The Czech Republic’s Martin Šonka claimed the second race win of his career at the Red Bull Air Race in Porto, Portugal on Sunday and launched himself back to the top of the World Championship standings with only two races to go. In a Final 4 that set 600,000 hearts racing on the banks of the Douro River, Canada’s Pete McLeod captured second for the third race in a row, and Matt Hall of Australia clinched third.
Šonka – the only pilot in the Final 4 never to have raced in Porto – went first and threw down the gauntlet with 1:07.229. Fighting to retain his overall lead in the World Championship, the USA’s Kirby Chambliss then served up a net time of 01:07.141, but he incurred a two-second penalty that saved Šonka’s win and opened the door for the rest. McLeod’s finish was only a breathtaking 0.113 behind Šonka’s, while Hall’s third place was his first podium of the season after switching raceplanes this year.
The results were pivotal for Šonka, who earned his career-first race win and the top of the overall leaderboard at the season opener in Abu Dhabi, only to subsequently slip. He’s been locked in a title battle with the likes of Chambliss, McLeod and Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya all season. Now with only the two races in Germany and the USA remaining, the Czech ace is four points ahead of the consistent McLeod, who jumped to second overall. Chambliss is still in the running at third place with 47 points, and so is Muroya with 44. While the Japanese pilot’s sixth-place finish was impressive after extensive raceplane work limited his track time in Porto, the result was blow, dropping him to fourth overall. With just a 10-point gap among those four contenders – and 15 points available for a race win – tension is mounting fast.
“After the last three races where we got various penalties, it was simply time to fly again – and race again – and we won, so I’m really happy,” said an elated Šonka, whose best overall finish in four previous seasons was fourth. “Of course we would like to win the title, but the others are fast, and with two races left there are still a lot of points on the table. So nothing is decided yet, and we have to wait until the end of the season.”
Spanish pilot Juan Velarde did not participate on Race Day in Porto because after making modifications to their raceplane, the weather prevented Team Velarde from completing necessary testing of the modifications. In two weeks, the Red Bull Air Race makes a speedway shift with a return to Germany’s Lausitzring on 16-17 September 2017. It’s the home race of reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer, who will be looking for a comeback after finishing eighth in Porto.
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Results Master Class Porto 2017: 1. Martin Šonka (CZE), 2. Pete McLeod (CAN), 3. Matt Hall (AUS), 4. Kirby Chambliss(USA), 5. Mikaël Brageot (FRA), 6. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 7. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 8. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 9. Peter Podlunšek (SLO), 10. Michael Goulian (USA), 11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 12. Cristian Bolton (CHI), 13. François Le Vot (FRA), 14. Juan Velarde (ESP) World Championship standings after six of eight races: 1. Martin Šonka (CZE) 54 points, 2. Pete McLeod (CAN) 50 pts, 3. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 47 pts, 4. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 44 pts, 5. Petr Kopfstein(CZE) 34 pts, 6. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 27 pts, 7. Matt Hall (AUS) 25 pts, 8. Michael Goulian (USA) 24 pts, 9. Juan Velarde (ESP) 21 pts, 10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 15 pts, 11. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 14 pts, 12. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 14 pts, 13. François Le Vot (FRA) 8 pts, 14. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 7 pts