Abu Dhabi (UAE) – In a remarkable start to the 2017 Red Bull Air Race season, the Czech Republic’s Martin Sonka clinched his first race win since he joined the World Championship in 2010. Rising winds that brought the racetrack alive didn’t affect Red Bull Team Sonka pilot, whose time of 53.139 blew away his opponents by more than a second. Spain’s Juan Velarde was content with his 54.166, which turned what was already Team Velarde’s first-ever appearance in the Final 4 into their first podium finish. And Canada’s Pete McLeod (Team McLeod) continued the momentum he’d showed at the end of 2016 in taking third.

After a breakout season in 2015 where he finished in fourth overall, last year was rough for Sonka, starting with a disqualification penalty in Abu Dhabi. Now, he has not only set the standard for 2017 but finds himself at the top of the World Championship leaderboard for the first time. Defending titleholder Matthias Dolderer is in fourth overall after incurring a penalty in the Final 4. With newcomers Cristian Bolton of Chile and Mikael Brageot of France earning their first World Championship points, and Australia’s Matt Hall – second in the World Championship the last two seasons – getting a cutting-edge new raceplane soon, it’s going to be a heart-stopping season.

“Except for some l mistakes during practice, the whole week went well and I couldn’t be happier,“ said a beaming Sonka, who took four race podiums in his four previous seasons of Air Racing. “I’ve finally won my first race, I feel good in my raceplane, and this of course gives me confidence for the future. This was a totally different start compared to last season, and hopefully it will continue this way.”

Results Master Class Abu Dhabi: 1. Martin Šonka (CZE), 2. Juan Velarde (ESP), 3. Pete McLeod (CAN), 4. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 5. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 6. Michael Goulian (USA), 7. Cristian Bolton (CHI), 8. François Le Vot (FRA), 9. Mikaël Brageot (FRA), 10. Matt Hall (AUS), 11. Kirby Chambliss (USA), 12. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 13. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO)

World Championship Standings: Martin Šonka (CZE) 15 pts, 2. Juan Velarde (ESP) 12 pts, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 9 pts, 4. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 7 pts, 5. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 6 pts, 6. Michael Goulian (USA) 5 pts, 7. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 4 pts, 8. François Le Vot (FRA) 3 pts, 9. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 2 pts, 10. Matt Hall (AUS) 1 pt, 11. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 0, 12. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 0, 13. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 0, 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 0

Challenger Cup: Sweden’s Ryfa flies to repeat in Abu Dhabi season opener

Daniel Ryfa (SWE) (C), Florian Berger (GER) (L), Melanie Astles (FRA) (R)

Daniel Ryfa of Sweden (C), Florian Berger of Germany (L) and Melanie Astles of France (R) celebrate during the Challenger Cup Award Ceremony at the first stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 11, 2017.

Abu Dhabi (UAE) – In what’s shaping up to be the most competitive Challenger Class season yet, Sweden’s Daniel Ryfa won his second consecutive season opener at the Red Bull Air Race in Abu Dhabi and set the standard for 2017. As the very last pilot to fly, Ryfa delivered a come-from-behind thriller, taking the advantage in the very last gates of the racetrack to clock 1:00.206 and surpass 2016 Challenger Cup winner Florian Bergér of Germany by just 0.355 of a second. Mélanie Astles of France claimed the second Challenger Class podium of her career with third.

Introduced in 2014, the Challenger Class was conceived to give outstanding pilots the chance to build their Air Racing skills to the rarified level necessary to compete for the World Championship, and competition in actual racetracks is a key part of that development. Now in his fourth season, Ryfa has more racing experience than any other Challenger pilot.

“I think initially it went pretty well, but when I pushed too much in the Vertical Turning Maneuver and had a wing stall, I thought, ‘Now I’m going to lose the race.’ But I have a small secret to Gates 7 and 14, and I guess in the end I made it,” said the smiling Swede, who is best friends with Bergér. “Flo and I do track analysis together. We learn a lot from each other and it’s really fantastic.”

Also vying in the Challenger Class field at Abu Dhabi were Ben Murphy of Great Britain, Kevin Coleman of the USA, Luke Czepiela of Poland, and newcomer Baptiste Vignes of France, who delivered a solid Challenger debut.

The Challengers and the Master Class will get their next chance to earn points at the second stop of the eight-race Red Bull Air Race season in San Diego, California, on 15-16 April 2017.

Results Challenger Class, Abu Dhabi: 1. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 1:00.206, 2. Florian Bergér (GER) 1:00.561, 3. Mélanie Astles (FRA) 1:01.197, 4. Ben Murphy (GBR) 1:02.520, 5. Kevin Coleman (USA) 1:04.757, 6. Luke Czepiela (POL) 1:05.513, 7. Baptiste Vignes (FRA) 1:06.323

Overall standings, Challenger Cup: 1. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 10 pts., 2. Florian Bergér (GER) 8, 3. Mélanie Astles (FRA) 6, 4. Ben Murphy (GBR) 4, 5. Kevin Coleman (USA) 2, 6. Luke Czepiela (POL) 0, 7. Baptiste Vignes (FRA) 0, 8. Kenny Chiang (CHN), 9. Daniel Genevey (HUN)