Sunday, October 15, 2017

Muroya wins 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship

Yoshihide Muroya’s race went from disaster to delirium on Sunday, when after facing elimination in his opening heat, the Japanese pilot finished as the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Champion. In the season finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic earned second overall and Pete McLeod of Canada took third.

Indianapolis (USA) – The season finale was heartstopping from the very beginning, with Šonka and Muroya, ranked one and two in the standings, going head to head in the Round of 14. Flying first, Muroya’s championship hopes seemed to be over when he incurred a two-second penalty – but in strong winds Šonka hit a pylon for a three-second penalty that advanced Japan’s hero to the Round of 8. The other two pilots with a chance for the championship, Pete McLeod (Canada) and Kirby Chambliss (USA) also stumbled in the opening round, but Muroya still couldn’t rest, because Šonka ended up advancing after all as the round’s fastest loser. When the title contenders both won their Round of 8 heats, it all came down to the Final 4. 

There, going first with everything on the line, Muroya was fearless, flying to a new track record of 1:03.026 that 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany and Spain’s Juan Velarde couldn’t match. The pressure all was on Šonka. The Czech pilot flew cleanly, but with a technical issue plus a wing stall in the Vertical Turning Maneuver, he could manage only 1:07.280, and both the race win and Asia’s first Red Bull Air Race World Championship belonged to Muroya.

As the race awards were handed out in the iconic infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Muroya was joined on the podium by Dolderer in second and Velarde in third. Then, when the World Championship trophy was presented, Muroya was sprayed with champagne by Šonka and McLeod, who stood on the overall podium for the first time themselves with second and third place overall, respectively.  

“This is an amazing chapter for motorsports to win a race here. It was the tightest championship ever with the four of us close right up until the end. We were behind at the start of the season, so it was the long way and the hard way, but we made it,” said Muroya as he held back tears. “I thought the timing was broken when I saw my time in the Final 4, and before the race our computer would have said it wasn’t possible, so something was pushing me quite a lot. That was the fans, my family and my team, so thanks to them for making it happen.”

Clinching Japan’s first World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway also marked a remarkable new milestone in the history of the century-old racetrack, where just this year Takuma Sato – who was on site all weekend to cheer Muroya – became the first Japanese racecar driver to win the famed Indianapolis 500. 

Results Master Class race Indianapolis 2017: 
1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 2. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 3. Juan Velarde (ESP), 4. Martin Šonka (CZE), 5. Petr Kopfstein(CZE), 6. Mikaël Brageot (FRA), 7. Michael Goulian (USA), 8. Matt Hall (AUS), 9. Cristian Bolton (CHI), 10. Kirby Chambliss(USA), 11. Pete McLeod (CAN), 12. François Le Vot (FRA), 13. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO)

Final standings, 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship: 1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 74 pts,   2. Martin Šonka(CZE) 70 points, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 56 pts, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 53 pts, 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 43 pts, 6. Matt Hall (AUS) 40 pts, 7. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 39 pts, 8. Juan Velarde (ESP) 37 pts, 9. Michael Goulian (USA) 28 pts, 10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 24 pts, 11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 16 pts, 12. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 14 pts, 13. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 9 pts, 14. François Le Vot (FRA) 9 pts

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Year to Remember - National Championship Air Races - 2017

This year provided some of the best racing in recent memory. It seemed that all the Classes had epic battles, fought before the larger than expected crowd.


Even in the Biplane Class there was some close racing. Andrew Buehler was flying Phantom this year instead of Tom Aberle. Earlier in the week, Andrew had some troubles keeping Phantom on the course and on the right side of the pylons. Jake Stewart in Mojo won 2 of the three Heat Races and lost to Andrew in the Gold Final.

Andrew was pulling double duty, racing his Mong in the Silver also. While Jake and his dad, Mike Stewart brought two highly competitive aircraft and finished are strong competitors and second and fourth. Nice showing for a father and son team.

Hoping to see more Biplanes in the future, this was likely the smallest field the Biplanes have had since I started racing in 2003.

