Czech pilot Martin Sonka has won the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship with a tense victory at Fort Worth in Texas early this morning.
Sonka beat Matt Hall, Kirby Chambliss and Ben Murphy in the Final 4 to finish the year on 80 points, five points clear of Hall, who has been crowned runner-up for the third time in his career. American pilot Michael Goulian finished third on 73 points after failing to make the Final 4.
Three pilots, Goulian Sonka and Hall, went to Texas with hopes of coming away with a championship title.
All three got through the Round of 14 with relative ease, but fate pitted Sonka and Goulian against each other in the Round of 8. Hall took on Spaniard Juan Velarde. Goulian's year finished when he collected a total of four seconds penalty for incorrect flying through gates, smoothing Sonka's path into the final. Velarde suffered a similar fate to Goulian whilst Hall posted a clean time, leaving two title contenders to go into the Final 4 alongside Chambliss and Murphy.
In tense scenes in the sky over Fort Worth, Chambliss and Murphy raced first, setting respectable times, with Chambliss guaranteeing himself at least a third spot. The last two pilots to race were now effectively head-to-head for the title.
Hall was next out of the blocks, and laid down a 0:53.100. It was his fastest time of the day and gave Sonka something to think about. With nothing to lose, the Czech pilot went all out for the win. His 0:52.796 has been described as "sublime" and snatched Sonka the 2018 World Championship title.
"It was an interesting day, we stuck to our plan and the plan worked, Hall said afterward. "It was just one race at a time and get through each round.
“In the Final 4, I pushed it as hard as I could. I thought it might have been enough to push it over the edge for Martin. So I had to sit and wait for him to fly and that was hard.
“I am disappointed. I thought it was a good run, that was as fast as I could go without getting a penalty. In saying that, it was good that we have moved up a spot to finish second. The team deserved a good finish for the year.
"Again, it’s just disappointing to be second again in the standings and finish three tenths away from a world title.”
It was a remarkable year for Sonka. He started out with fourth in Abu Dhabi, then was disqualified from the Round of 8 in Cannes when his engine exceeded the allowed 2950 rpm for more than 4.4 seconds. Following a good third in Chiba, Sonka went on the rampage to win four of the last five races of the season, his only failure being a 10th place in Indianapolis in October.
Australian Matt Hall had a consistent season, collecting two wins, one second and two thirds from the eight rounds. His worst results was a seventh place in Kazan, Russia, back in August when his round was ruined by a pylon hit.
Hall has now finished runner-up in the championship three times, adding 2018 to second places behind Germany's Matthias Dolderer in 2016 and British pilot Paul Bonhomme in 2015.