Austriaâ€™s Arch turns race upside down in second season with 6 podiums in 7 races
Hannes Arch has turned the Red Bull Air Race upside down this year â€“ not only by rising from near the bottom of the pack in his rookie season to the top of the table this year but also by pushing the envelope with innovative flying techniques and pioneering aerodynamic improvements to his airplane. Even though it is only the Austrianâ€™s second year in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, Arch has been the most consistent pilot this year on race day and landed on the podium in six of seven races with two wins, two seconds and two thirds. He leads the championship with 54 points going into the finale in Perth on 1 and 2 November.
â€œI never let myself get complacent from the results because getting on the podium so often wasnâ€™t the role I was supposed to have after being a rookie last year,â€ said Arch, who turned 41 on 22 September. â€œEvery time I had a good result I had my doubts:Â I thought â€˜okay the airplane is goodâ€™ or â€˜okay it was one good raceâ€™. I kept telling myself you canâ€™t expect to do that well again in the next race. That way of thinking went on and on and on. It was only in London (5th race) when I started to get more sure of myself because I saw the other guys were getting nervous. Thatâ€™s when I started to feel confident.â€
Arch ended up third in London after hitting a pylon on the difficult course over the River Thames very late in his semi-final race against Nicolas Ivanoff â€“ at a point on the course when Arch was a massive two seconds ahead of the Frenchman. Arch had the fastest plane that weekend and championship leader Paul Bonhomme had an inexplicable off-day in his home race and had already been eliminated. London could have been Archâ€™s first victory.
â€œI made a big mistake in London,â€ he said, referring to the pylon hit in the semi-finals that he had had in the bag at that point. â€œI thought then maybe I was getting a little too confident. After that I just decided to try to focus on getting the best possible result and let everything else take care of itself.â€
Arch then won the next two races in an impressive style â€“ collecting a maximum 9 points each in Budapest and Porto â€“ to jump into the lead. Suddenly a four-way race for the Championship turned into a one-man show. Defending champion Mike Mangold fell off the pace, American Kirby Chambliss got zero points in Budapest and Bonhomme, who had led the championship by as many as 6 points at the midway, got zero points in Porto â€“ handing Arch a huge 9-point lead heading in to the season finale in Perth.
â€œI think the advantage for me was that I never really had to deal with a lot of pressure like Paul did,â€ Arch said. â€œPaul was in the lead all year, he was the favourite to win the championship last year and this year. He has had a lot of pressure on him to defend his position at the top. For me, every good result was like a great big present. I was happy to be on the podium.â€
Arch went into the season with the modest goal of getting at least one podium. After accomplishing that in all but one race (4th in San Diego) in the first half, he revised that goal up at mid-season to getting in the top 3 overall. Now, Arch is in control of his destiny. To lose the championship, Arch would have to have an extraordinarily poor result in Perth (zero points for no higher than 10th place) and Bonhomme would have to win his 4th race of the season to overtake Arch. Anything other than a Bonhomme victory and Arch 10th or lower means Arch will become the first non-American to win the Red Bull Air Race World Champion. Mangold won the inaugural World Championship in 2005 and then again in 2007; Chambliss won it in 2006.