Arch Feels Bonhomme Hot On His Heels At Pivotal Budapest Race
BUDAPEST, Hungary â€“ Hannes Arch of Austria can feel Britainâ€™s Paul Bonhomme breathing down his neck as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship returns to Budapest on 19/20 August for what has often proven to be the pivotal race of the season. The winner of the race in the Hungarian capital has ended up taking the overall championship in three of the last four years.
Arch, who scored his first race victory in Budapest last August en route to winning the championship two months later, holds a shrinking one-point lead this year over Bonhomme, who is hot on the Austrianâ€™s heels. Arch has led the championship all year after winning the season opener in Abu Dhabi but his lead narrowed to just one point after he finished second to Bonhomme in Windsor and third behind Nicolas Ivanoff of France and Bonhomme in San Diego. Yet Arch insists it is Bonhomme who is feeling the pressure in Budapest, the first of three European races on the 2009 calendar that culminates with the finale in Barcelona on 3/4 October.
â€œPaul Bonhomme is definitely under more pressure,â€ Arch said. â€œI already have a world championship title in the bag. He doesnâ€™t. So far Bonhomme has always been the man who finishes second. Heâ€™s the one under pressure to take victory. I donâ€™t mind pressure. Itâ€™s something you have to learn to live with. If the pressure wasnâ€™t there, Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™d be further down in the overall classification.â€
Bonhomme, who ended up second overall in both 2007 and 2008 after leading the championship for the better parts of both seasons, says it is actually Arch, the frontrunner, who is the one feeling the pressure of expectations and pressure from rivals in the rest of the field nipping at his heels.
â€œThere is a huge amount of pressure on Hannes, whether he has noticed it or not,â€ Bonhomme said. â€œHe has everything to lose because there is only one way to go from being champion. For me, itâ€™s business as usual â€“ hopefully some more wins or second places and weâ€™ll let the points and the standings take care of themselves. I thrive on the pressure of flying well.â€
In past years, Budapest turned out to be both a turning point and remarkably reliable predictor of the overall champion. Victories on the iconic race track on the Danube paved the way for American Mike Mangoldâ€™s championships in both 2005 and 2007 as well as for Archâ€™s title last year. Budapestâ€™s magic did not work in 2006, when Britainâ€™s Steve Jones won but ended up sixth overall while American Kirby Chambliss was only fifth in Budapest but ended up winning the championship. Chambliss did, however, win Budapest a year earlier in 2004 before the world championship was inaugurated and Chambliss then went on to lead the standings overall that year. In 2003, Peter Besenyei won his home race and was also the top point scorer that year.
â€œBudapest is for me my home race,â€ said Arch, agreeing itâ€™s an important race that kicks off the second half of the six-race 2009 season. â€œThousands of fans from Austria will be there and Iâ€™m sure the Hungarian fans will keep their fingers crossed for me â€“ as well as Peter Besenyei. Thousands are coming by car, train and specially organised fan busses. There will be more than 100 people alone from a fan club from my home region of Styria coming. Iâ€™m really looking forward to the race. Itâ€™s extremely important. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ll be looking to get everything out of the plane and pilot in Budapest.â€
With his victory in Windsor where he was the dominant pilot for most of the weekend, Bonhomme picked up his second victory in the last four races going back to the end of 2008 â€“ and he also moved in front of Mangold to become the pilot with the most career wins (9).
â€œI certainly hope this trend continues,â€ Bonhomme said. â€œIâ€™m very pleased with that percentage but I need to consolidate my wins into one year. The competition is now unbelievably fierce.â€
Confident he can keep his winning streak alive, Bonhomme said his team managed to shave 20 kg off the plane/pilot combination since the season opener in Abu Dhabi and he will also be flying in Budapest with an improved engine. Bonhomme said he wasnâ€™t sure if Budapest would once again be the decisive race of the season as it was so often in the past: â€œBut I do like the idea of winning Budapest and strolling away with the championship too.â€
Source: Red Bull Air Race