Rookies Rewriting The Records
Impressive career starts
SALZBURG, Austria – The four rookies in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship this year have been breaking all sorts of records but perhaps the most impressive and unexpected accomplishment is how competitive all four have been through the first half of 2009. Beyond the glittering achievements of high-flyer Matt Hall of Australia, the former Australian Air Force ace who has rewritten the record book with 19 championship points in 3 races and grabbed a stunning 4th place overall, the three other rookies have had impressive career starts as well and their times in the race track that have been surprisingly close to – and sometimes even ahead of – a number of veterans.
Matthias Dolderer of Germany, Yoshi Muroya of Japan and Pete McLeod of Canada have all scored one championship point – awarded for 11th place – and are confident they can add to their points total in the second half. So not only does 2009 have the largest crop of rookies but it is also the most successful year with all four in the points already; something that has never happened before. In the past, rookies were often 20 seconds or more behind the leaders. But this year the gap – if any – is rarely more than about 8-10 seconds.
Modified preparation process
â€œWe expected a safe performance from the rookies and a few possible surprises in the rankings, but the results are impressive and the performance theyâ€™ve all had is better than anticipated,â€ said Heinz Moeller, Director of Aviation. The Red Bull Air Race held a series of special training camps last year for the pilots eager to break into the championship and Moeller said those efforts were paying off handsomely. â€œWe modified the preparation process and the results are obvious now.â€
One of those modifications has been that the four rookies are getting some individual coaching from former Red Bull Air Race pilots â€“ Britainâ€™s Steve Jones and Germanyâ€™s Klaus Schrodt. In the past, rookies such as Michael Goulian (2006), Hannes Arch and Sergey Rakhmanin (2007) and Glen Dell (2008) were more or less left on their own to learn the ropes. Before Archâ€™s phenomenal rise from 11th in his rookie season to the championship title in his second season in 2008, the conventional wisdom was that it should take rookies many years to challenge the top pilots. That has all changed now.
â€œThey are an impressive bunch,â€ said Jones, who is also a TV commentator for the race. â€œThis year the rookies are well prepared. Theyâ€™ve done a lot of pre-race training. But these guys are also very experienced pilots. They want to beat each other and they want to surprise the â€˜old guysâ€™. The Red Bull Air Race is unforgiving of mistakes and theyâ€™re realising that. Theyâ€™ve learned that you canâ€™t win by ragged flying. The best way around the track is neatly.â€
Matt Hall with two 5th place finishes
Hall, 37, had hoped to do well this year after a decorated career as a Royal Australian Air Force combat pilot. But the unassuming man from Merewether has surprised himself with two 5th place finishes and one 7th after swapping an F-18 for an MXS-R.
â€œIâ€™m very happy with my performance so far,â€ he said. â€œBy this stage I was hoping to have made the top 12 in two races and maybe have made it into one Super 8. I hope the second half of the season goes exactly as the first â€“ learning and developing race experience.â€
Hall said he has nevertheless made plenty of mistakes â€“ including hitting two pylons in the Super 8 in Windsor that dropped him to a season-worst 7th place there. â€œIâ€™m happy with all the mistakes Iâ€™ve made as they have all been safe mistakes and this year is all about gaining experience. The worst thing that could happen to me this year is to be either dangerous or make no mistakes at all. That would mean I have not learnt any of the limits before Iâ€™ll start to push myself next year.â€
Hallâ€™s surprise success this year appears to have put at least some tacit pressure on the three other rookies to do well. Pushing hard for points in Windsor, Dolderer was told to leave the track for dangerous flying while Muroya had a heavy pylon hit in training before the race. McLeod, who at 25 is the youngest pilot ever in the championship, has also had some rough sessions in the track in the first half of the season even though he improved considerably for his home race in Windsor and got a career-best 11th place after a series of solid performances the whole weekend.
Pete Mcleod ready to step into the points
â€œIf some veterans make a mistake, weâ€™re right there to step into the points,â€ said the always confident McLeod. â€œIâ€™m happy with my performance so far, both on and off the race track. Of course there were some surprises and frustrations in Abu Dhabi to find out how much slower the plane was relative to the other teams. Weâ€™re developing as a team and me as a pilot. I continue to fly better and thatâ€™s the primary goal.â€
McLeod, who aims to win the world championship by age 30, said he is less worried about points and places this year than about getting better. â€œWeâ€™re building for the future. Iâ€™m not pushing myself too hard as Iâ€™ve set goals that are not points- or standing-oriented. I make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. To this point I donâ€™t regret any mistakes Iâ€™ve made. Iâ€™ve learned from them. None of my pylon hits have been a result of pushing too hard. Iâ€™ve not yet been kicked out of the track for a DSQ.â€
Matthias Dolderer delighted with one point
Dolderer, 38, got a point for 11th place in Abu Dhabi but fell to 13th place in the next two races. The German is nevertheless delighted to be running ahead of his own schedule with the championship point in his first race â€“ even if he is a bit disappointed by a lack of consistency. He said all four rookies are eager to emulate Archâ€™s quick success.
â€œArch demonstrated that it is possible to reach the top within a short time period,â€ said Dolderer. â€œThat motivates us. My plan was to learn as much as possible and avoid any major mistakes in the first half. It worked out well so far. Iâ€™ve made some small mistakes â€“ like not flying the best line. But Iâ€™m pleased that these are just small mistakes so I think Iâ€™m on the right track. I also scored a point, which was more than I had expected. My goal for the second half is to get more consistency. Iâ€™ll also try to break into the top 10.â€
Yoshi Muroya wants to fly without penalties in second half of the season
Muroya, 36, who got his point in San Diego with a well-deserved 11th place, credited the intensive training and coaching before the start of the season for his solid start. He said that is probably the key reason why this yearâ€™s rookies have all scored. Muroya, the first Asian pilot in the championship, said he is pleased his times are usually within 10 seconds of the fastest pilot.
â€œIâ€™m completely happy with the results so far and feel like Iâ€™m on schedule with the programme I set up for myself,â€ he said. â€œFor the second half of the season my goal is to fly without penalties and then go after some faster times in the final two races. My aim is to make it to the Super 8 at least once.â€ Muroya said most of his penalties have been from flying too high through the Air Gates â€“ a typical rookie mistake. â€œMy penalties tend to be for flying too high. I had planned to be on the high side and not push too much. I donâ€™t feel any pressure on me at all. But that will increase a bit in the next three races.â€
Source: Red Bull Air Race