Austria's Hannes Arch came from behind to beat Briton Nigel Lamb in dramatic fashion on Saturday with the fastest qualifying time at the Red Bull Air Race in Rio de Janeiro. Arch won one vital championship point under the gaze of a record qualifying-day crowd of 400,000.
Britain's Paul Bonhomme, who still leads the overall championship, was a disappointing third on the high-speed, low-altitude 3.5-mile race track set up in front of Rio's Flamengo Beach.
Arch, who was in second place behind Lamb after the first of two qualifying runs ahead of Sunday’s race, opened the throttle on his second run under brilliant blue skies and tropical temperatures. Although afternoon sea breezes were slowing down most of the pilots, the Austrian managed to shave nearly a second off his earlier time to deny Lamb the one point awarded to the fastest qualifier.
Arch stopped the clock at 1:20.44, 0.73 ahead of Lamb and 1.18 ahead of Bonhomme. Defending champion Bonhomme still leads the championship with 22 points with Lamb in second at 18 and Arch in third at 15.
"Of course I’m disappointed not to get the championship point. But it was a very positive day." –Nigel Lamb
“I'm pleased I was able to raise my game today," said Arch. "We need every point to catch up with Paul. The engine works great and my team is working great. I'm really motivated for tomorrow."
“I enjoyed that,” said Lamb, who is off to the best start of his Red Bull Air Race career. “I love the set up of the aircraft and just loved being on the track today. Of course I’m disappointed not to get the championship point. But it was a very positive day.”
Australia’s Matt Hall took a promising fourth place in Qualifying, just 1.54 behind Arch, while American Kirby Chambliss (5th), Frenchman Nicolas Ivanoff (6th), Canada’s Pete McLeod (7th) and American Michael Goulian (8th) were all within striking range of a podium on Sunday with less than 3.5 seconds separating the leaders.
The enormous home crowd cheered heartily for Michael Goulian, who was flying in Brazilian colors after signing a sponsorship agreement with Brazilian energy company Petrobras.
It was a disappointing afternoon in Brazil for Russia’s Sergey Rakhmanin (11th), Hungary’s Peter Besenyei (12th), Japan’s Yoshi Muroya (13th) and Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic (14th). They failed to qualify for spots in Sunday’s final but will get a second chance to win the final two spots in the Wild Card competition early on Sunday.
An even bigger crowd of up to one million is expected for the race on Sunday which starts at 10:00am local time. The race will be available live on Red Bull Web TV.