Matt Hall launches his 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship campaign in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and is confident he can challenge for a top-four finish thanks to a faster aeroplane than last year.
Hall was still fine-tuning his new Edge 540 at Abu Dhabi in 2018, and finished a creditable fifth place. That the aircraft went on to become a race winner in both France and Japan, and propelled him to second place in the championship, showed the aeroplane's potential.
Team Matt Hall Racing has now finished second in the championship three times, which has only fueled an already burning hunger for a title. Hall knows that a good start to the season will give his campaign early impetus.
“It’s always hard to say how you are going to go at an individual race, the world championship is about consistency over a season,” Hall said.
“While we like to think we can win any race out there – and we think we can win this weekend’s race in Abu Dhabi – it is all about being in the top four if you can be. We want to be in the top four and maybe win it.
“The track is identical to what we had in Abu Dhabi last year, so everyone is going to be fast and knows where the fastest line is. We can all study the video from the winner last year.
“Our aircraft is a lot faster than it was this time last year when we came fifth. We want to capitalise on having a faster plane.”
Abu Dhabi has traditionally not been a happy hunting ground for Hall; of the four races held in the Emirate since 2014, the Australian's best finish is the fifth place last year. However, he has clearly come out swinging for 2019, finishing second fastest in the first training session on Wednesday, only 0.5 sec behind 2018 champion Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic.
In the second session, Hall was one of four pilots who fell foul of the modified over-G rule, which penalises pilots from breaking 11 g at any time in the circuit. Last year, pilots were restricted to 10 g, but could go to 12 g provided it was for no longer than six tenths of a second.
Sonka again topped the times for the second session, firming him as favourite to continue the hot streak of form that delivered him the championship last year.
However, no-one is writing-off Matt Hall, or the two other pilots in the field who have championship belts around their waists: Japan's Yoshihide Muroya and German pilot Matthias Dolderer.
The 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship series begins in Abu Dhabi this weekend, with qualifying on tonight, Friday 8 February at 11.00 pm AEDT and the race starting on Saturday beginning at 9.00 pm AEDT.
Catch it live on the Red Bull Air Race website.