American Kirby Chambliss has emerged as an unlikely Red Bull Air Race championship leader after winning his second race in a row.
Chambliss won the fifth round at Kazan last Sunday to add to his fourth round win in Budapest, overtaking series leader Yoshihide Muroya, who scored no points after losing his Round of 14 match race to Australian Matt Hall. The result put Chambliss one point ahead in the standings.
Race day was dogged by rain and mist, making the track challenging for pilots. Over the day, there were no less than 14 penalties handed out for pylon strikes or incorrect level flying. Only Czech Martin Sonka and Spaniard Juan Velarde were never penalised.
Chambliss beat German Matthias Dolderer by the most slender of margins in the Round of 14; both pilots landing penalties for pylon strikes. He then comfortably defeated Frenchman Francois Le Vot with a clean run in the Round of 8 to set up a meeting in the Final 4 with Canadian Pete McLeod, fellow American Michael Goulian and Czech pilot Petr Kopfstein.
Chambliss then posted the fastest time on race day, and completed a clean run. It was a performance that none of his rivals could match. McLeod finished second and Goulian third to make it two Americans on the podium.
"I'm super excited, I was honestly just hoping to get in the Final 4. I didn't think we'd get the top spot," an elated Chambliss said.
"The most exciting part for me was going up against Matthias. I was sitting out in the hold and I watched him knock a gate down and I thought okay, this is going to be an easy ride and then I tagged one. I guess I was looking too far ahead in the track.
"I felt it and then I knew I just had to go crazy because I had to beat him, I went nuts. I took every risk and took him out by just 0.070s. I probably last led the championship in '06 when we were champions. Everybody keeps going on about the points and that's great, but I don't get focused on the points. I just need to keep winning races or getting up on the podium, and that's what brings you championships."
Australia's Matt Hall finished the weekend in sixth place, earning another five points towards his championship total. It was his equal-best result of the year, and one in which he beat Yoshihide Muroya in the Round of 14 despite striking a pylon. The Japanese pilot copped two penalties in his run, which elevated Hall to the Round of 8 and a match with McLeod.
Unfortunately, Hall again struck a pylon, which put an end to his race weekend.
"I wasn't happy with my flying today," he said later. "I felt I was struggling with the aircraft a little bit. We still have a lot to do to get the handling set up. We don't get enough flying at low level to know how the plane is performing. I'm looking forward to getting some time just to do some training so that I'm not fighting the plane in the track.
"The track [Kazan] is a design that is set up to cause pylon hits. A good track design is one that means you can pick a racing line and have a nice fast race, but if you're offline still make it through the pylons. With this one, if you're offline or the wind is coming from a certain direction you can't actually get through without hitting a pylon.
"That said, we were up for the challenge but couldn't get it finished off today. Keep your eyes on us, we will get there in the end and we will get on the podium, we just need time to gel as a complete unit."
Hall now sits in 9th place in the standings on 16 points, with Chambliss at the top of the table on 40, and Muroya and Sonka locked together on 39.
The next race is in Porto, Portugal, 2-3 September.