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Qualifying: Uphill battle for Hall in title quest

The battle for the 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship took a challenging turn for Australia’s Matt Hall today, after he finished seventh and out of the points in qualifying while his main title rival Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic extended his lead by two points following a second-place finish in Chiba, Japan today.

Topping the session was Spaniard Juan Velarde, while Frenchman François Le Vot was third. Hall’s other championship rival Yoshihide Muroya of Japan also had a less than memorable day as he finished fifth.

This means that Hall must now overcome a six-point gap to Šonka in tomorrow’s race, while defending a seven-point advantage over Muroya. The final race of the season will award 25 points to the winner, and if Hall wishes to lift the championship trophy for the first time, he will need Šonka to finish fourth or worse, if the Aussie were to win the race.

Irrespective of today’s result, Hall said that he was comfortable with the way he was flying and knew the areas that would need to be improved.

“I am happy with the way I am flying the plane; I am flying it smoothly and in balance. It was pretty rough out there today and I flew it pretty damn smooth,” Hall recalled post flight.

“I always try and fly within a two-foot altitude block around the pylons and I thought I was pretty smack bang on that. I didn’t have to make any corrections; it was just nice and exact and where I wanted it to go. We had the engine set up how we wanted it. We just need to work out where Martin is getting these advantages on us.

“On the aircraft side of things, today we had a cooling door issue, which caused unnecessary drag, so we need to fix that. We also have some audio feedback issues, and this is very distracting.”

Tomorrow’s season decider won’t be the first time Hall has come into the final race with underdog status. In 2015 he was eight points behind Paul Bonhomme and almost clinched the title by winning the final race of the season in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, last year it was Šonka who got the better of Hall in the last moments of the final race to beat the Newcastle local by three-tenths of a second and snatch the title.

With so many near misses, Hall said that he would hold nothing back in tomorrow’s final ever race in his last pursuit to become an air race world champion.

“My mental approach for tomorrow is that I can’t control the results, so I just need to go out there and be proud that I have given it my best shot. So, if that involves me making an error along the away so be it because, I would rather come second in the world championship with a penalty pushing as hard as I can, rather than coming second knowing I could have pushed harder,” the Aussie deadpanned.

Tomorrow’s racing will run to an updated schedule following confirmation by the race committee that the event will begin at 10am local time (11am AEST), due to predicted adverse weather conditions forecast for the Chiba region.

Hall’s first opponent in the head-to-head knockout Round of 14 will be Goulian, his 2018 championship sparring partner.

CHIBA QUALIFYING RESULT

  1. Juan Velarde (ESP) 56.760
  2. Martin Šonka (CZE) +0.119
  3. François Le Vot (FRA) +0.292
  4. Matthias Dolderer (GER) +0.399
  5. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) +0.810
  6. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) +1.017
  7. Matt Hall (AUS) + 1.296
  8. Michael Goulian (USA) +1.300
  9. Mika Brageot (FRA) +1.629
  10. Ben Murphy (GBR) +1.903
  11. Pete McLeod (CAN) + 2.255
  12. Cristian Bolton (CHI) +2.538
  13. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) + 2.557
  14. Kirby Chambliss (USA) +3.789

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

  1. Martin Šonka (CZE) – 67
  2. Matt Hall (AUS) – 61
  3. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) – 55
  4. Ben Murphy (GBR) – 37
  5. Michael Goulian (USA) – 37
  6. Juan Velarde (ESP) – 35
  7. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) – 33
  8. Mika Brageot (FRA) – 31
  9. Pete McLeod (CAN) – 30
  10. Kirby Chambliss (USA) – 26
  11. Cristian Bolton (CHI) – 24
  12. François Le Vot (FRA) – 22
  13. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) – 10
  14. Matthias Dolderer (GER) – 4