Britain's Paul Bonhomme won the Red Bull Air Race World Championship for a record-breaking third time, staving off a spellbinding challenge from Australia’s Matt Hall who took a sensational first place in the final race season in Las Vegas on Sunday.
Germany’s Matthias Dolderer took a strong third to win his second podium of the season. Around 20,000 spectators followed the racing action over the weekend.
It was Bonhomme’s third championship, in his 10th season in the world’s fastest motorsport series, after the British ace won the title 2009 and 2010. Bonhomme, who had to overcome nerve-wracking technical problems just before the final race, ended up with 76 world championship points, just five ahead of Hall on 71 with Austria’s Hannes Arch third overall with 34 points.
"It’s amazing, just amazing," said a sweat-drenched Bonhomme, who had four wins and seven podiums in the eight races this season and scored a record-breaking 76 championship points. “What happened today was a million miles away from what I had imagined would happen. All kind of things happened that I didn’t expect. But as a team, we sorted it out and here we are. It was the toughest World Championship I’ve ever had. It was hard work.”
Bonhomme, the sport’s most successful pilot with 19 career wins in 66 races, needed to finish at least sixth place to win the title. But the pressure was on just before flying into the track in a difficult head-to-head Round of 8 battle against Arch. Bonhomme was suddenly forced to return to the race airport due to technical problems that could have cost him the championship if he could not fly against Arch.
Bonhomme had earlier got caught in a sudden downpour of rain in the previous Round of 14 that had done more damage to his wing and technical equipment than first thought. But his crew quickly repaired the air and ground speed equipment and Bonhomme returned to the sky to beat Arch and advance to the final, where he was second behind Hall.
“The conditions were shocking,” said Hall, of the ominous rain clouds in the desert area around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “There was a lot of pressure on Paul and he did what he had to do - so congratulations. It’s been an amazing year.”
FINAL 2015 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
LAS VEGAS RESULTS
France's Mika Brageot hit the jackpot in Las Vegas on Sunday, clinching the top spot in the winner-takes-all Challenger Class competition, crowned as 2015 Challenger Cup Champion.
Joining him on the championship podium were Slovenia's Peter Podlunsek in second and Chile's Cristian Bolton in third, with less than four-tenths of a second separating their results in the tight battle.
The victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the first Challenger Class title for the Frenchman, as well as a historic hat trick. Brageot is the only pilot ever to claim titles at three consecutive stops in a row in the new element of the Red Bull Air Race, which was introduced in 2014 to give the next generation of pilots the chance to develop their skills under racing conditions.
All six competitors at Las Vegas Motor Speedway - who also included Florian Berger of Germany, Daniel Ryfa of Sweden and 2014 Challenger Cup Champion Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic - earned one or more podiums in the eight-race 2015 season.
"I think this latest win at a motorsport venue confirms that I like to race at auto tracks," said Brageot, whose previous career victories were at the Red Bull Ring Formula 1 track (2015) and the Texas Motor Speedway NASCAR track (2014 and 2015). "The purpose of the Challenger Cup is to bring young pilots to the top, and I think it's an important step toward building the skills necessary to fly in the Master Class.
"I couldn't feel better than I do winning this championship today."
Challenger Cup results
1. Mikael Brageot (FRA) 1:00.521, 2. Peter Podlunsek (SLO) 1:00.556, 3. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 1:00.920, 4. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 1:02.117, 5. Florian Berger (GER) 1:02.255, 6. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 1:02.459
Hungary's Peter Besenyei, one of the most successful pilots in the history of the Red Bull Air Race with eight career victories, announced on Sunday that he was retiring from the sport he helped develop in 2003.
Besenyei, 59, won the title in the inaugural season in 2003 and has been a driving force behind its growth through his 10 seasons of high-speed, low-altitude racing.
"I've been flying for a long time, since the very beginning of the Red Bull Air Race, and I made a decision a few days ago that this will be my last season," said Besenyei, a fierce competitor who had a total of 22 podiums in the sport he helped go from an idea into one of the world's fastest motorsports series with planes racing at up to 230 mph in front of enthusiastic crowds at locations around the world.
"I'll be more focused on my family and spending more time with my family and flying more air shows."
Besenyei completed all 10 seasons and ended his sterling career after his 66th race at the end of the 2015 season. One of Hungary’s most famous athletes, Besenyei was a driving force in the sport throughout his career.
He was one of the founding fathers who helped develop the concept of the Red Bull Air Race. Besenyei gained worldwide fame in 2001 for flying upside down under the Chain Bridge in Budapest that spans the Danube River.
"It's an amazing event, and I'm really happy to see how successful it has become," Besenyei said. "My heart will always be with it, but not as a competitor anymore."
He was also a driving force in helping Budapest stage the Red Bull Air Race eight times in the 10 seasons years - the Hungarian capital, with its enthusiastic crowds watching the action from the banks of the Danube, shares the record for hosting the most number of races with Abu Dhabi. The starting line for the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest is underneath the Chain Bride, a tribute to Besenyei that makes the race in Hungary one of the most spectacular on the calendar.