Budapest, Hungary – Budapest is a “home” race for the pilots from the nearby Czech Republic, and cheers were loud among the total 45,000 spectators as the raceplanes made their classic racetrack approach under the city’s Chain Bridge in the 12th stopever held at the Hungarian capital. Sonka stunned the field with a time of 57.600s that was – exactly – a full second better than the time he had delivered to win Free Practice 2 just 24 hours before. But Muroya, who took the World Championship away from Sonka in the last race of the 2017 season, is currently tied in the overall points with the Czech ace (ranked third and fourth, respectively), and his 57.632 sets up anticipation for a thrilling Race Day on Sunday. Kopfstein is potential spoiler, finishing less than three-tenths of a second behind the two Qualifying leaders.

Budapest is the fourth race and midpoint of the 2018 season, and Sonka’s team rushed to install new engine cylinders for the stop. Although they sensed an improvement, Sonka was cautious in his optimism.

We feel more or less OK. It’s a great starting point for the race tomorrow, but one little mistake and you’re out,” he noted. “I still want to look at the data, because I know of little pilot mistakes in the pull-ups where I’m hopeful there are margins for us to improve more. We feel good and confident, but we still have to stay concentrated. The energy from the fans is pushing me forward. It’s a great thing to have them all here.

Qualifying determines the head-to-head matchups for Race Day, with the fastest pilot going against the slowest. Sonka’s top time turned out to be especially advantageous, because the 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany was not able to fly in Saturday’s Qualifying due to medical reasons and will not be taking part in the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest, meaning that Sonka will fly unopposed in the opening Round of 14 and will advance to the Round of 8 as long as he has a valid time.

The opening round will not be so easy for Muroya, who will go up against one of this season’s hottest pilots, the USA’s Michael Goulian, because the American received a “Did Not Finish” result for exceeding Maximum G. Since Australia’s Matt Hall and Goulian are tied at the top of the overall leaderboard just ahead of Muroya and Sonka, no pilot can afford a slipup in their early runs. Hall, who was fourth in Qualifying, will fly against François Le Vot of France, and Kopfstein will face another Frenchman, Nicolas Ivanoff.

Sonka also captured his first DHL fastest lap award of the season. At every stop on the eight-race calendar, the award goes to the pilot who flies the fastest single lap among the two-lap Qualifying runs. Then, at the end of the season, the pilot with the most awards is presented with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy. So far this season, Sonka, Goulian, the USA’s Kirby Chambliss and Dolderer have each earned one award.

Who will claim the classic win? Race Day in Budapest is Sunday, 24 June 2018. For all the latest news and how to watch, visit www.redbullairrace.com

Results Master Class Qualifying, Budapest 2018: 1. Martin Sonka (CZE) 57.600, 2. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 57.632, 3. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 57.872, 4. Matt Hall (AUS) 58.085, 5. Pete McLeod (CAN) 58.122, 6. Mika Brageot (FRA) 58.410, 7. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 58.441, 8. Ben Murphy (GBR) 58.970, 9. Juan Velarde (ESP) 59.228, 10. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 59.505, 11.François Le Vot (FRA) 59.839, 12. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 1:00.141, 13. Michael Goulian (USA) DNF, 14. Matthias Dolderer (GER) DNS