American pilot Michael Goulian has been catapulted back into the lead of the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship with a win at Indianapolis over the weekend.
Goulian defeated Canadian Pete McLeod, French pilot Nicolas Ivanoff and rising Briton Ben Murphy in the Final 4 to go back to the top of the ladder seven points clear with only one race left.
Of his title rivals, Czech pilot Martin Sonka was eliminated in the Round of 14, scoring one solitary point for his tenth place, and Australia's Matt Hall collected penalties in both the Round of 14 and the Round of 8 to finish in sixth place, adding five points to his championship score.
The result has Goulian in the box seat for the title, with Sonka and Hall having all the work to do at the last round in Forth Worth.
"I wasn't even thinking about the World Championship this weekend," Goulian said, "but to win in Indianapolis as an American and a fan of the Indy 500 since I was a kid. Knowing I'm going to get my plane out on the track and kiss the bricks is still so surreal.
"I met Pete [McLeod] at breakfast today and we both said let's just fly fast. I flew well and when I heard Pete had flown a 1:04 I thought 'oh gosh'. But mission accomplished for both of us.
"Everybody wanted a fight to the finish for the World Championship, and that's what they're going to get."
Goulian had a slice of luck in the Round of 14, being defeated by McLeod in the match race, but progressing to the Round of 8 as the fastest loser. He then easily accounted for Chilean Christian Bolton who had progressed courtesy of his Round of 8 opponent Matthis Dolderer copping a total of three seconds of penalties.
Goulian's Final 4 time of 1:06.2 turned out to be too much for McLeod, Ivanoff and Murphy to chase down.
Matt Hall qualified well in third place, but was fortunate to progress in the Round of 14 against Frenchman Francois Le Vot. Hall scored a two-second penalty for flying through a gate at an incorrect level, but won through after Le Vot copped a total of three seconds penalty for an incorrect Vertical Turn Manoeuvre (VTM) and incorrect level.
It didn't get better for the Australian, who struck a pylon in his Round of 8 match against McLeod, adding three seconds to his score. Without the penalty, Hall's time would have been enough to get him into the final.
"I’m disappointed," Hall said. "To have my mistake on race day … I had clean training sessions and qualy, and then to have two penalties on race day. I need to do something about that.
“We had the ability to really capitalise today [with Sonka in tenth] and take the lead of the championship, but we’re still seven points behind and back in third place."
Despite the poor results from Indianapolis, Hall's dream of a first RBAR world championship title are by no means dead.
“We know how quickly points can change," he said. "So Goulian just went from being nine points behind and out of the lead, to be leading again in one race. Things change very quickly in this game, so seven points … we can recover that. There are some big points at the top end of this game left for the last race.”
For Hall to win the championship at the last round in Forth Worth, Texas, on 18 November, he will need to outscore Goulian by eight points and Sonka by three points. Should Hall win the round, he will need Goulian to finish no higher than fourth.