The Red Bull Air Race Championship is soaring back into town on 8th and 9th February.
Looking forward to another successful year, 2018 champion Martin Šonka will be looking to keep his title this year as he competes in the Master Class. Ahead of race day, we talk to the world champion to find out what it’s like to be in the cockpit and going for glory.
Abu Dhabi is the season opener again this year for the Red Bull Air Race 2019. You must be raring to go…
Yes, I definitely am. All the teams have worked hard during the winter break to come up with new modifications to be faster than the other teams, so racing here is always very special.
How important is it to perform well in Abu Dhabi and set the tone for the year ahead?
As we have eight races per season, every point counts, and it’s important to start the new season well. The last thing you want is to be under pressure or nervous that you spoiled the first race.
What is the Abu Dhabi course like and what are the biggest challenges?
Firstly, the race track in Abu Dhabi is beautiful and it’s always great fun to race above the famous Corniche. I would personally say that the biggest challenges are going to be the vertical turning maneuvers (VTM) – these are always crucial in the Red Bull Air Race and in addition we will be facing the brand new VTM rule change in Abu Dhabi; last season, going over 10G for 0.6 seconds resulted in a two-second penalty for Master Class pilots, while reaching 12G was an automatic DNF (did not finish) for the run. In 2019, a one-second over-G penalty will be incurred if a pilot reaches 11G, while reaching 12G will again result in an automatic DNF. That will be a challenge for pilots and Abu Dhabi is the first time the rule comes into force.
How much motivation do you get from seeing fans watching below on the Corniche?
It’s always great to see all the fans down on the beach but during the time when we’re flying the race track we have to be 100 percent focused so for me there’s nothing other than my race plane and the pylons.
Who is your biggest rival for the season?
All the pilots are fast and experienced enough to take a podium. If you want to be successful you have to be consistent and every little mistake, especially in the Round of 14, means big point losses so it’s going to be tough to retain the world champion title in 2019. My targets for the season are to fly as fast as possible and be happy with my performance in every single flight.