It was an exhausted, emotional and elated Matt Hall that raised the 2019 Red Bull World Championship trophy high above his head on the podium at Chiba, Japan, yesterday.
After coming runner-up three times and third once, the burning ambitions of Matt Hall and his team were realised as the Australian took third place in the last ever Red Bull Air Race. The points he scored were enough to elevate him to the top of the standings with no races left on the calendar.
“It is absolutely huge relief," a relieved and exalted Hall said. "I was so worried that I would become the most famous bridesmaid in history, so to actually finally get it is a huge relief. It was becoming so frustrating. I feel we have earnt it.”
“There was pressure there today, I have been through this [a world championship deciding race] four times before. But there was more pressure this time because it was the last chance to do it with the race ending. I was trying to play it cool in front of the cameras and keep it on rails, but deep down it was a tough week. Today was a hard day emotionally.
“I try not to say that I deserve stuff, but we have always been there, and we have always been pushing the championship leaders. To be on the podium five times for the championship and not get one would have been something you don’t get over for the rest of your life."
“I can finally say I am a world champion.”
Chiba was the last ever Red Bull Air Race with the series not continuing beyond 2019, and it was a finale that had everything you could imagine from the threat of a typhoon and the local hero teetering on the brink of disaster to a contender that fell at an early hurdle.
Eventually, Yoshi Muroya triumphed on his home turf, but he was coming from behind and needed a thumping win to grasp his second world title. The margin was not enough to keep Australia's Matt Hall at bay.
Race day began with drama even before the first smoke came on. With a typhoon hovering off the coast of Japan, organisers hastily canceled the Challenger Cup race and brought forward the all-important Masterclass race by two hours in the hope of getting the championship settled whilst conditions were still safe to fly.
With only Hall, Muroya and Martin Sonka able to win the championship, there was expectation that all three would duke it out for the title in the Final 4. That illusion was shattered when Muroya failed to best the time of British tyro Ben Murphy in the opening Round of 14. The local crowd were shocked as it appeared Muroya's day, and title chances, were done.
Hall comfortably dispatched the USA's Michael Goulian to advance to the Round of 8, but Martin Sonka met with disaster as he subjected his plane to an over-G situation whilst chasing down the time of Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff. The one-second penalty gave him a time slower than Muroya, who was sitting hopefully in the fastest loser position.
The relief on Muroya's face as all other heat losers clocked times slower than his was obvious. His hopes remained alive as he advanced to the next round. Sonka, however, was out. The title race was down to two pilots.
Muroya laid down a respectable time in his Round of 8 clash with Frenchman Francois Le Vot, and moved comfortably into the Final 4 after Le Vot's run became a nightmare. Le Vot collected five seconds of penalties for incorrect level flying and striking a pylon.
Hall had to work harder to defeat another Frenchman, Mika Brageot, but strolled into the Final 4 after Brageot also scored a penalty, this time for an over-G. Canadian Pete McLeod and the USA's Kirby Chambliss also won through to make up the last four pilots who would ever compete in a Red Bull Air Race round.
The racing order for the final was to be McLeod, Muroya, Chambliss and Hall. The points situation was such that if Muroya won, Hall had to place third or higher to claim the big trophy.
The title came closer to the Australian after McLeod's run was littered with errors that lumbered him with five seconds of penalties. Muroya then came out as expected and slammed on a time to challenge the last two. When Chambliss fell just under a second short of the home-town hero, Matt Hall needed only to collect fewer penalty points than McLeod or avoid a complete disqualification to realise his dream.
Taking no chances, Hall shelved his usual all-or-nothing approach to racing in favour of flying accurately and precisely. His pace was not enough to catch even Chambliss, but the run delivered him a world title. He collected no penalties and sat in third place in the race, but first place on the championship podium by a solitary point.
Muroya had dominated the shortened season, winning three of the four races. Hall won only one race, but collected a second and a third also. Muroya stumbled at Lake Balaton in Round Three, collecting only two points. Although he triumphed only once, Hall's consistency delivered him the championship.
The result was one that many could rue, but none could begrudge. Hall startled the air race world in 2009 when he placed third in the championship in his very first season. There was a feeling of inevitability that he would eventually be World Champion. No-one seriously doubted it, especially not Hall himself.
The only surprise was that it took eight seasons to achieve. Skill and technical expertise were on the team's side; luck it would appear was not. He finished second three times, was suspended for hitting the water once; in another season he had to start again with a new aeroplane.
But yesterday in Chiba, Japan, not even an impending typhoon could get in the way of Matt Hall Racing. The history books now have Hall as one of only 10 pilots to have won a Red Bull Air Race World Championship; it's a title that he will wear well for the rest of his flying career.
Red Bull Air Race World Championship Results
1. Matt Hall (AUS) – 81 points
2. Yoshi Muroya (JPN) – 80
3. Martin Sonka (CZE) – 68
4. Ben Murphy(GBR) – 48
5. Kirby Chambiss (USA) – 48
6. Pete McLeod (CAN) – 48
7. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) – 47
8. Mika Brageot (FRA) – 44
9. Michael Goulian (USA) – 42
10. Juan Velarde (ESP) – 39
11. Francois Le Vot (FRA) – 34
12. Cristian Bolton (CHI) – 27
13. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) – 10
14. Matthias Dolderer (GER) – 6