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Top Moments of 2018 - #4: Goulian Soars to Emotional Win over Friendly Skies

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When Al Unser Jr. drove to his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1992, he famously said in a Victory Circle interview, overwhelmed with emotion, “You just don’t know what Indy means.”

Massachusetts native and resident Michael Goulian races in the sky and not on four wheels, but after his victory Oct. 7 in the Red Bull Air Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was obvious he knew what Indy meant.

Tears welled in Goulian’s eyes, and his voice choked with emotion when interviewed moments after securing the dramatic victory. The win vaulted him to the lead of the world’s most prestigious air racing series, but victory at an altar of speed where he worshipped his four-wheeled heroes from afar as a boy and man was much more than a position in a points standing list.

“Right now the season doesn’t even mean anything to me here at Indy – to win at Indy is amazing,” Goulian said. “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.”

The victory was almost as improbable as it was emotion, considering Goulian qualified eighth in the 14-pilot field Saturday and lost his first-round race Sunday.

Goulian’s victory looked unlikely during the opening Round of 14. He faced Canadian rival Pete McLeod, who turned in a run of 1 minute, 4.223 seconds, 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 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.

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, from Winthrop, Massachusetts, flew to the quickest time in the Final 4, 1:06.208. McLeod finished second with a run of 1:06.736, .528 of a second behind Goulian.

The 2018 season landed with disappointment one month later for Goulian at the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway, where Sonka overtook him to win the World Championship. But on one Sunday in October, it’s safe to say Mike Goulian understood what Indy means more than any of the thousands of people inside the facility.

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