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Muroya Wins Red Bull Air Race, World Championship in Dramatic Day at IMS

Yoshihide Muroya of Japan flew to his first Red Bull Air Race World Championship in dramatic style Sunday, winning the season-ending event with a track-record run in the final round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Muroya erased the four-point lead that Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic held entering this event to edge Sonka, 74-70, in the final standings. Muroya, 44, become the first Japanese champion in the world’s most prestigious aerobatic racing series.

“Let’s go have the biggest party tonight,” Muroya said.

The win and title were secured when Muroya blistered the course featuring 19 inflatable Air Gate pylons over the IMS infield with a track-record run of 1 minute, 3.026 seconds in the final round. The incredible run came despite challenging conditions with winds reaching 20 mph.

Muroya’s winning run in the Final 4 was 1.531 seconds quicker than his victorious run just minutes before in the previous round, the Round of 8.

“Fans, teams and families were pushing me really hard,” Muroya said. “I can’t believe I went that fast. I can’t believe it, but we were aiming to be World Champion.”

Muroya rallied for the title before a crowd of family and friends that included 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil winner and compatriot Takuma Sato after qualifying a disappointing 11th in the field of 14 Master Class pilots Saturday.

“Yesterday I was thinking a little bit too much about the World Championship,” Muroya said. “Today I just forgot about it and thought about each flight, the forecast, and that (final round) race made it happen.”

2016 World Champion and Indianapolis winner Matthias Dolderer of Germany finished second Sunday at 1:05.546, a staggering 2.520 seconds behind Muroya’s magical run in an ultra-competitive series in which victory sometimes is decided by thousandths of a second.

Juan Velarde of Spain ended up third after his run of 1:05.829 in the Final 4. Sonka placed fourth after his disappointing run of 1:07.280 in the Final 4.

The other two contenders for the World Championship entering this event, Pete McLeod of Canada and Kirby Chambliss of the United States, were eliminated in the opening Round of 14.

McLeod’s chance at a title disappeared when he suffered a three-second penalty for hitting the Air Gate at the finish line. Chambliss’ chances for a third career title evaporated when he hit an Air Gate on the final lap, incurring a three-second penalty.

“My team performed great,” Chambliss said. “My plane was running good. It was all on me. I made a mistake out there. I was trying to be super-aggressive to put down a fast time.”

The early exits of McLeod and Chambliss were part of a dramatic Round of 14. The biggest showdown of the opening round came between Sonka and Muroya, the leading protagonists in the world title fight.

Muroya recorded an opening run of 1:06.134, including a two-second penalty for incorrect level flying through Gate 4. That opened the door for Sonka, but he finished at 1:07.866, including a three-second penalty for hitting Air Gate No. 16.

That result vaulted Muroya into the Round of 8. Meanwhile, Sonka had to nervously watch the timing monitors for the final three heats of the opening round, hoping his time would stand as the fastest losing run of the opening round, which earns a spot as the No. 8 seed in the Round of 8.

Sonka’s time held up, and he moved on.

Muroya dusted off Mikael Brageot of France by 2.569 seconds in the Round of 8, grabbing one of the Final 4 spots. Sonka earned a boarding pass to the Final 4 by beating top qualifier Matt Hall of Australia in the Round of 8.

Melanie Astles of France made history by becoming the first woman to win a major race at IMS when she was awarded the victory in the Challenger Class. She also is the first female winner in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

Midday rain and low cloud cover forced series officials to cancel the Challenger Class race, and Astles was awarded the victory due to being the fastest qualifier Saturday, per series rules.

Astles also made history Saturday by becoming the first female top qualifier in the series and for a major event at IMS. Her qualifying run marked a strong recovery from the earlier final practice, in which she was last due to a two-second penalty for climbing in an Air Gate.

Florian Berger of Germany clinched his second consecutive season title in the Challenger Class.


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