Nicolas Ivanoff of France won the second Red Bull Air Race World Championship of the season in San Diego on Sunday with a superb run in the finals while championship leader Hannes Arch of Austria fell to third after suffering a bird strike that tore a grapefruit-sized hole on the back of his plane. Britain’s Paul Bonhomme took second place in front of 55,000 spectators watching the race over San Diego Bay under bright blue skies. Ivanoff’s victory narrowed the championship race considerably after two races with Arch (23 points) still ahead of Ivanoff (21) and Bonhomme (20).

Australia’s rookie sensation Matt Hall had another outstanding race, taking fifth place for the second consecutive race while America’s Mike Mangold (7th), Kirby Chambliss (12th) and Michael Goulian (14th) were far off the pace.

“This is really nice,” said Ivanoff, who threw his fists into the air in celebration after climbing out of his new Edge 540. Explosive flying from Ivanoff in both the Super 8 and Final 4 proved that he is a force to be reckoned with. Beating his own outstanding personal best from the Super 8, Ivanoff wiped seconds off his rivals with a course record of 1:17:21.
“I’m really happy. The new plane is great. I thought I had a pretty good run in the final but it’s always possible someone else comes up with an even faster time.” It was only the second career victory for Ivanoff, who won the final race of the 2007 season in Perth, Australia.

Arch, who had won a maximum 13 points in the first race and picked up another point by posting the fastest Qualifying time on Saturday, had the speed to win on Sunday and was just ahead of Ivanoff at the first interval. But then a pelican punctured a gaping hole in his horizontal stabiliser shortly before the midway point. Arch said he was startled by the bird hit and was then unable to properly level his wings through the next Air Gate. It was a costly two-second penalty that dropped him behind both Ivanoff and Bonhomme.

“I was having a really good run and then I had a bird strike that distracted me,” Arch said after inspecting the blood-covered hole on the right side of his plane’s tail. “I was off line after that. The bird strike nearly tore off my horizontal stabiliser. It was bad luck but good luck that I was able to fly to the finish line.”

Bonhomme, who had won in San Diego in both the last two years, was not pleased about getting second place again after finishing behind Arch both in Abu Dhabi as well as in the 2008 championship. He nevertheless took solace that the 2009 championship race had narrowed with four races left thanks to Ivanoff’s victory. Had Arch won, Bonhomme could have been six or more points behind. “I would be lying if I said that wasn’t good, although I’m not happy that I’m second,” said Bonhomme, who was hampered by a sore back. “I’m not a second place kind of guy and I’m getting pretty fed up with being second.”

There were more than 100,000 spectators who watched the two days of racing in San Diego. The championship now moves north to Windsor, Ontario in Canada on 13/14 June for the third of six races this year.