Four new pilots from four countries and four continents will join the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in 2009, the largest crop of rookies in the history of the world’s fastest growing motorsport. At age 24, Canada’s Pete McLeod will be the youngest ever pilot in the high-speed, precision flying race, while the three other rookies – Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya (35), Australia’s Matt Hall (37), Germany’s Matthias Dolderer (38) – are all also younger than reigning World Champion Hannes Arch (41) who joined in 2007.

Muroya said he is proud to be the first pilot from Asia to break into the ranks of the low-flying racing elite while Dolderer is looking forward to putting Germany back on the map after the retirement in 2007 of one of the original Red Bull Air Race pilots, Klaus Schrodt. McLeod’s goal is to become a World Champion before the age of 30 and Hall, the first Australian pilot, has been scrutinizing race footage to prepare for the track and will be looking to turn the field upside down.

“I’m obviously extremely excited and found it hard to keep my emotions in check when I got the news,” said Hall, an Australian Air Force fighter pilot who along with the other three newcomers, were informed this week after having met the requirements with flying colours at a Qualifying Camp in Spain in September. “It’s a great opportunity to represent Australia and I’m excited about being the first Australian in the race. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us now. The focus is to get a fast plane, learn to fly it quickly and get into the track.”

The rookies were selected from six candidates at the Red Bull Air Race Qualification Camp in Casarrubios, Spain this year where they were put through their paces and given the opportunity to prove their ability to become future race pilots. All four gained the coveted ‘Super Licence’ which is the essential pass needed to compete in a Red Bull Air Race. They impressed the race panel at the Qualifying Camp both with their flying prowess as well as their determination to make their mark on the race early and get onto the podium. As far as 2009 goes, the rookies are looking to Arch and his quick rise to the top as not only a role model but also the man to beat. The highly competitive and talented young guns all made it clear that they see themselves as title contenders in the not-too-distant future.

“Hannes showed that you don’t have to have 30,000 hours flying commercial jets to succeed in the Red Bull Air Race,” said McLeod, referring to Arch’s quick ascent to the top. The first Canadian pilot to enter the championship has a degree in economics and got his pilot’s licence at age 16 even before he got a driver’s licence. McLeod said that he brings unique experience to the race, flying the rugged north of Canada. “I’ve been flying since I was six years old. I grew up in airplanes and was a commercial bush pilot in a demanding environment at a young age. The Red Bull Air Race inspired me from the start. It’s got all the elements that drive me and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Dolderer has been eager to break into the field since 2002. “It’s great for Germany to have a pilot in the race again,” said Dolderer. “I sometimes feel like I was born for this kind of flying. It’s a combination of speed, challenge, adrenaline, precision, aggressiveness and keeping it all in balance. The race has got it all and I’m really looking forward to the start of the new season.”

Muroya, who got his flying licence at age 19 in Los Angeles to save a few yen, said it was his aim to help make the championship a truly worldwide event and he believes his entry will spark a dramatic rise in interest not only in his home country of Japan but across Asia. “It’s going to make the Red Bull Air Race World Championship a truly international race,” he said. “It’s already got a following in Japan but now I think there’s going to be an explosion in interest.”

Red Bull Air Race Aviation Director Heinz Moeller said all four pilots had amply demonstrated that they are among the best pilots in the world. “It’s good to have some fresh new faces in the championship,” he said. “We knew they were all good pilots but they also pleasantly surprised us with their skills and the high quality of their performance. There’s a good chance that they’ll be out-performing some of the veteran pilots in their first season.”

The full line-up for 2009 is yet to be announced although the number of pilots competing may well increase from this year’s field of 12. 2009 will mark the largest number of rookies to ever enter the competition in one year. In 2005 there were two rookies (Spain’s Alejandro Maclean and American Mike Goulian), two joined in 2007 (Austria’s Arch and Russian Sergey Rakhmanin) and one in 2008 (South Africa’s Glen Dell).

Although the 2009 race calendar is yet to be announced, fans can look forward to spectacular and new race locations and exciting developments which are certain to make the Red Bull Air Race World Championship even more thrilling than in 2008.