Britain’s Paul Bonhomme was pipped to the post today in the first race in this year’s Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi. Hannes Arch of Austria came from behind to win the race with Nicolas Ivanoff of France taking third place. Britain’s Nigel Lamb established himself as a force to be reckoned with this year, taking fourth in the sizzling heat of the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Australia’s Matt Hall, one of four rookies in the championship this year, had an outstanding performance in his very first race, grabbing a sensational fifth place on the challenging 6.6-km course of Air Gates set up just above the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Arch, the defending world champion, saved his best for last, blazing to victory to the delight of the large crowd of spectators watching from the rim of the Corniche with a time of 1:24.60 – a full 0.89 seconds faster than Bonhomme’s outstanding effort just moments earlier. Arch had stumbled in the Super 8 session and only just qualified for the Final 4 in fourth place. Arch, who also collected one championship point with his victory in Friday’s Qualifying session, then opened up his throttle in the final on a day when temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius to pick up the 12 points. He will take a three-point lead over Bonhomme (10 points) to the next race in San Diego.

Bonhomme, who had won here in Abu Dhabi last year and led the championship for most of the 2008 season before stumbling late in the year to finish second to Arch, was surprised that his fabulous Final 4 time of 1:25.49 was not enough for the victory. “It felt like a pretty good run,” Bonhomme said. “I was actually quite pleased with that.”

Ivanoff, who took delivery of his Edge 540 just four weeks ago, was elated to be back on the podium after spending most of last year in the lower half of the field. “It’s really a surprise because I only got the plane one month ago and you can’t really expect a result like that,” he said. “It’s a new plane. The technicians were working through the night for the last week to get it ready for the race. It’s a good plane. I need to avoid making so many mistakes. But if you want to go fast, you have to take risks.”

Another rookie, Matthias Dolderer of Germany, also had a bright start to his Red Bull Air Race World Championship career, taking 11th place and collecting his first championship point. Dolderer had started the week cautiously and seemed to improve with each training and racing session.

The 15 pilots in the largest field ever assembled in the history of the race fly the single-propeller planes weighing 540 kg with tremendous precision, reaching speeds of up to 370 kilometres per hour and enduring forces of up to 12G as they navigate through the turn-filled courses just metres above the surface. Last year, more than 3.5 million fans around the world attended the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, which were watched by a total of some 500 million television viewers in 115 countries on six continents.