Sunday, 16 August 2015 12:23
ASCOT, United Kingdom - Two mouth-watering match-ups will kick off the excitement at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship on Sunday at Ascot with championship leader Paul Bonhomme of Britain squaring off against Austria's Hannes Arch, currently ranked second overall, in the opening Round of 14 while Australia's Matt Hall, in third place, will have his work cut out for him against another top pilot -- Canada's Pete McLeod, who is in fifth place overall.
Bonhomme won Qualifying on Saturday, his third pole position this season, and Hall took second while both Arch (14th) and McLeod (13th) struggled in Qualifying. That four of the top five pilots will be racing against each other in the opening round will create all kinds of opportunities for pilots in the middle of the pack to possibly reach the Round of 8 or Final 4 for the first time this season.
The normally unflappable Bonhomme was clearly unhappy about having to face Arch in the first round but Hall and McLeod took their tough first round draw in stride. Along with the seven heat winners, there will also be one "lucky loser" with the fastest time in the Round of 14 who advances to the Round of 8. So the chances are good that one of the losers from those two showdown heats will advance to the Round of 8.
"I'm focused on my performance and flying the best as I possibly can," Hall said on Sunday, sounding confident after posting the fastest training time on Saturday and only narrowly losing to Bonhomme in Qualifying. "Pete's very good but he didn't have a great day yesterday. I expect he'll be flying at his best today so I need to be flying my best today as well. I have to fly the best line I can and be confident that my time will be fastest enough to advance to the Round of 8. These days everyone is a hard opponent. You can't afford to make any mistakes."
McLeod, who was fourth in the last race in Budapest, is confident that he can beat Hall in the race even though the Australian has been flying extremely well this year.
"I've got my work cut out for me," said McLeod. "I need to fly fast, clean and hope that Matt doesn't put down one of his fastest time. One of the losers from the Round of 14 is going to go through so the big thing is just go out there and fly a fast time and see what happens. It's exciting for the first round. There is no easy path to the final any more. Sure, there are less difficult paths to the final. Today I don't think I'm going to have one of those less-difficult paths against Matt."
Bonhomme was beaten by Germany's Matthias Dolderer in the opening round last year but was the "lucky loser" and made it all the way to the final, which he won. While three of the four pilots in these tough Round of 14 match-ups can make it to the Round of 8, only two at most will make it to the final, a fact that Bonhomme and Arch were both unhappy about.
"We all know it's going to be difficult out there," said Arch, who won the last two races in Rovinj, Croatia and Budapest. "Unfortunately, one of us won't make it to the final."