Defending champion Yoshihide Muroya is not placing any pressure on himself and expects stern competition from his rivals when the new Red Bull Air Race Championship begins in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Muroya, 45, will go into the season-opener at Abu Dhabi Corniche as the man to beat after entering the record books last year to become the first Japanese and Asian world champion.
He faces a tough task following in the footsteps of retired star Paul Bonhomme, who is the only man to defend his title in successive seasons. However, Muroya insists he is relishing the challenge in a competition which will see pilots race at high speeds of up to 370kph with forces up to 10G.
“There’s no pressure on me just because I’m the world champion,” he said. “It’s a new season and it will be challenging every race that we compete in. Every single year and race, the pilots get faster so it will not be easy. We went faster than last year and it’s important to keep focused and stick to our plan and I think it will be a good and exciting season.
“Everybody is asking me how to defend a championship but it’s 2018 and 2017 is history. I cannot think about that now. There is a new set of teams and modifications.”
While 13 other Master Class pilots are standing in his way of glory, Muroya and the rest of the field will have to adhere to new rule changes for the upcoming campaign.
Among the main change is allowing pilots to continue racing rather than earning a ‘did not finish’ result if they exceed the G-Force limit in any of their two laps.
Muroya, whose worst finish was 13th in both Abu Dhabi and Russia last year, believes the new rules will make the competition more challenging than previous years.
“It’s a new season and with the new rules, it will be challenging in every race,” he said, who finished ahead of 2017 Abu Dhabi winner by four points in the overall standings.
“Every year the championship is getting tighter and tigher. Last year we won the title on the very last flight and it will be harder this time. We expect it to be challenging again.”
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) January 31, 2018
In 2017, Muroya was on top of the podium in four of the eight races with his highlight victory coming last June when he reigned supreme on his home turf in Chiba.
“Since I’ve won the championship, I’ve become more recognisable and have people coming to me for autographs and pictures,” said Muroya.
“It’s nice to make Japan proud and hope to do that again in the future.”
The Abu Dhabi Corniche Breakwater will be busier than usual this weekend as the world’s best racing pilots renew their rivalry in the opening leg of the Red Bull Air Race Championship.
Thirteen of the world’s best will begin their road to glory, travelling up to maximum speeds of 370kph with forces up to 10G on Friday and Saturday.
The previous 10 editions in the UAE capital have been a huge success and this weekend’s is set to be no different especially with the new pilots, raceplane innovations and updated rules only adding fuel to the fire.
In the Master category, defending champion Yoshihide Muroya will be the man to beat after the Japanese sealed his maiden title last year.
Standing in his way of retaining his crown is runner-up Martin Sonka, winner of the Abu Dhabi race in 2017.
Canada’s Pete McLeod, who finished a career-high third in 2017, and two-time runner-up Australia’s Matt Hall will be hoping to continue their strong form from the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, former world champions Kirby Chambliss and Matthias Dolderer will be eager for fresh dominance.
Joining the elite pilots is a new face – Ben Murphy. The Brit joins the field with two years of racing experience in the Challenger Class and is relishing the challenge.
“It’s a huge honour to be moving up to the Master Class in 2018. It will be great to have the British colors flying again and to follow in the footsteps of fellow British pilots Paul Bonhomme and Nigel Lamb,” said Murphy. “Both have been an inspiration to me, and this move marks the next major step in the campaign to battle to the top and match their World Championship successes. Those are big shoes to fill, though.”
As well as the action in the skies over the two days, there will be plenty of entertainment on the ground with Red Bull’s Activation Zone.
Red Bull Car Park Drift and Neymar Junior’s 5 qualifiers are just some of the things spectators can look forward to and Eric Wolf, general manager of the Red Bull Air Race insists the Abu Dhabi race is definitely one not to miss.
“I’ve never looked forward to a kickoff with so much anticipation. The 2017 season had us on the edge of our seats, and because it was so close, every team sees a chance for glory and is going for it,” he said.
“I think we’ll be treated to phenomenal advances in technology and skill, and there’s nowhere that appreciates progression more than Abu Dhabi, with its strong motorsport heritage. It’s the perfect place to begin our second decade of World Championship action.”
What: Red Bull Air Race, Abu Dhabi
Where: Abu Dhabi Corniche Breakwater
When: Friday and Saturday
Contact: For tickets and more information, visit www.redbullairrace.com
A year on from the stunning Spanish Grand Prix drive that secured Max Verstappen his first career F1 win and instant superstar status, the young Dutchman returns this weekend to Barcelona for another crack at the tricky and technically demanding Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
In this exclusive video guide to the circuit, Max explains what the 2017 cars’ greater downforce will mean for cornering speed, how the lap time will be affected, why Turn four is “never a perfect corner” and why Turn nine provides the biggest thrills for him.
Will the Dutchman come out victorious at the 2017 Spanish GP?