Last year’s Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Race winner Martin Sonka admits he doesn’t mind if he can’t replicate his win on Saturday as long as he gives 100 per cent effort.
Sonka could not have asked for a better start to the 2017 campaign when the Czech stormed to victory at the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
That was one of two triumphs as well as two podium finishes. Yet, he missed out on the title to Yoshihide Muroya by four points in the standings.
Sonka will be one of 13 pilots who will be going at top speed of 370kmph on Friday and Saturday and whether he repeat his success or not, he has vowed to give nothing but the best.
“What I expect is hopefully to give my maximum effort and be happy with my performance,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to predict anything on the results because it’s a new season and everyone is coming in with new modifications. Each pilot has had their own preparation whether that’s flying or mentally. The season opener will be a good point to see where all the teams are and what to expect for the rest of the season. We will try our best to give a good result.”
Sonka will be making his sixth appearance in the UAE capital and believes the Abu Dhabi race continues to go from strength to strength.
“The sport is growing so much and it’s becoming more professional and definitely a big success here,” he said.
“What stays the same is the beauty of Abu Dhabi and after the winter break, to come here from Czech Republic where it’s cold and fly in the beautiful Corniche Bay is truly amazing.
“The very special thing about Abu Dhabi is that it’s the first race of the season so there are always expectations and good platform to build on for the season ahead.”
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.”
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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