Next month will see the Red Bull Air Race World Championship return to Chiba for a third time and it looks set to be an epic instalment. In just two races of the 2017 season we've had six different pilots stand on the podium, so who knows what will happen, but first let's recap at the first two races above Chiba.
When the teams arrived in Chiba in 2015 it was going to be the first time the series had ever raced in Japan and the fans went crazy. It was a sell-out event, 120,000 people lined the shores to watch. Everyone wanted to see the home hero, Yoshihide Muroya take his first career win.
In the Round of 14 he was up against Martin Sonka and stormed through. Sonka picked up a two second penalty for incorrect level flying through the gate. But that didn't slow Muroya down, he smashed the track record setting a time of 50.779s.
In the Round of 8, Muroya was to face off against the season favourite Paul Bonhomme. Bonhomme flew first and set a competitive time of 51.392s – a time Muroya had easily beaten in the earlier round. But the pressure of 120,000 fans got to the Japanese pilot and in an attempt to get to the Final 4 he turned too hard in the Vertical Turning Manoeuvre and exceeded the G-limit, putting him out of the race.
Bonhomme sailed through to the Final 4 and found himself up against Matt Hall, Matthias Dolderer and Nicolas Ivanoff. Hall was to fly first and set a time of 51.884s. Second through the gates was Bonhomme who was quicker than his rival by 0.382s. Dolderer flew third but picked up a two second penalty for incorrect level flying. Ivanoff sensed he could get on the podium with the last run of the day, but like Muroya, pushed too hard and received a DNF for exceeding the G-limit. Bonhomme took the win, and the title at the end of the season, with Hall in second and Dolderer in third.
When the series returned the following year it was to be round three and there was already a favourite pulling ahead of his rivals. Matthias Dolderer was sitting top of the championship standings after a second place and his first race win. He was looking good, could he gain a bigger advantage in Chiba?
The track was different to 2015, it was longer, creating a much different lap time. From the Free Practice sessions there were no clear front runners, with the usual suspects at the top of the timing sheet.
Heat 9 in the Round of 8 was to prove the decisive one as it pitched 2016 favourite Matthias Dolderer against the home hero Yoshihide Muroya. Muroya had topped one of the Free Practice time sheets and was full of confidence. Dolderer flew and it was his turn to be jinxed by the G-limit and was hit with a DNF. This gave Muroya a free pass into the Final 4.
It was to be a tough final round for Muroya, with Martin Sonka and former Wold Champions Kirby Chambliss and Nigel Lamb making up the four pilots.
Lamb flew first setting a time of 1:05.734 and it was then the turn of Muroya. The home favourite posted a 1:04.992 time putting him in the top spot. Chambliss flew third and could not beat Muroya. Sonka, last to fly was the closest to Muroya but just couldn't beat his rival's time. This gave Muroya the first win of his Red Bull Air Race career.
With Sonka and Muroya taking a win each this season already and World Champion Dolderer back to his best it could be the mosting thrilling race in Chiba to date.
Round three in Chiba takes place on 03-04 June, get your tickets HERE.