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Chambliss Already Dreaming of Winning Third Red Bull Air Race Title at IMS

Kirby Chambliss can’t help but envision what it would be like to celebrate a third world championship with a victory Sunday in the Red Bull Air Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chambliss, the 57-year-old pilot from Corpus Christi, Texas, has won the title twice before, in 2004 and 2006. He enters this season finale fourth in the standings, 11 points behind leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic.

As much as he reminds himself to stay focused, Chambliss still sounds a bit giddy about the chance to be crowned a champion once again.

“It would be something else,” Chambliss said Thursday at IMS. “It’s something that I’ve thought about. I try not to think about all that. I try to push all that out and act like it’s just another race, but for sure, it’s special.”

The reality is this 82nd event in series history isn’t just another race at a venue known for a different kind of racing, hallowed ground that Red Bull Air Race General Manager Erich Wolf referred to as the “Holy Grail of motorsports.”

Granted, there are similarities between airplanes and Indy cars. Both travel at speeds of 230 mph. Winners often are decided by fractions of a second. Pilots must withstand 10 Gs of force in an inverted vertical turning maneuver whereas Indy car drivers endure as much as 6 Gs.

What’s unique is these planes navigate through 82-foot-high Air Gates, or inflatable pylons, on a course situated on the infield of the Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval. They take off from a standing start and are timed in three-lap runs, always flying solo against the clock. Penalties are assessed for missing a gate or, even worse yet, clipping one of the pylons. The winner is determined after a series of heats, seeded based on qualifying times, before the final four fly once more to decide a winner. The quickest pilot in each heat is the winner, with the race winner the quickest among the final four.

The race format is easy to comprehend, even for fans who never have flown an airplane.

“I can enjoy figure skating, and I don’t do it either,” Chambliss said.

“The cool thing about it is this is a racing town, and it is a race. It’s not an air show. It’s a race. It’s pretty simple to understand. The guy that gets through there the fastest without having any penalties is the guy who is going to win the race.”

IMS President Doug Boles reminded the crowd gathered for the pre-race press conference that the track’s history hasn’t always been about racing cars. The first event at IMS was a balloon race in 1909. An aviation meet the next year included the famous Wright Brothers, who made exhibition flights.

Ray Harroun, the first Indy 500 winner in 1911, was also a pilot. He built two planes on his own and seriously considered teaching flying at Culver Military School.

“Airplane racing is in our DNA,” Boles said.

Added Wolf, “There’s a mix of history, and we want to add some more history.”

Germany’s Matthias Dolderer clinched his first championship in the inaugural Red Bull Air Race at IMS last year. This time, he’s eighth in the points and not in the hunt to repeat.

Sonka, Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya and Canada’s Pete McLeod are ahead of Chambliss in pursuit of the crown. Whereas Chambliss has won before, the other three are trying to become champions for the first time.

Sonka leads Muroya by four points and McLeod by seven, with Chambliss 11 back. A race winner is awarded 15 points, the runner-up 12, third place nine, fourth place seven and fifth place six.

Chambliss concedes he’ll need some help to add to his legacy with a third series championship.

“Some guys have got to make mistakes, but I’ve seen it before,” he said. “All I can do is control what I can control. I’m just going to try to win the race. Maybe if a guy trips, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think Martin would probably have to miss the round of eight.

“I try not to get balled up in all of the numbers. I just try to win the races. If you win enough races, they give you enough points and at the end, they say: ‘Guess what? You’re World Champion.’ I’ve done it twice. It wouldn’t surprise me if I could do it a third time.”

Visit 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

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Kirby Chambliss
Chambliss Already Dreaming of Winning Third Red Bull Air Race Title at IMS
Chambliss, the 57-year-old pilot from Corpus Christi, Texas, has won the title twice before, in 2004 and 2006. He enters this season finale fourth in the standings, 11 points behind leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic.
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