Czech pilot Martin Sonka won the Porto, Portugal, round of the Red Bull Air Race on the weekend with a blistering Final 4 run.
Racing first, Sonka clocked a 1:07.229 to record the best time of the day. Canadian Pete McLeod finished second and Australian Matt Hall took his first podium spot for the year with third place.
Championship leader Kirby Chambliss was fourth after incurring a 2-second penalty for climbing in a gate. Without the penalty, his raw time of 1:07.141 would have been enough to win the round.
"I feel great," Sonka said afterward. "After the last three races where we got various penalties, it was simply time to fly again–and race again–and we won, so I'm really happy. The venue is incredible, and there are so many people. The fog today made it even more spectacular and I think it is one of the most beautiful races."
Sonka qualified seventh, and went on to beat Francois Le Vot in the Round of 14 after the Frenchman struck a pylon. That put Sonka into a battle with Japan's Yoshi Muroya, who was penalised 1 second for exceeding the lowered start-gate speed limit of 180 knots.
Sonka's unbeatable run in the Final 4 elevated him to the championship lead after series leader Kirby Chambliss faltered with his final run.
"Of course we would like to win the title," Sonka said, "but the others are fast, and with two races left there are still a lot of points on the table. So nothing is decided yet, and we have to wait until the end of the season."
Matt Hall scored his best result of the season with third place, which he secured after qualifying sixth, then defeating good friend Matthias Dolderer in the Round of 14 and Frenchman Mikael Brageot in the Round of 8.
"We've had a rough year, ever since we found a crack in the MXS's fuel tank," Hall said. "It's been an uphill battle. We've had changes in the plane, changes in the team. We said at the start of the year that the plan was to just build up throughout the year.
"I was happy to be in the Final 4 and it was good to be able to back off and secure a podium. I heard that Kirby had collected a penalty and I thought let's not blow it, let's not be greedy. Let's tick the podium box and be happy. And now we can move forward."
Martin Sonka now sits on top of the leader board with 54 points ahead of sleeper McLeod on 50 and the USA's Chambliss on 47. Matt Hall has lifted himself to seventh on the ladder with 25 points.
The next round of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship series is in Lausitz, Germany, 16-17 September.
More information is on the Red Bull Air Race website.