Muroya wins Las Vegas Qualifying with Hall, Bonhomme in hot pursuit
Japan's Yoshihide Muroya came out on top in high-stakes showdown in Qualifying on Saturday to win the honor as the fastest pilot going into Sunday's final race of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship for the first time in his career.
Muroya stopped the clock in a time of 48.618 seconds, while Hall was in second place with a time of 48.853 seconds in Qualifying in one of the world's fastest motorsport series, where the pilots race at speeds of up to 230 mph. Bonhomme could do no better than third place in the high-speed, low-altitude racing just above the tarmac of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
American Kirby Chambliss was seventh, and countryman Michael Goulian was ninth.
By taking second place, Hall kept the pressure on Bonhomme, the Red Bull Air Race Championship leader with 67 points from the previous seven races and two-time world champion (2009 and 2010). Hall, a former Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot, has 59 points.
Hall is in the fight of his life to overtake Bonhomme, the most successful pilot in the sport's history with 19 race victories in 10 seasons and 64 races to date. This is only Hall's fourth season, and he has 27 starts with just one victory.
"I think my flight was quite solid, so I'm quite happy with it," said Muroya, who is looking to capture the 12 points for what would be his first career win on Sunday. "I like the track. It's not easy, it's got a tricky line. I flew well in training as well, but got some penalties. I changed a few lines and was faster."
Bonhomme said he was pleased with his Qualifying run and was determined to go for his fifth win of the season on Sunday even though he only needs four points - or finishing in fifth place - to clinch the championship.
"As usual, I'd love to win, but as we've seen in the past, it is a numbers game and you don't have to win every race to win the championship," Bonhomme said. "I'd love to get a fifth win for the season, but there's no point smashing a gate down trying to get the win too quickly. The important thing will be to fly steadily, see what's going on and see what the conditions are."
With the eight-point lead, Bonhomme only needs the four points to clinch the 2015 world championship. Hall will need help from the other pilots to knock Bonhomme out of an early round and could only win the title if he is first (12 points) and Bonhomme finishes sixth (3 points) or lower. Hall could also win it all if he is second (9 points) and Bonhomme is ninth (0 points) or worse.
"We expected Bonhomme to take it cautiously today, and that's exactly what he did," said Hall, who needs Bonhomme to stumble on Sunday to win the title. "He's not going to go all out guns blazing and potentially make an error."
Bonhomme is trying to become the sport's first three-time World Champion. American Mike Mangold, like Bonhomme, also has two titles (2005 and 2007).
Bonhomme has been in six straight championship battles in the final race of the season, but only won two of the five so far.
The battle for third place overall could go right down to the wire with five pilots still in the frame to take third. Hannes Arch (AUT) is in third now with 30 points, while Martin Sonka (CZE), Nigel Lamb (GBR) Pete McLeod (CAN) and Matthias Dolderer (GER) are all within striking range with strong results down the home stretch.
Masters Qualifying results
1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 48.618, 2. Matt Hall (AUS) 48.853, 3. Paul Bonhomme (GBR) 48.956, 4. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 49.246, 5. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 49.299, 6. Hannes Arch (AUT) 49.411, 7. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 49.627, 8. Martin Sonka (CZE) 50.361, 9. Michael Goulian (USA) 50.504, 10. Juan Velarde (ESP) 50.775, 11. Pete McLeod (CAN) 50.800, 12. François Le Vot (FRA) 51.764, 13. Peter Besenyei (HUN) 53.719, 14. Nigel Lamb (GBR) DNS.
With repeat title on the line, Kopfstein tops Challenger qualifying
Looking to win his second consecutive title - and only the second awarded in history - the Czech Republic's Petr Kopfstein delivered the best time in Qualifying for the Challenger Class competition at this weekend's Red Bull Air Race season finale in Las Vegas.
Kopfstein stopped the clock at 1:01:208, barely two-tenths of a second ahead of Sweden's Daniel Ryfa, while Mikael Brageot of France had the third-best Qualifying result. In the winner-takes-all format of the Challenger Class competition, the pilot who is victorious on Sunday will be crowned Challenger Cup Champion for 2015.
Introduced with the 2014 season, the Challenger Cup is a new element of the Red Bull Air Race that gives the next generation of pilots the chance to develop their skills under racing conditions. Kopfstein, who has already won a pair of events this year, has logged the best time in every flying session throughout the week. But with only the season's top pilots earning a berth in the finale, he has a fierce fight on his hands: every contender in the lineup has stood on an event podium in 2015, including a career-first win from Christian Bolton of Chile and two each from Ryfa and Brageot.
"I've been trying different lines to improve with every run, but tomorrow is the big test and I don't think I'll be making any significant changes," said Kopfstein. "We are here to race, and I'm really motivated to win this world honor of the Challenger Cup title again."
The pilots will go all-in for Sunday's season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, when the victor of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship will be crowned along with the Challenger Cup Champion.
Challenger Qualifying results
1. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 1:01:208, 2. Daniel Ryfa (SWE) 1:01.416, 3. Mikael Brageot (FRA) 1:02.321, 4. Peter Podlunsek (SLO) 1:02.576, 5. Florian Berger (GER) 1:03.794, 6. Cristian Bolton (CHI) DQ.
Red Bull Air Race World Championship schedule
Sunday, Oct. 18 | World Championship Finals
9 a.m. - Gates open
11-11:30 a.m. - Challenger Cup
12:07-12:50 p.m. - Master Class Round of 14
1:45-1:50 p.m. - Prize Giving Ceremony Challenger Cup
2:05-2:30 p.m. - Round of 8
2:35-2:50 p.m. - Final 4
2:55-3 p.m. - Prize Giving Ceremony