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Words From the Would-Be Red Bull Air Race Champions with Just Nine Days to Go

Four pilots will fly into the Red Bull Air Race season finale on 14-15 October with a chance to clinch the World Championship, and when it’s all over, one will fly home with the trophy. Martin Šonka (CZE), Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), Pete McLeod (CAN) and Kirby Chambliss (USA) talk about their preparation, their mindset and what it will be like to cap off the season at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

McLeod sums it up in his understated way: “There is quite a bit of excitement around the race,” he acknowledges.

After a 2016 season where Germany’s Matthias Dolderer dominated to claim the championship by the largest margin in history and with a race to spare, the frequent overall lead changes in 2017 have had fans on the edge of their seats. After seven races, Šonka holds 63 points, with 59 for Muroya, 56 for McLeod and 52 for Chambliss. The rest of the 14-man field has slipped out of the running, but any one of these four can win it all.

Game Plan

While humble as always, Muroya isn’t shy about stating his intentions. “We’ve been aiming for the championship – it’s what we’ve been envisioning since the beginning of the year,” he affirms. “The plan is just go fast and go get the win. That’s it.”

Outwardly, at least, Šonka and McLeod both seem to be taking a measured, low-key approach.

“The game plan for Indy is being focused for each flight, fly as best as possible, as fast as possible. And simply wait for the result,” Šonka states.

For his own part, McLeod says, “At Indy there’s still a mathematical chance I could win, but it’s just to go there and fly a good race – end the season on a high note.”

At 11 points back, Chambliss is the dark horse, but he’s the only pilot among the four who has previously topped the World Championship podium, and the American will also have the home advantage at Indianapolis: “Like we’ve always said, you’ve got to fly great, you’ve got to have a great team, you’ve got to have a fast airplane… but a little luck now and then helps, too. We’re going to go to Indy and we’ll try to tear it up and do what we always do – try to win races,” the pilot says with his Southwestern drawl.

Season showdown

Chambliss knows that home races also serve up distractions, with friends stopping by and media eager for interviews. He remarks, “To stay focused, I take more alone time than I do at other races. This allows me to clear my mind and prepare for my flights.”

One way that Šonka got into the right frame of mind before heading to the USA’s holy grail of motorsport was by towing gliders, which he likens to “an aviation meditation.” (One of the Czech pilot’s supporters took the activity as a good omen, commenting, “So in Indianapolis, too, everyone will stay behind you!”)

Meanwhile, Muroya and McLeod’s sendoffs were buzzing with the energy of local well-wishers, as McLeod performed for packed crowds at an airshow in London, Ontario, and Muroya flew to the States straight from conducting his “Sky Sports Classroom," where schoolkids in Fukushima got the chance to meet their hero and learn about aviation.

Motorsport Mecca

Muroya lights up like a child himself when he talks about the opportunity to fly again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, host not only of the Indianapolis 500 auto race, but also early airplane events featuring the Wright Brothers. “It’s very exciting to fly at such a historic place. We're so happy to be racing here at Indianapolis, it's an honor,” he declares.

Šonka agrees, commenting, “It's a world-famous mecca of motorsport. We are really lucky that we can compete at such places in this sport.”

McLeod points out that for him, the race in Indianapolis is “the closest thing to a home stop this season.” And it’s worth noting that the Canadian is the only pilot in the top four to have earned a podium (third place) when the Red Bull Air Race made its debut at the Indiana oval in 2016.

Even Chambliss, who has experienced more races in more locations than any pilot in the 14-man field, gets goosebumps at the prospect of laying it all on the line at Indianapolis. "I'm really excited to be going back to Indy,” he says. “It's the racing capital of the world, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway couldn't be a better place to crown the 2017 World Champion.”

See what happens: Tickets for the Red Bull Air Race season finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 14-15 October are on sale now.


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