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Muroya wins Red Bull opener by inches

Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya made the most of his first opportunity to collect 2019 Red Bull Air Race World Championship points, edging out defending champion Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic by 0.003 seconds in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. American Michael Goulian took third place.

Muroya, the 2017 title winner, set the bar high in the final round, posting a 53.780-second run despite the extra challenge of winds that had shifted about 180 degrees from what the racers had practiced and qualified in. Goulian, who reached the finals with a little help from some timely advice from his strategist Pablo Branco, managed a clean run that looked to be a winner, but a slower second trip through the course marked by inflatable pylons left him 0.229 seconds off the lead.

Šonka, aiming to defend his 2018 championship, wound up three-thousandths of a second behind Muroya. To put that in perspective, the listed top speed of the Red Bull airplanes is 230 knots, or 425.97 kilometers per hour. At that velocity, the airplane travels about 14 inches every 0.003 seconds, so Muroya’s margin of victory, in distance, amounted more or less to the length of a prop spinner. Goulian trailed about 88 feet behind that, but close enough to depart Abu Dhabi with 21 championship points in his pocket, including one gained for qualifying third-fastest under the new points rules implemented for this season.

“I really haven’t figured out the points system yet too much,” Goulian said in a post-race video interview with Red Bull. “Any podium, it’s almost like a win… you can never take these for granted.”

Goulian said that the wind shift had caused some trouble for pilots who took the course before him on Feb. 9, and he might have made the same mistakes but for Branco, who alerted him just before engine start that Gate 7 was proving particularly problematic. That word to the wise helped him avoid a similar fate. Penalties, imposed for exceeding G limits or deviating from straight-and-level, add two seconds or more, often enough to end a race day. Goulian said that the last-minute briefing prompted him to adjust his approach to the course, and probably saved the day.

“That was a team thing, because I wouldn’t have done that,” Goulian said.

Kirby Chambliss, a past Red Bull champion hoping to return to the top of the standings this year, said after the race he was surprised by the gate penalty that cost him the Round of 8 matchup against Nicolas Ivanoff of France and sent him off to the next race with 11 championship points.

Chambliss, in a post-race video interview, said his primary objective going into the heat was to fly a clean run, and, “I really thought I had done that… from my side I didn’t see that.”

Chambliss acknowledged the wind shift on race day posed a challenge, but he thought he had that well in hand.

“I didn’t have any trouble with the conditions at all,” Chambliss said. “I was, frankly, really surprised with the penalty I got.”

The date for the next race remains to be announced, one of two races on the 2019 calendar with details still to be firmed up. One date that is inked in is for the only race of the year on U.S. soil, which will be held Oct. 19 and 20 in Indianapolis. AOPA is working with Red Bull to create some unique opportunities there, as well as other aviation events during the course of the year. Details about what’s in store are still being finalized.

Goulian expects to be in contention by the time the teams converge on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Last year we hoped to be good. This year we expect to be good,” Goulian said Feb. 9.

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