Why you should tune into the Red Bull Air Race at Kazan this weekend
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There are still three races to go in The Red Bull Air Race World Championship before the 2019 World Champion is crowned in Chiba, Japan, beginning with the race in Kazan, Russia, this weekend.
Here’s exactly what the Air Race is, and why you should tune in while you still have the chance…
So… what is the Red Bull Air Race?
It was conceived in 2002 by the Red Bull sports think tank, a body tasked with the goal of coming up with entirely new and innovative sports.
They wanted to create the most advanced aerial challenge the world had ever seen, and they then set about turning that idea into reality. The Red Bull Air Race series was the result, and it works like this: 14 elite pilots in high-performance planes race around a track marked out by giant air-filled pylons that require tight turns, rolls, loops and other manoeuvres that would challenge the stomachs of even the toughest of mere mortals, such are the extreme G forces they have to endure.
Each pilot speeds around the course as fast as they possibly can, and then the racer with the fastest time wins – with time taken off for infractions such as striking the inflatable pylons or not having their wings level as they pass through the Air Gates.
How does it work?
Just like Formula 1, the races take place over the course of a weekend, beginning with Free Practice, before Qualifying.
Race Day works in a knock-out system, and begins with the Round of 14, in which all the pilots in the Master Class tackle the course seeded in heats based on qualifying times, with the slowest going first against the fastest, and so on.
The winners from each heat and the fastest loser are re-seeded based on Round of 14 times and fight it out again in heats in the Round of 8, before the Final 4 determine the winner based on times.
Go fastest in every round, and you will take the victory – but only if you do it cleanly.
Time penalties ranging from one to three seconds are added to the time for infractions such as flying too high through or over an Air Gate, or hitting the gates themselves. Hit three, and your time is ruled out altogether with a DNF (did not finish). This is a series then that not only rewards speed, but precision too making the competition accessible only to the world’s most exceptional pilots.
Why you should watch this weekend
The Air Race pilots have competed twice before in Kazan in the past two seasons, and both races have been phenomenal.
In the first event held over the river in the Russian city there were more than 60 pylon hits as the pilots struggled to get to grips with the tricky course, before American Kirby Chambliss secured the race victory.
For 2018, the course was updated in an effort to make the racing even better – and boy did it deliver.
Chambliss was again quick around the circuit he had mastered the previous year, but this time he was beaten into third by winner Martin Sonka – one of four victories that year for the Czech who went on to win the World Champion title – and American Michael Goulian in second, with all three podium finishers separated by an astonishingly close 0.181 seconds.
So the course tends to throw up good racing, and as we head into this weekend’s event, one pilot in particular will be hoping to finally tame the Kazan circuit. 2017 World Champion Yoshihide Muroya of Japan has never secured a podium finish in Kazan, coming home 13th in his title winning year – his joint worst result of the season – and eighth last year.
But after he dominated the last race in Abu Dhabi in February by being fastest in qualifying and then taking the race win, Muroya is leading the championship by six points from last year’s winner Sonka.
Can Muroya finally tame one of his bogey circuits to extend his championship lead? Will reigning champ Sonka repeat his victory from last season to fight back in the title hunt? Or can 2017 race winner Chambliss take another victory over the river course?
It’s all set up for a great battle in the skies over Kazan.