Red Bull Air Race 2017: Kirby Chambliss wins in Russia
The USA’s Kirby Chambliss is back – back-to-back, in fact. Just three weeks after winning his first race in nine years at the Budapest stop of the Red Bull Air Race, the two-time titleholder triumphed again on Sunday, at the first World Championship stop ever held in Russia.
In a North American sweep, Pete McLeod of Canada finished second, while the USA’s Michael Goulian was third.
Weather that changed from glorious to gloomy didn’t deter 90,000 spectators from thrilling to the aerial action over the weekend, but the conditions seemed to have a profound effect on the race results, throwing the World Championship wide open with only three stops to go.
In a shocker, favourites including Yoshihide Muroya of Japan, Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic and reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany fell to the wayside early by losing their head-to-heads in the rainy Round of 14.
Going first in the Final 4, Chambliss served up a result of 58.378, a time he later admitted he didn't think would stand against McLeod, who set a faster track record in Qualifying.
But a two-second penalty left the Canadian 0.747 behind, and neither Goulian nor the Czech Republic’s Petr Kopfstein could do better. It was the third podium of 2017 for McLeod and the first in eight years for an ecstatic Goulian.
Every pilot was keen to earn the first World Championship points ever to be awarded in Russia, and by taking the lion’s share, Chambliss boosted himself to the top of the overall standings for the first time since 2006 – a year when he went on to clinch the World Championship.
The American’s 40 points put him just one point ahead of Muroya and Šonka, who each have 39, while the remarkably consistent McLeod is also poised to strike with 38.
The final three races of the year will be utterly unpredictable. “Clean flying will take you up there, and that’s what we’re trying to do – the whole team is helping me with the lines and the strategy and the raceplane,” said Chambliss, who is the only pilot in the lineup to have been part of the Red Bull Air Race ever since its origins in 2003.
“The first part of year we struggled, but I look at it one race at a time, and if we keep winning races we’ll win the Championship. It’s been awesome in Russia.”
The Red Bull Air Race will next make a highly anticipated return to scenic Porto, Portugal for the sixth stop of the season on 2-3 September 2017.
Photo credit: Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool