American Kirby Chambliss upset championship leader Hannes Arch on Wednesday Qualifying at the 4th round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Budapest, snatching one championship point away from the Austrian with the fastest time of the day. Australia’s rookie sensation Matt Hall got a career-best third while Arch’s main rival for the overall title, Britain’s Paul Bonhomme, fell to sixth place.
Chambliss squeezed every ounce of power out of his new engine and set a blistering pace on the 6.6 km long track set up just meters above the green waters of the Danube River in the heart of Budapest in front of an enthusiastic crowd. His time of 1:10.76 in the first of two Qualifying runs on the 17-gate race track was 0.72 seconds faster than Arch. The Austrian was disappointed not to widen his shrinking one-point lead over Bonhomme, missing out on the one point from Qualifying up for grabs. Arch has 33 points to Bonhomme’s 32 points with three races remaining.
“It was a good time today,” said Chambliss, who is back in 8th place in the championship with 14 points after a poor start to the season. He took 3rd in Windsor behind Bonhomme and Arch. “I had a really crummy engine before and now I’ve an engine that is as good as anyone else’s out here. I’ve been flying the same as before. It’s just the engine. We’ve still got more to do and we know we can pick up a few fractions of a second here and there.”
Arch, who had posted the fastest times in two of the four timed training sessions on Monday and Tuesday, struggled in Qualifying 1, picking up a 2-second penalty. He had a clean run in Q2 but it still paled compared to both Chambliss’s faster times in Q1 and Q2.
“I tried to get the one point so I’m not super happy about that,” Arch said. “But I’m happy that Paul didn’t get the point either. Considering I made two big mistakes on the track I had a pretty fast time. I know there’s potential to go faster. Kirby did only one fast time but he’s not very consistent. I don’t think he can fly that fast again. And if he does, I can beat him.” Chambliss, who is always up for a challenge, undoubtably is bemused by Arch's confidence.
Arch was understandably cheered by Bonhomme’s struggles. The British ace, who won the last race in Windsor, suffered an unusually poor first run, picking up a pair of two-second penalties. Under pressure of facing relegation to the Wild Card, Bonhomme managed to post a better and moved up from 15th place to 6th with a time of 1:12.80 – more than 2 seconds behind Chambliss.
Rookie Matthias Dolderer from Germany also had a career-best performance in Qualifying, getting 4th place and an automatic berth in Thursday’s top 10.