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Muroya Wins Red Bull Air Race Season Opener by .003 over Fellow Champion Sonka

Yoshihide Muroya of Japan sent a clear message that he was ready to rebound from a tough 2018 season by winning the season-opening Red Bull Air Race World Championship event Feb. 9 by just three-thousands of a second over reigning World Champion Martin Sonka.

Muroya earned his first World Championship in 2017 with a dramatic victory at the season finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he finished a disappointing fifth, 40 points behind Sonka, in 2018.

But Muroya recorded a dream start to this season with the win at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates by just inches over Sonka, from the Czech Republic. Top qualifier Muroya covered the water-based course that hugs the famous Corniche shoreline in 53.780 seconds. Sonka, who flew last in the Final 4, fell just short at 53.783.

American Michael Goulian finished third at 54.009. Nicolas Ivanoff placed fourth after being unable to start his plane due to a fuel pump malfunction as the lead pilot in the Final 4.

Shifting winds inflicted havoc on every pilot’s flight plans on Race Day. Nine of the 14 pilots in the opening Round of 14 suffered penalties.

“Today’s race was dictated, at least in the early rounds, by how the pilots and the teams dealt with the wind shift, and I think it was not evident as to how much of a factor the wind would be,” Goulian said. “The people who flew early were getting penalties and just before I closed the canopy, my race coach, Pablo, came up to the plane and told me the conditions had changed: There was now a big tailwind into Gate 7, so we made a little correction and went through Gate 6 with the nose just slightly right of where we had been in practice and qualifying to give half of an instant of more time to get the wings level, and that made the difference.”

Kirby Chambliss of the United States finished eighth after losing to Ivanoff in the Round of 8 after incurring a penalty for climbing in a gate.

“Flying against Nicolas is never easy; he’s very capable of putting down a fast run,” Chambliss said. “My main objective was to fly clean, and quite frankly, I thought I had. I was really surprised when I heard the penalty. I’m disappointed we didn’t move forward, but we’ve got some points on the board and are ready to move up in the ranks at the second race of the season.”

Florian Berger of Germany won the Challenger Class, with Melanie Astles of France finishing .346 of a second behind in second. American Kevin Coleman rounded out the podium finishers.

American rookie Sammy Mason, 25, placed fourth in a strong debut as the youngest pilot in the history of the series.

"I grew up watching Michael Goulian and Kirby Chambliss, and thinking, ‘Man, that's what I want to do,'" Mason said. “I set up my career with an end goal of making it into the Red Bull Air Race.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will host the second-to-last race of the eight-event 2019 season, Oct. 19-20. It’s the fourth consecutive year the world’s most prestigious aerobatic racing series will compete over the infield of the Racing Capital of the World.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship is an aerial motorsport series that demands a combination of speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, high performance race planes, pilots compete in iconic locations over water and land. The high speed reaching 230 mph, low altitude of about 50 feet and extreme maneuverability required make it only accessible to the world's most exceptional pilots.

Visit IMS.com for ticket information for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship race Oct. 19-20 at IMS. Visit redbullairrace.com for more information on the series.

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