Australia’s Matt Hall gave himself a big birthday present on Saturday with the best time in Qualifying for the Red Bull Air Race stop at Germany’s Lausitzring. Just 24 hours before the most critical race of the 2017 World Championship so far, Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic and Yoshihide Muroya of Japan also impressed in second and third.

The first race over land this season is also the last chance for the 14 pilots to seize momentum before October’s season finale, and tension was in the air even before the raceplanes took off. With his scorching time of 50.227, Hall earned the pole and the most advantageous match-up for Race Day’s opening Round of 14. Kopfstein was only 0.072 away with 50.299, while Muroya, who set the track record (50.004) in earlier Free Practice, stopped the Qualifying clock at 50.400.

Hall has taken a podium at both of the previous races at the Lausitzring, standing in third place in 2010 and on the top step in 2016. Although 2017 has been a building year as he dialed in a new raceplane, in seventh place overall he now stands as a potential spoiler for the current leaders wrestling for the World Championship: Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic, Pete McLeod of Canada, Kirby Chambliss of the USA and Muroya. In fifth place in the standings, Kopfstein also has a genuine chance at the title, so what happens on Race Day in Lausitz will be pivotal for them all.

“I keep forgetting it’s my birthday. I just went out and flew the best I could, and I’m happy with the good results after a lot of work on the raceplane,” said an elated Hall. “It’s nice that we had the best time today, and it would be nice to do that again tomorrow, but tomorrow is another day and it’s going to be interesting. In the end, you just try to fly the best time you can, and we will try to repeat our own performance. As I always say, if the other guys can beat me while I’m giving my best performance, well done to them, and they deserve the win.”

Qualifying results establish head-to-head matchups in Race Day’s opening round, so the birthday gift will keep on giving for Hall, who will go up against the slowest pilot in Qualifying, Chile’s Cristian Bolton. Other Round of 14 faceoffs include Šonka vs Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), McLeod vs Michael Goulian (USA), Chambliss vs Mikaël Brageot (FRA), Muroya vs François Le Vot (FRA), Kopfstein vs Peter Podlunšek (SLO), and Juan Velarde (ESP) vs Matthias Dolderer (GER). As the reigning World Champion as well as Germany’s home hero, Dolderer is likely to be a big factor in the Race Day action.

Also in Qualifying, Kirby Chambliss of the USA earned his first DHL Fastest Lap Award for flying the fastest single lap among the two-lap Qualifying runs.

Tickets are still available for the last two races of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship season – including the speedway showdown at the Lausitzring on Sunday, 17 September. For more information on tickets and all the latest, visit www.redbullairrace.com

Results Master Class Qualifying, Lausitzring 2017: 1. Matt Hall (AUS) 50.227, 2. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 50.299, 3. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 50.400, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 50.472, 5. Martin Šonka (CZE) 50.733, 6. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 50.751, 7. Pete McLeod (CAN) 50.756, 8. Michael Goulian (USA) 51.118, 9. Juan Velarde (ESP) 51.446, 10. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 51.543, 11. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 51.637, 12. François Le Vot (FRA) 52.297, 13. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 52.373, 14. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 52.689