As the Red Bull Air Race makes its ninth stop in Budapest on July 16-17, Friday's Free Practice sessions confirmed that the reconfigured racetrack in the Hungarian capital is one of the most technically sophisticated and physically demanding of the season.
Pylon hits and penalties were frequent as pilots tested their lines, sweeping under the Chain Bridge just metres from the rushing Danube to take on the long, gruelling track. Clocking the fastest times in Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 2, respectively, Spain's Juan Velarde (Team Velarde, 57.766) and the USA's Kirby Chambliss (Team Chambliss, 57.362) were two of only three pilots to break 58 seconds on the day. The third was Yoshihide Muroya of Japan (Team Falken, 57.607 in Free Practice 2), who captured his first race win only six weeks ago.
"The track is very difficult – very tight, very technical," said Velarde. "Despite the fact that I already had a good idea of which lines I had to follow, once I got into the track I was a little surprised. But each run you do in the track, you feel a little more comfortable, so you are able to fly a little bit 'in advance' and be ahead of the plane."
While Friday's Free Practice sessions weren't considered 'valid' flying sessions and the true racing begins with Qualifying on Saturday, it's vital to make use of every moment in the track. As the World Championship season hits its midpoint this weekend, each pilot is on a mission to advance in the standings – and particularly to prevent current overall leader Matthias Dolderer of Germany from creating an insurmountable gap in the points. Chambliss is positioned closest to the German, just 10 points behind him in second place overall.
"Today was good. I don't want to get too excited about it unless we can make it count in the race – there are some question marks and it can depend on the conditions, but with the wind it is somewhat technical, and we tend to do better on technical tracks," Chambliss commented. "Everybody's so experienced here that they're hard to beat. This weekend I'm just going to go out there and try to do what I did today, lay down the fastest time."
Here are the official results from the Masters Free Practice 1 flying sessions:
Masters Free Practice 2 official results: