Abu Dhabi (UAE) – In the warm desert sun, Dolderer turned up the heat, blazing through the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) racetrack over the Arabian Gulf in a new track record of 52.795. Goulian, who like the German had been on fire during earlier Free Practice sessions, served up 53.392 to Muroya’s 53.404 and a head-turning 53.416 by France’s Mika Brageot, who is starting only his second World Championship campaign. 

The season opener for the new dimension of motorsport launches a calendar that will see 14 of the world’s best pilots racing at 370kmh at eight stops around the world. With pilot skills and raceplane technology at an all-time high, it is arguably the tightest field ever, and every team wants to set the pace. As the 2017 World Champion, Muroya is the man to beat; but Dolderer is feared by all after taking second at the Abu Dhabi Corniche in 2016 and going on to dominate the entire season.

Qualifying results determine the head-to-head matchups for Race Day’s opening Round of 14. As the day’s fastest, Dolderer will face the slowest – not an easy task as that opponent is Australia’s Matt Hall, the only pilot who managed to rival the German right up until he clinched his 2016 crown. Goulian should have an easier assignment against France’s Nicolas Ivanoff, who is hindered by the backup plane he is flying as his own raceplane needs repairs.

All of Japan will be on their feet when Muroya goes up against Canada’s Pete McLeod, who was third place overall last season, while Czech fans will wonder who to root for as two of their heroes square off: Martin Šonka, who was second place overall last year, against Petr Kopfstein.

The pilot who brings Great Britain back to the World Championship this season, former Red Arrows Team Leader Ben Murphy, pulled off a fine result in his first Qualifying, a ninth-place finish that will see him race against Spain’s Juan Velarde.

While happy with his pole position, Dolderer knows he has to be careful: He has flown so aggressively in Abu Dhabi so far that in some runs he has been penalized for going past the G force limit. “I always try to go to the maximum to get the best speed and time, and my tactician tells me to cool down – but it doesn’t work. So I have to find a way to get rid of over-Gs, which would kill my race,” he stated. “For all 14 of us, it’s a new game at zero points. The major goal is to be consistent and not to get penalties.”

Dolderer also received the DHL Fastest Lap Award, first introduced in 2016 to define a new standard of speed at the Red Bull Air Race. At each race, the DHL Fastest Lap Award goes to the pilot who has clocked the fastest single lap among all of the two-lap Qualifying runs. At the end of the season, the pilot with the most awards across the eight races is presented with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy – an honor that Dolderer previously claimed in 2016.

Results Master Class Qualifying, Abu Dhabi 2018: 1. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 52.795, 2. Michael Goulian (USA) 53.392, 3. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 53.404, 4. Mika Brageot (FRA) 53.416, 5. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 54.032, 6. Juan Velarde (ESP) 54.045, 7. Martin Šonka (CZE) 54.323, 8. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 54.336, 9. Ben Murphy (GBR) 54.351, 10. François Le Vot (FRA) 54.702, 11. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 55.011, 12. Pete McLeod (CAN) 55.176, 13. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 56.444, 14. Matt Hall (AUS) DNF