Michael Goulian took a maiden victory at the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest after dominating his rivals.
The fourth race of the 2009 Air Race world championship produced the fourth winner of the year – but, unlike his predecessors, the ascent of Michael Goulian came out of the blue, even if his racing colors are a rather vibrant green. Flying first in the Final Four, his clean time of 1min 12.51s proved to be unbeatable, as Paul Bonhomme, then Hannes Arch and, finally, Kirby Chambliss all came close but ultimately failed to unseat the man from Massachusetts. Goulian took his first Red Bull Air Race victory and only his second visit to the podium. Bonhomme had to settle for second, but after a tough week in which he rarely seemed to be in contention, the British pilot will doubtless be delighted to finish ahead of championship rival Hannes Arch and take the lead in the title hunt for the first time this year.
Festivities on Hungary’s national day began with the wildcard round. First up was the exceptionally out-of-sorts Sergey Rakhmanin. Clearly, the Russian hasn’t yet got the measure of his replacement engine, and barrelled under the chain bridge well over the maximum speed. The chime of instant disqualification sounded soon afterwards. South Africa’s Glen Dell registered DSQ by his name for the same offence. It sounds like a fairly basic error, but when flying through a busy city in gusting wind, and having to drop down over one bridge and then under another with only a meter or so clearance above and below, it isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It left the field clear for Pete McLeod, Yoshi Muroya and Nigel Lamb to fight it out for the two remaining places in the finals. McLeod was the odd man out. He picked up a two-second penalty, but even flying clean, he didn’t stand a chance – he didn’t have the raw horsepower to prosper on this type of course.
Muroya ruined his chance at a good time by hitting a gate in the Top 12 round. He went out along with fellow wildcard Lamb, Alejandro MacLean and local hero Peter Besenyei. Muroya apart, the margin between success and failure was tiny: exactly one second separating Matthias Dolderer in seventh from MacLean in 11th.
Chambliss topped the timesheets in the Super 8 round, half a second ahead of Goulian and Bonhomme. Arch in fourth survived a scare, picking up a two-second penalty for incorrect level flying at Gate 12. It was marginal, but the stewards have been exceptionally tough all week. Nevertheless, Arch did enough to scrape through ahead of rookie Dolderer in fifth.
It set up an interesting contest in the Final Four. Bonhomme and Arch had a championship to consider, while the two Americans could go all out for victory. Chambliss led in qualifying and the previous round – Arch would have been faster apart from his penalty. Bonhomme came to Budapest with victory in the previous race, and Goulian… well, Goulian had little to recommend him other than a spring in his step, a well-prepared aircraft and a bucketfull of confidence.
Running first, his time was solid rather than spectacular – not up there with the best of the week, but clean and efficient. Bonhomme came next and, flying with his usual care could only manage a time of 1min 13.13s, six-tenths down. Arch blazed through with a volley of support from his travelling fans, but again picked up an incorrect-level flying penalty and slotted in behind Bonhomme. Only Chambliss could spoil Goulian’s party and most people expected him to do precisely that, having won previously above the Danube and dominated for most of the weekend. But, as Arch had pointed out after being bested in qualifying, Chambliss can’t always produce the same level of intensity on consecutive runs. So it turned out to be. He could manage only third, beating Arch, thus ensuring Bonhomme goes to Porto with a one-point lead in the championship.
Bonhomme still hasn’t finished outside the top two all season, and given his engine troubles this week it’s a great result, but there is no doubt who the happiest man in Budapest was. Green number 99, Michael Goulian – aka Mikey, aka The Dude – has finally got what he always wanted.