This is why it’s all eyes on the skies in Abu Dhabi

It’s back and this time it’s going to be faster than ever. Here’s your chance to find out more about the Red Bull Air Race World Championship before take off in Abu Dhabi

Nicolas Ivanoff of France performs during the finals at the first stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 11, 2017. // Naim Chidiac/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20170211-00566 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

Three hundred and seventy kilometres per hour – that’s the top speed pilots can experience in the cockpit during the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. That’s a speed considerably faster than a Ford Mustang GT at top speed and even faster than Ferrari World Abu Dhabi’s own Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest rollercoaster.

Facing a force of up to 10Gs, it’s definitely not a sport for the faint hearted, as pilots are pushed to their limits to prove they’re the best.

As Red Bull Air Race World Championship returns to our shores on 2nd and 3rd February, what can you expect from the competition?

High fliers

Martin Sonka the Czech Republic performs during the qualifying day at the first stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 10, 2017. // Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool // P-20170210-02738 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

Abu Dhabi has been the first race of the season for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship every year it’s been staged, since 2005.

Last year, Czech pilot Martin Šonka (pictured, above) won the race in Abu Dhabi and in Porto, Portugal, but missed out on the overall championship title, which was won on the final race day by Japanese pilot Yoshihide Muroya.

Returning to Abu Dhabi this February, 14 pilots will take on the course to begin the eight-stop season that continues with races in Cannes, Budapest and Russia, among others.

Making the competition more intense than ever between teams and pilots this year, the aircrafts being used for the 2018 season have been upgraded from an Extra 330LX to an Edge 540 V2.

What does that mean? The new one-seater aircrafts have an increased climb rate and top speed, giving pilots greater manoeuvrability in the air to entertain the spectators on the ground. 

Offering a unique photo opportunity and day out for families in Abu Dhabi, the high-adrenaline sport means spectators can enjoy the action above without knowing much at all about the sport.

But if you want to know more about how the race is run and scored then we’ve got you covered.

How does it work?

Pete McLeod (CAN)

During the race, pilots are required to fly a five- to six-kilometre course by navigating their way through a series of inflatable air gates in the pre-determined route that changes with each destination around the world.

In addition, different gate types require pilots to adopt different manoeuvres with pilots expected to pass double air gates in level flight, single air gates at an angle of 90 degrees and to slalom between chicane gates.

A series of penalties can also be awarded for violations of any of the aforementioned manoeuvres as well as for other mistakes, including missing a gate or flying too high.

Competing over two days, pilots will begin the event with qualifying the day before the race, where each pilot undertakes a minimum of two flights to try to set their best time navigating their way through the course.

On race day, the round of 14 sees the fastest seven and the quickest loser compete against one another to determine the line-up for the final eight and finalise the positions from nine down to 14.

Next, during the round of eight, the fastest four pilots will advance to the final and the fifth-placed to eighth-placed finishing positions are determined.

Finally, the remaining four pilots will compete for the top spot in the round of four, determining the finishing positions for first through fourth place and the individual
race champion.

So how do the points work? In terms of scoring, pilots finishing from first down to tenth receive points towards their end of season total, with the race winner receiving 15 points, second place 12 points, third nine points and so on.

It is possible, in theory, to win the championship without winning a single race, if you have accumulated the most number of points come the end of the season. This has never been done, although English pilot Nigel Lamb won the 2014 championship having won just a single race during the season.

In the hot seat 

Yoshihide Muroya (JPN)

Looking to find out more about what it’s like to soar through the air and to be the best, Abu Dhabi World speaks with the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Champion Yoshihide Muroya ahead of the new season.

Congratulations on being crowned champion last year. What were your best memories from the 2017 season?

Thanks! The championship was decided on the very last flight of the season, which was of course thrilling and great fun. I think I first realised how it felt being the champion when I returned back to Japan to non-stop celebrations until the end of 2017.

You won four of the eight races in the season, but the championship went down to the last race. Did you think you might miss out?

I never thought that I might miss out. I had been focusing on just the championship and to do the best and right job in any given situation.
It was such a tight season but I think I handled it a little better than the others.

This year the aircraft you will pilot has changed. What do you make of the new plane?

The aircraft is largely the same except for some small modifications. Although our team has been working very hard to make the plane faster, there was not enough time to do everything, so we will have some new modifications to make during the season as well.

What are the biggest challenges for pilots in the Red Bull Air Race and what gives you the biggest motivation to succeed?

Competing to beat the other pilots would be the biggest challenge because all the pilots are so great. I like flying and love to push myself to new limits. Both of these things motivate me.

The race is a very popular event and the Corniche will no doubt be packed with fans. Do you get a sense of the atmosphere on the ground when flying?

Between flights we watch the video recordings of our own and the other pilots’ flights, and the TV shows, the crowds’ reactions and excitement around those flights. So we do get to experience and feel the atmosphere on the ground when we are flying.

Need to know

What: Red Bull Air Race World Championship
When: 2nd Feb 10.45am-6pm, 3rd Feb 11am-6pm
Where: Abu Dhabi Corniche
Tickets: Free. Hospitality packages available from AED 419 for Qualifying Day, AED 524 for Race Day and AED 629 for the weekend at Hiltonia Beach Club, Hilton and AED 250 for a beachfront barbecue at Nation Riviera, The St Regis Abu Dhabi
Contact: airrace.redbull.com

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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