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Dolderer Wins Race and Championship, and Honors Friend

That they race airplanes against a clock and soar straight up into the air is new to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the unbridled emotion associated with rejoicing in victory is not.

Matthias Dolderer was forced to confine his initial celebration to an airplane cockpit after the ecstatic German pilot won Sunday’s inaugural Red Bull Air Race and clinched his first world championship. An on-board camera showed him repeatedly pumping his right fist and screaming, “Yeah! Hoo, hoo, hoo!” and “Yeah, baby!”

Then his reaction turned to tears.

“This is a dream come true,” Dolderer said. “This one is for Hannes. We miss you.”

Hannes Arch, a close friend and fellow series competitor, died Sept. 8 in a helicopter crash in the Austrian Alps. The 48-year-old Austrian, a runner-up in 2014 and third-place finisher last season, was still third in the points as the field of 14 competitors arrived in Indianapolis for this historic event.

Dolderer, 46, had previously spoken about the need to block out distractions and not think too much about his closest pursuer, Australian Matt Hall. But he also had to keep his emotions in check about losing his friend.

“I just wanted to remember, that he’s in our minds,” Dolderer said. “He would love to be here.”

And if he were …

“He would give me a hug and congratulate me, for sure,” he said.

Dolderer was the final pilot to fly of the four finalists. He knew, with a 16.5-point lead, that just defeating Australia’s Matt Hall would lock up the title. Hall incurred an early three-second penalty when his wing clipped a gate pylon, which ultimately proved to be the difference. Dolderer’s winning time on the 1.85-mile infield layout was 1 minute, 3.335 seconds, whereas Hall had to settle for fourth at 1:06.623 seconds. 

“I heard his time and I didn’t even know he had hit the pylon before,” Dolderer said of Hall. “So then my question was to myself, which I had to answer very quickly, ‘How do I do this now? Should I go for a safe run and place second or third?’ I didn’t know the times from the others. Then I said, ‘Ah, come on. Let’s just do it. Do it like I’ve done it before. Let’s have fun.’”

That he did. He described his conquest as if it were an out-of-body experience.

“Somehow, it’s like remote control,” he said. “I feel myself, like take myself and put myself into the plane and switch off, which didn’t work yesterday. We’ve seen anything is possible. Nothing is guaranteed.”

Dolderer had been the slowest of 14 qualifiers after the first round of Saturday runs, but improved to fourth after his second try. On Race Day, he started off by defeating France’s Nicolas Ivanoff in the first round. His next opponent was No. 1 qualifier Yoshihide Muroya of Japan. Muroya went out first and put up an impressive time of 1:03.730, the best run of anyone this day except Dolderer, who came in at 1:02.827 to advance to the final four.

Nigel Lamb, a 2014 series champion from Great Britain, also qualified for the final four, along with Hall and Canadian Pete McLeod. McLeod advanced on a second chance after losing in the round of 14 to American Kirby Chambliss, who was disqualified for exceeding the rpm regulation. Lamb finished second at 1:04.326, while McLeod was third at 1:05.398.

“To bring that spectacle and that competition to a place steeped in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s a privilege,” said Lamb, 50. “It’s a great setting and I think we had a very good reception from the crowd. I really, really hope that a lot of the crowd will take away some special memories and become followers and really enjoy following the sport.”

The second place was his best result of the year, but Lamb plans to retire after the season finale in two weeks at Las Vegas, so he thought Indianapolis would be a perfect highlight at the end of his career.

“I have to be honest, I’m a tad disappointed because I really wanted to win here,” he said. “I wanted to be the guy who was the first one to win in our sport at the Speedway, with all its history, the Wright Brothers were here and Eddie Rickenbacker. It’s amazing. I’d love to be the one, but I was outflown by Matthias.”

Dolderer’s cockpit comments eventually included gratitude.

“Thanks, Indianapolis. Thanks, everyone for making this possible,” he said. “Thanks to my family, and thanks to the best team in the world.”

When it was time for the podium celebration, the winner draped himself in a German flag, his country’s national anthem played on the public address system, and then Lamb and McLeod sprayed him in a champagne bath.

His special day eventually brought the champion to the famed Yard of Bricks, where he upheld an Indianapolis Motor Speedway tradition by kissing the bricks. 

“I’m super happy I made it here,” Dolderer said.

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