Why you need to keep your eyes on the sky

There’s no space to wing it in this aerial motorsport – Red Bull Air Race is back for an epic display of speed, precision and skill.

It’s all eyes on the skies over the Corniche as a horde of nimble aircraft prepare to swoop, dive and dodge their way towards glory in the capital.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship will return to Abu Dhabi on 8th and 9th February for the season-opener for what’s to be the first of eight races taking place around the world throughout the year.

Expected to draw large crowds to the Corniche, the championship will begin in Abu Dhabi for the 12th consecutive season in a row.

Here’s what you need to know about the returning event.

How it works

Held over two days, Red Bull Air Race sees aerobatic pilots fly a specific course, navigating their way through a series of inflatable gates over the water.

Different gates require different manoeuvres and pilots are judged based on how well they execute their run and how successfully they manage to perform the correct movements.

Executing incorrect manoeuvres can result in penalties for violations such as missing a gate or flying too high.

New rules have been announced for the 2019 season including the number of points awarded to pilots. During qualifying, on the first day of the competition, each competitor in the round of 14 must complete a minimum of two flights to set their best time on the course. As of this year, three points will now be awarded to the fastest pilot, two to the second fastest and one to the third fastest.

Day two is race day: The fastest seven pilots and one of the fastest runners-up from the round of 14 will compete against one another to determine the line-up for the final eight, before the fastest four pilots advance to the final where the race champion will be crowned.

Points are awarded to pilots based on their finishing position in each race, but only pilots finishing first to tenth are awarded points, with the winner gaining 25 points, second place 22 points, third 20 points and so on.

At the end of the season, following the international races, the pilot with the most points from all eight events will be crowned champion.   

Ones to watch

It may look graceful from the ground but with pilots hitting a top speed of 370kph and facing a force of 10Gs, the flying on display is an incredible spectacle of skill and precision.

This year will once again see 14 pilots compete in the Master Class category and an expanded Challenge Class comprising 12 pilots, with 17 countries represented across the board. With the same line-up of top pilots in the Master Class this year as 2018, we’re likely to see some fierce rivalries come to the fore as the pilots pick up where they left off at last year’s season finale.

Ready to defend his title, Martin Šonka, reigning world champion for the 2018 season, will face stiff competition from Nicolas Ivanoff and Michael Goulian, who each secured first place in the Abu Dhabi race in 2016 and
2018, respectively.

Czech former fighter pilot Šonka won the 2018 Red Bull Air Race Championship comfortably after stringing together three first-placed finishes in a row in Hungary, Russia and Austria and finishing with a win in the final race at Fort Worth in the US.

Aiming to take the title for the first time this year, French flying instructor Ivanoff will be looking to start the season strong in the capital and stop Šonka’s attempt to retain the title.

Also out to spoil the party, American aerobatic national champion Michael Goulian finished third last year and will be looking to improve this year and go on to secure the championship for the first time.

You can catch the action from the public viewing area on the breakwater or buy a ticket for the Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche, where you can enjoy a great view of the course as the action gets underway.

Steve Aoki takes a ride in Red Bull Air Race pilot Kirby Chambliss’ Zivko Edge 540 plane at the Zamperini Field Airport in Torrance, CA, USA on 23 September, 2014. // Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Content Pool // 1413240150017-1397054176 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

Need to know 

What: Red Bull Air Race World Championship 2019
When: 8th and 9th February, noon-6pm
Where: Corniche, near the breakwater
Tickets: Free, from AED 399 for access to Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche
Visit: ticketmaster.ae, airrace.redbull.com

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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