2014 World Champion Nigel Lamb retired from the Red Bull Air Race at the end of the 2016 season, but after 64 races to his name he still has a vested interest in this years championship.
He was watching the season opener in Abu Dhabi with an expert eye and has compiled his thoughts on the Master Class pilots of the 2017 season. Lamb says: "Each race is, of course, just one battle in the long campaign of a race season so it's hard to predict the outcome, but it's worth having a shot and seeing how things turn out by the last race in Indianapolis. There are many more pilots likely to win races than to be 14th, so my predictions here are weighted more towards winning than losing."
Lamb has split the pilots into four groups: The 'veterans', the 'mature', the 'seasoned' and the 'new'. The first two groups have experience both from the early days of racing when engine power and weight could give a huge advantage and also from 2014 when the regulations have controlled both power and weight. The second two groups are the pilots that have been involved in the Red Bull Air Race since 2014 and began their careers in the Challenger Class.
In part one, of this four part series, Lamb gives us his inside track on the veterans...
He won't like the fact that he is now the oldest pilot, but with that comes invaluable experience. He is twice a World Champion and was never outside the top four in his first eight seasons. Kirby is hugely talented and flies in a very aggressive style, but will be very unhappy to have had little success ever since the power/weight regulations changed. He has more podiums than anyone else; his team is the most experienced and includes Paulo Iscold who led Paul Bonhomme to many podiums. Kirby's early pull in a gate in Abu Dhabi highlights the small margin between perfection and a penalty, and he has many races to catch up... if he can find the right style and rhythm and avoid penalties, he is definitely one to watch.
2017 prediction: 3 - 7
He's just like the French rugby team... you never know which Nicolas Ivanoff is going to turn up! He has enormous talent and when he's 'hot' he's virtually unbeatable (the master of taking gates at extreme angles) but, most of the time his mind seems elsewhere and he's mid-field. His record is interesting; nine podiums of which five are wins! It seems like when he decides to get on the podium, he goes to the top. So, I'd say that Nico's biggest threat is himself, fifth place after Abu Dhabi is where I was in 2014, the year I managed to win the Championship so, if he has a track analyst at every remaining race and gets himself into the right mood every time, Nicolas could well be the 2017 World Champion.
2017 prediction: 1 - 6
Mike and I both joined full-time in 2006 and his first win came in Budapest 2009, two race seasons before mine. Apart from this win and a silver in 2007, the podium has eluded Mike and I have no idea why. He has more aerobatic handling talent than I ever had; he is the consummate professional and surrounds himself with a great team. The record books don't show this because the race was eventually cancelled, but in the last race of 2016, Mike put in a phenomenal time in the turbulent track (as tough as it can get) in Las Vegas so we know he has the skill and the pace. If he can find a way to consistently replicate "LV 2016", then 2017 could be his to win. Mike will be very disappointed to have lost in the Round of 8 in Abu Dhabi by 8/1000 sec but he's still in good shape for the season.
2017 prediction: 2 - 6
Don't forget to comeback next week when we'll be looking at the 'mature' group of the Red Bull Air Race that includes the class of '09 (Matt Hall, Matthias Dolderer, Yoshihide Muroya and Pete McLeod) and Martin Sonka, who joined in 2010.