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Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #3: Bro-mance Helps Yoshi Fly to World Title

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2017 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For pure drama, it was hard in 2017 at IMS to top Yoshihide Muroya’s flight to victory in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in October.

Japanese pilot Muroya entered the final event of the 2017 season for the world’s most prestigious aerobatic racing series four points behind leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic.

Muroya faced a steep climb to make the Final 4 of the event on Race Day after qualifying a disappointing 11th. Strong winds and a rain delay also frayed the nerves of Muroya and his rivals on Race Day.

The start of the race didn’t look good for Muroya. He faced title rival Sonka in the opening Round of 14 and produced a sub-par flight of the course that included a two-second penalty for incorrect level flying. But Sonka fared even worse on his run, with a three-second penalty for hitting an Air Gate.

That unlikely result launched Muroya into the Round of 8, with Sonka only making that round as the quickest among the seven losing pilots in the first round.

Muroya dusted off Mikael Brageot of France by 2.569 seconds in the Round of 8, grabbing one of the Final 4 spots. Sonka also made the Final 4 after beating top qualifier Matt Hall.

The drama ratcheted to vein-bursting levels as each pilot made their runs during the Final 4. Sonka produced a disappointing run of 1 minute, 7.280 seconds. Meanwhile, reigning World Champion and 2016 Indianapolis winner Matthias Dolderer produced a strong run of 1:05.546 in swirling wind gusts of 20 mph.

Muroya needed the flight of his life to overtake Dolderer and win the event and World Championship. He delivered – inspired by his new friend, 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.

Sato and Muroya met for the first time the day before in the hangars as Sato visited to support his countryman and witness the unique thrills of Red Bull Air Race, during which pilots skim just 50 feet off the ground at speeds reaching 230 mph while pulling forces of up to 10 G’s through a series of inflatable pylons set up over the IMS infield.

The quiet Muroya and ebullient Sato became fast friends, united by heritage and a shared love of competition and speed.

So when Muroya took off from the IMS infield for his final flight, Sato stood outside Muroya’s hangar, seized by anticipation and tension as much as any member of Muroya’s crew.

Muroya produced a run for the ages, flying to a track record of 1:03.026 to win the race and become the first Japanese pilot to win the World Championship.

The run was astonishing, 1.531 seconds quicker than Muroya’s victorious run in the Round of 8 just minutes before and a staggering 2.520 seconds behind race runner-up Dolderer. Remember, this is an ultra-competitive series in which races often are decided by thousandths of a second.

One of the first people to greet the victorious Muroya after his victory was his new pal, Sato. The two posed together for victory photos on the Yard of Bricks, and Sato played journalist in the post-race press conference and asked Muroya a light-hearted question from the floor, much to the delight of the global media covering the event on site.

This surreal Race Day was like a buddy movie that came to life in the skies over IMS, made even more remarkable and memorable because Muroya and Sato just met a day earlier.

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Yoshi Muroya and Takuma Sato
 
Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #3: Bro-mance Helps Yoshi Fly to World Title
Sato and Muroya met for the first time the day before in the hangars as Sato visited to support his countryman and witness the unique thrills of Red Bull Air Race, during which pilots skim just 50 feet off the ground at speeds reaching 230 mph while pulling forces of up to 10 G’s through a series of inflatable pylons set up over the IMS infield.
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