer wowed everyone by taking third overall in the Top 12 round with many betting that he would be a force to be reckoned with in the Final Four.
Hannes Arch however was too slow and came in behind Dolderer by just over a second while Hall, Alejandro Maclean (ESP), Peter Besenyei (HUN), and Mike Mangold rounded out the contenders for the Super Eight round.
This round looked to be a very tight one since the gap between first and eighth was just under three seconds in the previous round.
Chambliss had to drop out of this round because of technical difficulties and thus came in eighth of eight pilots.
The biggest loss had to be that of Maclean who went over-G in the second Vertical Turning Manoeuvre and was subsequently disqualified. Pull over 12 G's and you're disqualified. Maclean came seventh.
Matthias Dolderer looked to have been a contender for the next round because he just kept getting faster and faster but two ILF penalties of two seconds each ended his campaign and the German had to settle for sixth.
Mangold and Besenyei had their best results of the season so far, even with penalties attached to their names. Besenyei moved into fourth place and the Final Four while Mangold took fifth place with a weak engine. The American was happy with his result.
The top three came out as Arch, Bonhomme, and Hall. Besenyei would join them for the Final Four.
Three experienced hands and a rookie. What's more is that the two men battling it out for the championship would be going neck and neck, with whoever being more cautious here losing.
Arch was the first man in and appeared to have put in a decent time of 1:10.17 with no penalties. A slight scare during the race as the Austrian was under investigation for a possible ILF.
Next up was Besenyei and with a two-second penalty from the start for an ILF, it was all over for the Hungarian unless Hall or Bonhomme would falter. He put in a 1:14.10.
Hall was gunning to go and not only did he manage to beat out Besenyei, he was able to do it cleanly! A 1:11.23 sealed his podium position!
Finally, it was all down to Bonhomme. If he wins, four points over Arch; if he takes second, he'd only be one point ahead. The Brit started off and by the first split, was 0.07 of a second behind but not only was he able to close it at the second, but actually come out ahead a full 0.94 of a second ahead of his Austrian rival by the time he passed the Breitling gates at the end of his run!
The final result of the fifth round of the Red Bull Air Race in Porto goes as such:
1. Paul Bonhomme (GBR) - Edge 540
2. Hannes Arch (AUT) - Edge 540
3. Matt Hall (AUS) - MXS
4. Peter Besenyei (HUN) - MXS
5. Mike Mangold (USA) - Edge 540
6. Matthias Dolderer (GER) - Edge 540
7. Alejandro Maclean (ESP) - MXS
8. Kirby Chambliss (USA) - Edge 540
9. Michael Goulian (USA) - Edge 540
10. Yoshi Muroya (JPN) - Edge 540
11. Nigel Lamb (GBR) - MXS
12. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) - Edge 540
13. Sergey Rakhmanin (RUS) - MXS
14. Pete McLeod (CAN) - Edge 540
With one more round in Barcelona on a tight and twisty track, will Paul Bonhomme hang onto his lead to take his first championship or will Hannes Arch snatch it in the 11th hour? Stay tuned for Oct. 4!