Red Bull Air Race Season Concludes After Exhilarating Final Competition

The temperatures in Fort Worth were frigid, but the races were hot.

Martin Sonka red bull air race
Martin Sonka flies through an Airgate at the Texas Motor Speedway.Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool

The 2018 Red Bull Air Race season had an exciting conclusion this weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, where frigid temperatures forced pilots, race teams, organizers and spectators alike to bundle up. The weekend began with much excitement as the top three contenders were all in positions to stand at the top of the podium.

American pilot Michael Goulian started the weekend on top of the standings with 70 points for the season, five points ahead of Czech pilot Martin Sonka and seven ahead of Australian Matt Hall. The remainder of the contestants were nowhere in reach of the podium as fourth place contestant Mika Brageot had accumulated 36 points overall. The winner of each race gets 15 points, so Brageot and the remainder of the RBAR competitors were out of reach of the podium even if the top three finished the weekend’s races with zero points.

The qualifying heats on Saturday clearly showed how challenging these races are and how unpredictable the competition can be. Goulian's airplane hit a pylon during a practice run on Friday, causing damage to the left winglet. The team worked all night to get the plane repaired, but Goulian had a disappointing qualifying race that put him in 9th place. Matthias Dolderer of Germany, who was in 12th place overall coming in to the Fort Worth competition, was fastest while Sonka qualified in second. Hall qualified in fifth place.

The excitement continued for Goulian on Sunday, and not in a good way. In the Round of 14, Goulian's engine started running rough. And while he was able to get through the Round of 8, he finished last with two penalties: one for incorrect level flying through an Airgate and another for flying too low. With the tight margins of error in this competition, it is no wonder Goulian was not able to fly his best after two airplane issues during the weekend. However, Goulian had an outstanding season and was able to pick up his bronze medal in the overall World Championship at the end of the day on Sunday.

The other American competitor, Kirby Chambliss, had a great run in Texas, ending up in third place. Sonka and Hall both had outstanding final runs that ended with Sonka beating out Hall by 0.4 seconds to stand on top of the podium both for the final race and for the overall World Championship. “For the last flight I managed to have a clear head,” said Sonka. “I heard that Matt [Hall] flew a super time, and I knew I had to push harder and definitely not do a penalty or mistake, and I managed. I cannot be happier.”