14 Oct 2017

Red Bull Air Race 2017: Matt Hall wins Qualifying in Indy

Matt Hall of Australia earned his second consecutive pole position with the top time in Qualifying for the Red Bull Air Race 2017 season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday 14 October. 

However, fans of the four pilots still in contention for the World Championship title were stunned as the leaders finished down the timesheet, pitting favorites Martin Šonka (CZE) and Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) against each other in Sunday’s opening head-to-heads.

Šonka, Muroya, Canada’s Pete McLeod and the USA’s Kirby Chambliss are all still in the running for the title. Hall however can’t win the title, but he can definitely put a spanner in the work on race day. His top time of 1:04.149 on Saturday seemed a clear indication of his intention to do so. 

When Qualifying was over, it was obvious that all pilots were still racing hard. Peter Kopfstein of the Czech Republic and Juan Velarde of Spain claimed second and third. Separated by only a thousandth of a second in fourth and fifth respectively, Šonka and McLeod fared the best of the four World Championship contenders, but the shockers were Muroya and Chambliss, who finished down in 11th and 12th.

Qualifying results determine the head-to-head matchups for the opening Round of 14. The showdown between Šonka and Muroya will be unmissable – potentially eliminating one of the two top contenders early on, unless the slower pilot is lucky enough to advance by being the “fastest loser” of the round’s seven defeated contenders. 

Hall, who made the Final Four in Indianapolis last year, said: “I think we’ve got the speed to win a race now, and the confidence.” 

Noting that there is a poor weather forecast for Sunday, Hall added, “And tomorrow will be a completely new day.” 

Hall also claimed the DHL Fastest Lap Award for flying the fastest single lap among the Qualifying runs. In a special ceremony, Canada’s Pete McLeod was presented with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy for having accumulated the most DHL Fastest Lap Awards across the 2017 season, doing so at a record four of eight stops.

In the 2017 season, McLeod has dominated the Qualifying Day competition, earning the DHL Fastest Lap Award in Chiba, Japan; Budapest, Hungary; Kazan, Russia; and Porto, Portugal. 

McLeod said: “It always feels good to win and go fast out there. I love to put down quick times. I think the spirit of the award is great – just go out there simple and go fast. I’m very happy to be receiving the trophy this year.”

Challenger Class

In the Challenger Class, Melanie Astles won the day. The French pilot’s 1:18.059 set the standard for Race Day on Sunday, with 2016 Indianapolis race winner Luke Czepiela of Poland qualifying in second with 1:18.378 and Great Britain’s Ben Murphy close behind at 1:18.477.

Afterwards she said: “This is a nervous game, starting the race from the takeoff immediately. This track is difficult because it’s hard to know where to make a difference, and once again in the Challenger Class everyone is so close, the times are so tight.”

She added: “Tomorrow will be a new challenge because the wind is going to change, so I’m going to erase everything now and start from zero again in the race.”

Now in its fourth season, in 2017 the Challenger Cup has given nine exceptional pilots the chance to develop their low-altitude flying skills under authentic racing conditions, with six spots available in the season finale, based on points. 

Czepiela, Germany’s Florian Bergér and Sweden’s Daniel Ryfa are the pilots with enough points to potentially claim the season Cup when the racing is over on Sunday, and Bergér, who is currently at the top of the leaderboard, is aiming to rewrite history by becoming the first pilot ever to take back-to-back Challenger titles. Also in the lineup, the USA’s Kevin Coleman is on the hunt for his first home win. 

The Red Bull Air Race World Championships takes place on Sunday 15 October 2017, follow live online at www.redbullairrace.com

Photo: Matt Hall in action on Saturday 14 October 2017 © Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool