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American Goulian Soars to Red Bull Air Race Points Lead with Stirring Victory at IMS

Michael Goulian of the United States scored an emotional victory in home skies Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking the Master Class points lead in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship with one race remaining this season.

Goulian, from Winthrop, Massachusetts, posted the quickest time in the Final 4, 1 minute, 6.208 seconds. It was his second win of the season, as he also won the season opener in Abu Dhabi. He flew to victory at IMS after qualifying a disappointing eighth Saturday in the 14-pilot Master Class field.

“Right now the season doesn’t even mean anything to me here at Indy – to win at Indy is amazing,” Goulian said after the race while tears welled in his eyes and his voice choked with emotion. “It’s a good day. After qualifying, I knew where the issue was, but I wasn’t super-confident that I could fix it. It was all in that VTM (Vertical Turn Maneuver). Sometimes the day just works out for you, and today did.”

Goulian also seized the points lead from Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic with his third career victory. Goulian tops the elite Master Class standings with 70 points as he seeks his first World Championship. Sonka is second with 65, with Matt Hall of Australia third with 63. The season finale is Nov. 17-18 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Pete McLeod of Canada finished second with a run of 1:06.736, .528 of a second behind Goulian. Nicolas Ivanoff of France finished third at 1:06.951 in his first Final 4 appearance of the season. Master Class rookie Ben Murphy of Great Britain was fourth at 1:07.863 in the first Final 4 flight of his career.

Goulian’s victory looked unlikely during the opening Round of 14. He faced McLeod, who turned in a run of 1:04.223, the quickest flight of the day. Goulian was slower at 1:05.182, but the quickest loser in the Round of 14 advances to the Round of 8.

So Goulian was forced to watch and hope in his hangar during the final two heats of the Round of 14, hoping his time would hold up.

Heat 6 loser Petr Kopfstein was timed at 1:07.902, so Goulian’s fate hung on the final heat between two-time World Champion Kirby Chambliss of the United States and Sonka.

Chambliss, from Tucson, Arizona, started the heat with a run of 1:05.140 – quicker than Goulian. So all eyes were on Sonka, who entered this race on peak form with a series record-tying three consecutive victories and was the top qualifier Saturday.

Sonka managed only a time of 1:06.463 and was eliminated in the opening round, giving Goulian a pass to the Round of 8 as the quickest loser.

“We’ll look at the data and review the settings,” Sonka said. “I don’t know what went wrong.”

Sonka wasn’t the only upset victim in the opening Round of 14. The winners of the first two Red Bull Air Races at IMS and the last two World Champions, Yoshihide Muroya (2017) and Matthias Dolderer (2016), also lost due to penalties during their respective runs.

Goulian flew a run of 1:06.489 in the Round of 8 to easily dismiss Cristian Bolton of Chile, who could only manage 1:07.888. Goulian’s prospects improved even more later in the Round of 8 when title contender Hall lost to McLeod after incurring a three-second penalty for hitting an Air Pylon.

Then came the pressure and drama of the Final 4.

Goulian lost in the opening Round of 14 at the last event, Sept. 15-16 at Wiener Neustadt, Austria, and scored zero points with his only finish outside of the Final 4 this season. So Goulian Aerosports team manager Pablo Branco offered Goulian final advice that exorcised any demons from that Austrian race and paid dividends and helped Goulian become the first American to win a home race since Chambliss in 2008 at Detroit.

“Pablo stuck his head in the canopy and said don’t go crazy – just be good,” Goulian said. “It was a great day. It’s great to be here. Weiner Neustadt was an outlier, just like this place was for Martin and Matt. Everybody will be here full steam ahead at Dallas, and I think it’s what everybody wants to see is a fight for the championship, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Florian Berger of Germany edged American Kevin Coleman to win the Challenger Class race.

Two-time reigning Challenger Class champion Berger earned his second victory of the season and seventh of his career. The win also vaulted Berger into the class lead with 28 points despite competing in just three races this season.

Berger was the fifth of seven pilots to fly in the Challenger Class race, producing a track-record time of 1:09.397. That was 1.6 seconds quicker than his run of 1:10.945 during qualifying Saturday, good for the No. 2 spot.

“I can’t believe it,” Berger said. “It’s so much fun to win here, to fly here. It was very close. I just wanted to be safe and be quick.”

Berger’s dramatic run spoiled a chance for a home victory for Coleman. Louisiana native Coleman flew second, producing a time of 1:09.660. That was a stunning turnaround from Saturday, when Coleman qualified last at 1:13.896 after being slowed by four seconds of penalties.

Top qualifier Patrick Davidson of South Africa ended up third Sunday at 1:09.695, as just .298 of a second separated the top three pilots.

The top six pilots in the standings will race for the Challenger Class title at the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway – Berger (28 points), Kenny Chiang of Hong Kong (26), Luke Czepiela of Poland (26), Coleman (24), Baptiste Vignes of France (24) and Daniel Ryfa of Sweden (20).

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