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Sonka Keeps Cool As World Championship Showdown Looms on Race Day

Martin Sonka doesn’t even want to think about the obvious, let alone discuss it.

But there’s only so much reality he can block out. Sonka, the Master Class points-leading pilot from the Czech Republic, can claim his first World Championship with a victory in the Red Bull Air Race on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sonka insists he’s just focused on flying, not on his four-point lead on Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya entering the season finale at IMS.

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, and my team is helping me,” Sonka said of not getting caught up in the magnitude of the moment. “It’s not always very easy, but yeah, I’m trying to behave like it’s a race like any other.

“Yeah, it’s there, of course. I’m just trying to throw it away and concentrate on the flying itself.”

Sonka qualified fourth and Muroya 11th on Saturday on the 19-gate IMS course. A race winner receives 15 points, runner-up 12 points, third place nine points and fourth place seven.

That means Canadian Pete McLeod, who is seven points behind Sonka and three behind Muroya, also has a legitimate shot at winning the title. McLeod qualified fifth. Two-time American World Champion Kirby Chambliss, who has won twice this year, is 11 points back in fourth place but qualified 12th out of 14 pilots.

“The wind is going to blow, and it’s going to totally change the way we fly the track,” Chambliss said. “It will be a new day and a new race (Sunday).”

The first round of eliminations is seeded like a March Madness bracket, with the top qualifier taking on the slowest, the second qualifier against the 13th quickest and so on. That format sets up a high-stakes showdown between No. 4 qualifier Sonka and No. 11 qualifier Muroya in the first round, with both pilots’ World Championship hopes in the air.

Quickest qualifier Matt Hall is a series runner-up in each of the past two seasons. The Australian is a distant fifth in the points and can’t win the championship, but he’s been reminded about playing the role of spoiler in Sunday's early heat flights.

“I think it’s rather amusing that I’ve been thrown in the mix now,” Hall said. “They’ve all come up to me individually and asked me to knock another target out and help them on the round of four.

“In the end, I can’t do anything about that because I just get matched up against who I get matched up with and I’m going to be doing my best to fly the hardest.”

Muroya, 44, the first Asian pilot in series history, has a series-best three wins this season, including the most recent start on Sept. 17 at Lausitzring, Germany.

“This is a great location,” Muroya said. “People love their motorsports. Big chance, not small.”

His interest in flying can be traced back to watching cartoons as a kid.

“This is my life,” he said.

When Sonka was young, he built models of airplanes. He also dreamed of becoming an astronaut. That would explain why he doesn’t mind the challenge of a vertical maneuver, where the plane zooms straight up into the sky before spinning and reversing its direction in mid-air and descends toward the course.

“I like the verticals,” Sonka said. “I feel like I’m going to the moon.”

Instead of making lunar expeditions in his earlier years, he joined the Czech Air Force.

“The preparation and being used to flying low and being used to deciding in split seconds, that’s actually very similar,” said Sonka, 39.

He celebrated the first two victories of his career this season at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Porto, Portugal. Although successful, he actually concedes some “stupid” mistakes cost him points, “otherwise we would be much calmer here.”

Sonka still seems relatively calm, even when asked again about how winning a World Championship would be a dream come true.

“Yeah, of course,” he said, “but this is definitely not something I’m thinking about.”

Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship and for more information on the event weekend. Children 15 and under receive free General Admission when accompanied by an adult General Admission ticket holder.

An interactive Fan Guide for the event also is available at www.ims.com/RBARFanGuide.


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