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Sonka Keeps Tight Focus after Tough Lesson Last Year at IMS

Martin Sonka is ever mindful of the lesson learned when he raced last year in the season-ending Red Bull Air Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He arrived as the points leader but lost the World Championship to Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya.

That’s why, although Sonka is leading the points again after three consecutive victories, the 40-year-old pilot from the Czech Republic is staying quite grounded entering the Red Bull Air Race today. He leads Australian Matt Hall by six points and American Michael Goulian by nine, which means there are scenarios where Sonka could clinch the title at IMS with one race remaining.

But Sonka won’t let himself think that far ahead.

“I lost it on the very last flight of the season,” he said Saturday of last year. “That experience, I think, makes us stronger. We know it doesn’t mean anything to be in the lead with one or two races before the end of the season. You can fall down. That’s why we are maybe calmer now and we can be more concentrated for the flying itself. That’s actually to our advantage, last year.”

Sonka could become the first Master Class pilot in series history to win four consecutive races. But the previous race at Austria shows just close the competitors are — the top three pilots were separated by .08 of a second.

“It’s great to win three races in a row, but there are still points on the table, and we could lose very easily,” he said. “I’m not thinking about this. I just want to fly fast.

“Now it will be more of a mental game than the pilot skills. If a pilot makes a mistake and gets a penalty, then you’re done. Who is more concentrated and focused, getting rid of all the stress, I think that guy will win.”

Sonka has surged after a slow start in which he finished fourth and eighth.

“Unfortunately at the beginning of this year, we were disqualified twice for some technical issues with our airplane,” he said. “That cost us some points that we miss now. But otherwise, I feel very good in the airplane, and the team is great and works perfect. Yeah, hopefully, we’ll manage to grab good results in these next two races.”

Like so many other aerobatic aviators, Sonka grew up with an affinity for airplanes. As a kid, he loved playing with plastic model planes.

“I’ve always been fascinated,” he said. “It’s my father’s fault. He’s a huge fan of aviation. He’s never been a pilot, but at home he has thousands of books about airplanes and World War II airplanes and pilots. I’ve always studied the books. That’s where the fascination started with the shape of the airplane and flying.”

He became a fighter pilot in the Czech Air Force and also flew supersonic jets. When he’s not involved with the Red Bull Air Race series, he’s active back home in a local aero club flying gliders on weekends.

Sonka debuted in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in 2010. He’s steadily improved through the years to become a contender. He broke through with his first two race wins in 2017.

“It’s my team,” he said. “I didn’t reach this by myself.”

He enjoys flying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“This is an amazing place,” he said. “I like flying in between the trees and over the golf course here. It’s beautiful. It’s iconic here. I’m a huge fan of actually anything that goes fast with a strong engine. It’s a pleasure and an honor to race here.”

He considers racing in the series his dream job. And Sonka admits winning a championship would be a dream come true.

But he reiterates he’s not thinking about that now.

“What I’m trying to think about is the next flight today,” he said. “And then after landing, the next flight. That’s the only strategy that works for us.”

Red Bull Air Race action continues Sunday at IMS. The Challenger Class race starts at 11:45 a.m. The Master Class Round of 14 starts at 1:05 p.m., followed by the Round of 8 at 3:05 p.m. and the Final 4 at 3:35 p.m.

Red Bull Air Race tickets are available at Children 15 and under are admitted free to general admission areas Sunday when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder.

A variety of World of Red Bull athletes will demonstrate their skills Sunday, both in the air and on the ground. Performers include Geoff Aaron (motorcycle trials riding), Aaron Colton (motorcycle street freestyle riding), Robbie Maddison (freestyle motocross with the SCSUNLIMITED team), Luke Aikins and Miles Daisher (Red Bull Air Force Skydive Team), Aaron Fitzgerald (The Flying Bulls aerobatic helicopter), Jim Peitz (aerobatic airplane) and Pal Takats (paragliding).

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