Heat is on as 2009 Red Bull Air Race World Championship finale heads to Barcelona
BARCELONA, Spain – Britain’s Paul Bonhomme will try to clinch his first-ever title in the 2009 season finale in Barcelona on 3-4 October after seeing the crown slip from his grasp at the very end of both the 2007 and 2008 seasons. But Bonhomme will be feeling intense pressure from defending champion Hannes Arch of Austria, who is just four points behind, going into the climatic battle over Spain’s Mediterranean shoreline on the Front Maritim. In a thrilling race in Porto earlier this month Bonhomme topped Arch before a season-record race day crowd of 720,000. Spain’s Alejandro Maclean, who took a promising 7th place in Porto, will be hoping for an even better result and even bigger crowd when the Red Bull Air Race rolls into to his home country for the first time since 2006.
Barcelona is expected to be one of the most challenging races so far this year. With the track located on an open coastline, nature will play a role in the outcome. Sudden shifts in wind direction and ocean swells which could cause the Air Gates anchored to floating barges to rise and fall slightly will require the pilots to be extra vigilant in order to avoid costly time penalties.
Bonhomme, who leads the championship standings with 55 points, has been the epitome of consistency so far this year with 2 victories and 3 second place finishes. He has managed to stay at or near the top this year even at races when he did not have the fastest plane. After stalking Austrian ace Arch and his red-hot “silver bullet” Edge 540 through the first half of the year, Bonhomme finally moved ahead of him in the 4th round in Budapest. He then widened his lead from 1 to 4 points in Porto.
“I’ve been in this situation before and I can tell you that a 4-point lead is not a lot – especially when there’s 13 points available in Barcelona,” said Bonhomme. “It’s not a big gap so we’re still going to have to concentrate hard in Barcelona. It’s a very different course.” The track in Barcelona will be full of non-stop twists and turns that will put a premium on pilot skill in contrast to the sheer power that was required for the straight out-and-back course through the Douro River valley in Porto.
The Red Bull Air Race World Championship has grown even more competitive in its 5th season with the addition of 4 high-flying rookies. In Porto, newcomer Matt Hall from Australia got the first podium of his career with 3rd place, a record-breaking achievement that lifted the former fighter pilot from Down Under from 5th to 3rd overall in the championship.
Arch is relishing his new role as the hunter rather than the hunted since slipping behind Bonhomme with a season-low 4th place finish in Budapest. “Now I really get to put the pressure on and I will hunt down Paul in Barcelona,” said Arch, who has 1 win, 2 seconds, a 3rd and a 4th so far for a total of 51 points. “I have to attack. It suits me better. This game isn’t over yet. Paul is already feeling the pressure. The Barcelona track is better suited to my plane. I’ll go to Barcelona with the mindset of giving Paul a hard time.”
An estimated 1 million watched the 2006 Red Bull Air Race in Barcelona, the Catalan capital widely regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Spectators will be able to view this year’s race from the beaches along the Front Maritim when Qualifying takes off on Saturday 3 October at 13:00 local time followed by Race Day on Sunday 4 October starting at 13:00.