Phantom 2017 Biplane Winner

International Formula 1

IF1 always puts on a great show. The battles begin in Qualifying, move to the runway and finally finish at the checkered flag.

Qualifying held few surprises. Lowell Slatter, last year’s winner – took the lead with Steve Senegal in Endeavor and Vito Wypraechtiger, both previous winners, coming in second and third.

Justin Phillipson fought miscellaneous gremlins all week and ended up winning the Bronze instead of fighting for the podium in Gold. But, I’m sure Justin will have it all figured out in time for Thailand. More on that later.

The 5th place qualifier was Philip Goforth. Philip has some sort of magic prop which enables him to hot rod down the runway on takeoff. He then leads for the first few laps – until the other props can dig into the air and get their groove on. You’d have to see it to believe it – watching Phil on the runway, dodging slower movers, is worth the price of admission!

The top three jumbled a few times during the week, but remained the same on Sunday for the IF1 Gold. Lowell, Steve and Vito.

Air Race 1 World Cup

After the race, the IF1s started packing up and heading to U-Tapao Airport in Thailand on their International tour with Air Race 1. The Race will be November 17-19.

The Thai government is hosting the event and the Prime Minister of Thailand will be in attendance. For a country with very little General Aviation – the IF1 Race Teams are treated like the Rockstars that they are!

Big hat tip to Jeff Zaltman for putting this together and making it happen! And to the 18 IF1 Race Teams attending – have fun, fly well, make memories.

Lowell Slatter in Fraed Naught


The T6 Class always provides close, exciting racing. This year – they outdid themselves.

The top three qualifiers were Nick Macy in Six Cat, Dennis Buehn in Midnight Miss III and John Lohmar in Radial Velocity. With barely 3 mph between the three – less than 1.5 seconds on their qualifying laps – the title was up for grabs.

Nick and Dennis have tossed the win back and forth for several years – both with 6 wins. This would be the deciding race – first to 7 wins. But, John Lohmar had a different ending in mind.
John Lohmar started racing over 10 years ago – but is still the newbie compared to Dennis and Nick. 
In 2007 when I met John, he had just won the Bronze and was not happy. He was so focused on winning the Gold, I knew it was just a matter of time.

The Gold Race was EPIC! Nick had the lead, but John was not letting up. Every time he would get to the straightaways, he would gain on Nick. And then lose it in the corners again. Lucky for John, the Home Pylon is on the front straight. It was “by a nose” – just over half a 10th of second between the first two racers.

Even if you didn’t have a horse in the race, you were on your feet. You couldn’t sit this one out – you had to feel like you were part of the outcome. The entire crowd was mesmerized by the finish. A BIG CONGRATS to our friend, John Lohmar and his crew. You did it!

John Lohmar making his move on Nick Macy


Sport Class

The Sport Class has its champion back and it seems no one can beat Jeff LaVelle. They line up to try yet they fail. He’s that good. It seems the only one able to beat Jeff is Jeff himself.  

John Parker always puts on a good fight, but his Blue Thunder II was cranky all week and he had to sit this one out. Vicky Benzing has a new ride, but again – close but no cigar. Andrew Findlay keeps getting closer – but again, failed in the final test.

So, the Gold in Sport Class ended up Jeff LaVelle in that seemingly benign Super Glasair III, with Vicky Benzing in Second, and Dave Sterling in third. Vicky is once again the Fastest Woman in Air Racing, competing in the Sport Gold and the Jet Class.

Another great story coming out of the Sport Class is the return of Alan Crawford. Alan won the Silver in his Lancair Legacy affectionately called “The Beast” – but we know her as “The Phoenix”. This Legacy sports an 8-cylinder 780cc super motor. But, that’s not what makes Alan a fan favorite.

In 2014, after competing in a cross-country race, Alan’s last Lancair Legacy, Spirit of America, had a mechanical problem and before Alan could get the plane down in a field, the cockpit was overcome with smoke and flames. Alan had severe burns which put him out of flying/racing for several years. 

But, with the love of his amazing wife, Sherri and his friends and family – he fought back and is the most inspirational person I know. Love you, man!

