Red Bull Air Race prepares to dazzle the Douro, Hall chasing that winning feeling

There have been 361 days since Matt Hall stood atop a Red Bull Air Race podium, and with the 2017 world championship moving to picturesque Porto, Portugal this weekend, the Australian pilot will be chasing that feeling that was once so familiar.

Hall’s year isn’t one of failed dreams, lost hope or poor luck. On the contrary, he has renewed confidence under the pressure of developing a brand race plane. Following four races with his new whip, the former RAAF Fighter Pilot says he feels like he’s on the precipice of recapturing the form that saw him scorch to victory at the Lausitzring, Germany last September.

“This is our fifth race in our brand-new aircraft, we’re on track for what we set as our goals at the start of the year,” Hall said proudly when reflecting on the work performed by his team developing a new aircraft over the past eight months.

“Our plan was to spend the first half of the year learning the aircraft. The next couple of races developing the aircraft, and then spending the last two races having a set up that allows us to race to our capabilities.

“We’re finding some speed, we’re getting it going and we’re moving up through the pack. Porto is our last race where we are doing a lot of changes to the aircraft, then we expect it will be balanced.

“I think it will eventually be a race-winning aircraft.”

On paper, the words “a lot of changes” don’t carry much weight. But allow Matt Hall Racing team tactician Peter Wezenbeek to put this in perspective, and the pursuit for speed has seen nothing short of wholesale changes be made for this weekend’s event.

“Imagine that instead of a plane, we had a race car. The changes we are making to the handling in our plane would be akin to changing the setup of a car so drastically that it handles completely differently to what it once did, steering inputs would produce different results,” Wezenbeek outlined in his matter of fact fashion.

“We’ve learnt a lot in the past few months, and this is a significant variation from what we have done with the setup direction in the last few races.”

While the technical side of the job may be undergoing a remake, racing along the Douro River in Porto will be something of a nostalgic affair for Hall, who claimed his maiden race podium in the Portuguese tourism mecca, third in 2009.

“It’s been eight years since we were last in Porto racing. I had my first podium here and it was something I had systematically worked through all year to achieve back then,” Hall recalled.

“I had my family watching it was a nice feeling, and it would be nice to replicate that feeling again in 2017.”

To replicate that third place, let alone break his winning drought, Hall will need all the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place this Sunday. So unpredictable has the 2017 championship been, that already nine of 14 pilots have stood on the podium, and the top four placed pilots in the championship are separated by just four points after five races.

Mathematically within reach, realistically out of the running for the 2017 title, Hall continued that he was more than happy with his year. With an eye towards the future, the main objective is to have a fast ride for the 2018 season.

“Our goal since January has never been the 2017 world title. We knew what this year would be, we knew how much work we would need to do. Our focus is 2018, and after Porto we’re looking at the last two races of this year as the prelude to next year’s title hunt.”

The sixth round of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship takes place in Porto this weekend. Qualifying will be held on Saturday September 2 at 4pm local time (1am AEST Sunday September 3), with Sunday’s main race beginning at 1pm local, 10pm AEST.

Aussie fans can watch all the action LIVE at this link: www.redbullairrace.com/live