13 Jul 2019

Red Bull Air Race: Czech pilot Sonka seizes Lake Balaton pole

In an historic first, the 14 pilots of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship took off for Qualifying in the new location of Lake Balaton, Hungary, on Saturday. 

At second in the overall standings, defending World Champion Martin Šonka (CZE) set a blistering track record to clinch the pole, while Juan Velarde (ESP) finished second, and Mika Brageot (FRA) delivered the third-best time. Current overall leader Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) is the man they will all be trying to beat in the race on Sunday.

Zamárdi, Lake Balaton served up turbulent, windy conditions for the 14 pilots of the World Championship.

The race at Lake Balaton is special for many reasons: it is a brand-new location in Hungary, the country known as the spiritual home of the Red Bull Air Race. The extremely technical, 4.7 km track is unfamiliar to all the pilots and offers an unusually large variety of options for finding the best line. 

And finally, with Muroya having won the first two races of the season, the field is desperate to stop his momentum before September’s season finale, a home race for the Japanese pilot in Chiba. 

Velarde flew early with an impressive 58.203s that stood up to opponent after opponent until Šonka took the track, flying next-to-last. After a rough start with a penalty in the first of his two Qualifying runs, Šonka settled in and despite the bumpy conditions flew cleanly to a stunning 57.820s. 

Flying last, Muroya’s aggressive runs resulted in penalties that saw him slip to ninth for the day, giving Brageot his top-three result.

Šonka said: “It is definitely great to win at a new location in front of so many fans. The track here at Lake Balaton is very interesting because it offers many trajectories, and it depends on how much risk each pilot is willing to take, as well as on the wind.

"It’s a game of nerves and trajectories and tacticians and pilot skills. It is just incredible to race here, and it will be a beautiful second half of the season.”

Head-to-head matchups for the opening round on Race Day

  • As the fastest Qualifier, Šonka will go up against the slowest, Germany’s Matthias Dolderer, who as the 2016 World Champion is a potential spoiler.
  • Muroya faces one of his toughest rivals in the World Championship, Australia’s Matt Hall.
  • Velarde will take on Chile’s Cristian Bolton.
  • Brageot will be challenged by two-time titleholder Kirby Chambliss of the USA.
  • Great Britain’s Ben Murphy, who finished fourth in Qualifying, will fly against François Le Vot of France.
  • The USA’s Michael Goulian will lock horns with Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic.
  • Nicolas Ivanoff of France, currently fourth in the World Championship, will fly against Canada’s Pete McLeod.

Results Master Class Qualifying Balaton 2019 

  1. Martin Šonka (CZE) 57.820
  2. Juan Velarde (ESP) 58.203
  3. Mika Brageot (FRA) 58.847
  4. Ben Murphy (GBR) 58.853
  5. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 59.065
  6. Matt Hall (AUS) 59.180
  7. Michael Goulian (USA) 59.484
  8. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 59.606
  9. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 59.846
  10. Pete McLeod(CAN) 59.871
  11. François Le Vot (FRA) 1:00.105
  12. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 1:00.142
  13. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 1:00.463
  14. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 1:00.492

Photo credit: Andreas Langreiter/Red Bull Content Pool