Jeff LaVelle in his Super Glasair


While the winner of the Jet Race wasn’t a surprise, the racing had you mesmerized. With Rick Vandam sharing the flying duties with Mike Steiger, American Spirit was always in the lead. From Qualifying to the final Checkered Flag, it was all Jet #5.

The race then became for 2nd place. Zach McNeill brought his Vampire back – but this time it’s painted BLACK and looks ominous – something out of a horror movie {shiver}. David “Killer” Culler, Vicky Benzing and Scott Farnsworth making the racing heart throbbingly exciting. 
Soko O’No flown by Robert McCormack added more excitement to the racing. Always good to see something unusual in the field. The Vampire and the 2 Galeb G2s were the only non-L-29/39s in the field.

Rick Vandam in American Spirit


I know that 50 years from now, I will be able to say, I WAS THERE.

For the two weeks leading up to the National Championship Air Races, Voodoo, Steven Hinton and the crew have been holed up in Idaho going for the 3KM Speed Record. With wildfires, weather and engine issues adding to the drama, they set the Absolute Propeller Driven Piston Powered 3KM Speed C1E Record. Their average speed over 4 runs was 531 mph. They had hoped to break the now retired record set by Lyle Shelton in Rare Bear in 1989 of just over 528mph. The rules state that a record must be bettered by 1% and they wanted to get 533 to put all the naysayers to rest. But, because Lyle’s record is now obsolete – and the C1E record was held by Will Whiteside in Steadfast, his Yak 3U back in 2012. So, they easily beat Will’s record – just not Lyle’s by the required margin. 

A win – but not an absolute win.

After that drama filled experience of record setting, the Voodoo crew headed to Reno. What did we expect? Did we think they would sit back and rest up? Did we expect them to go for it from the beginning? I had no idea if they would be able to hold together after all they went through just days before.

But Voodoo had a few surprises up her sleeve. And Tiger wanted nothing more than to say – that Strega beat “The World’s Fastest Mustang”.

Jay Consalvi flew Czech Mate last year – but was happily saddled in Strega this year. Steven in Voodoo and Joel Swager in Dreadnaught. Three Young Guns all ready to take to the air. If the Mustangs coughed, Joel was there to take the win.

Qualifying saw Jay and Strega in the lead 484.724 vs 479.364 for Voodoo. The first Heat Race on Friday looked like it was going to be all Strega this year. Saturday’s race didn’t change any minds.
But then came Sunday and the Final Gold match between these two young men and their Super Mustangs.

Coming down the Chute, Voodoo put the coal to it and took off. WHAT!? Like the plane was shot out of a cannon – amazing start. But, Strega wasn’t going to sit back and let that happen. Jay went high, knowing he had to pass high and outside. The first lap speed was nearly 500 mph. Amazing.

The laps went that way until only two laps to go. They were passing slower traffic and suddenly, it looked like Jay found another gear. He wouldn’t be satisfied with 2nd place for two years in a row. He wanted that win.

They were passing Curt Brown in Sawbones – lapping the 4th place aircraft – when Jay started pulling ahead. Then Voodoo got the lead back. Coming up on 924 flown by Mark Watt, Jay went high and Stevo stayed low – holding his line. Jay dove down and took the lead away – exchanging the altitude he gained into airspeed and shot passed Voodoo. And that’s all she wrote.

It was a duel between these two amazing aviators and two legendary Mustangs. Not to mention Tiger vs. Button – two friends who love to compete against each other in this, the highest stakes racing we can find.

Jay Consalvi in Strega for the Gold

Thank you

A BIG THANK YOU to everyone associated with the Air Races. The Fans, for coming out and supporting us. 

The Racers and the Crews who dedicated their entire year for one week in the sun. To the Volunteers and Photographers – thank you all for what you do! 

And to the staff and Board at the Reno Air Races, thanks for giving us a playground again this year. 

To Stihl, thanks for the sponsorship and the chain saws! 

And to all the other sponsors, friends and family of the races. We couldn’t do it without you.

And to Anthony Taylor – thanks for the amazing shots I used in this column. You ROCK!