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Back to the Roots | Red Bull Air Race Pilots Recall First Race


The Red Bull Air Race World Championship is competing this weekend in Austria, site of the very first event in the world’s most prestigious aerobatic racing series 15 years. So it’s a perfect time to ask the 14 pilots in the elite Master Class to share their memories of their first event in the Red Bull Air Race.

All of these pilots and those flying in the Challenger Class will compete in the Red Bull Air Race on Oct. 6-7 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

NBCSN will televise a two-hour highlight show of this weekend’s Austrian round from 7-9 p.m. (ET) Monday, Sept. 17.

Kirby Chambliss, USA
First race: 2003, Tokol, Hungary

“I just remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, this is crazy!’ Back then at the very beginning there were no rules, you could do whatever you wanted – fly as fast as you wanted, pull as many Gs as you could handle. I returned home and remember telling my wife, ‘That was absolutely crazy, but what a super-cool experience!’ We brought home the third-place trophy, and from then on I was hooked.”

Michael Goulian, USA
First race: 2004, Reno, USA (Demo race)

“My first Red Bull Air Race was in 2004 when we did a demo race in Reno. All I can remember was how spectacular it was. We practiced very early in the morning as the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon. The cool and crisp desert air felt so good as the airplane started to
accelerate down a dark runway and into the tops of the pylons, which were just starting to see the light of the day. Quite a memory.”

Cristian Bolton, Chile
First race: 2016, Indianapolis

“It was an absolutely incredible weekend for me since I was reaching a goal that I set way before in 2014 when I started my career in the Challenger Class. It was a moment of joy, adrenaline and, of course, happiness to be part of the 14 top pilots in the world and sharing the same track and competing against them. I remember the first time I flew the track, everything was so fast with tight turns, no room to make mistakes, tons of Gs and the race plane asking me to get more and more speed. It was a moment where so many elements gathered in correct harmony and balance. And, of course, I have to thank Dianne Louwrens and Nigel Dickinson, who believed in this new project and supported the all idea behind building a new team.”

Nicolas Ivanoff, France
First race: 2004, Budapest, Hungary

“My first recollection was actually participating in a training camp at Tokol, Hungary, in 2003. It’s a huge memory. I thought the planes would fly in a circle, but it was more like a slalom. I was impressed how low we were flying, and the pylons came up so fast. They were not a cone shape – they were straight and had cables to hold them upright. I wanted to be very careful not to hit one, because it was not my plane and I didn’t want to leave marks on it! At first, I thought I would never be able to do it, but I got better and better. It was the very beginning of everything, and I will never forget it. In 2004 I officially raced in Budapest, and then from 2005 on I have been at every race.

Matthias Dolderer, Germany
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“It was the fulfillment of a dream. The emotions we had, the four of us who came in new – together with me it was Pete McLeod, Yoshi Muroya and Matt Hall. It was amazing, and, of course, it was different than today when you have the Challenger Class. We had like five days of track time in Spain before, and then a new plane and a new team and we showed up in Abu Dhabi a few weeks later. So we were all super-excited, and I think the four of us, we brought a new drive and a new push and a lot of new things to Red Bull Air Race at that time. Thinking back, it was totally different than today, but still the same fun and a lot of the same procedures. Today, our toolbox is the only thing our team has that’s the same as in 2009, and the tools, of course. Still there going strong.”

Matt Hall, Australia
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“I was nervous going into my first race, as I had no idea how I would stack up against the rest of the field as the new guy. During training we were running quite well, though what I noticed was that I was not making many mistakes, and others were. I was not sure if people were trying hard until Race Day, so when I ended up coming fifth, it was a great relief to know we were competitive right out of the blocks.”

Pete McLeod, Canada
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi

“Abu Dhabi – what a place for a Canadian kid to make a debut! The ultra-modern towers and skyline, the blazing heat (for a Canadian in winter), the Middle Eastern culture. Let’s not forget the ‘good ol’ days’ of surviving wild racetracks and challenging runways on the Corniche as a rookie. The entire experience is one, as a 25-year-old kid from a small town in Canada, I will never forget!”

Yoshihide Muroya, Japan
First race: 2009, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“It was challenging. There was no Challenger Class in those days, so we jumped straight into the Master Class. The training camp just prior to the race was mostly canceled due to bad weather conditions. Then in my round in the race, a pylon was down due to mechanical issue, and I was told to KIO (knock it off) and finish racing. So a hard start.”

Martin Šonka, Czech Republic
First race: 2010, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“I remember this day as if it was yesterday. I dreamed about this for a long time, since I had been following the championship from the beginning as a fan … and that daydream came true. I arrived for the first time at the Race Airport, and there was a hangar with my name on it – it’s an unforgettable moment. It was a big honor for me to become part of this incredibly beautiful sport along with all the legends.”

François Le Vot, France
First race: 2015, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“My strongest memory was related to the run-in when it was late afternoon. The light and environment were totally surrealistic. The sun was right in the pilot's face when at the Start Gate, and I remember telling myself once or twice that the run will probably look like a challenging flight of a spaceship on another remote and unknown planet.”

Juan Velarde, Spain
First race: 2015, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“Every time I look back, I get a huge smile on my face. Looking at how complex our team is now – all the members, tools, equipment, experience – it's hard to think how we could even take off the first time. We had just three people: Ted Reynolds, Anselmo Gámez and I. Everything was new for us, and huge! We didn't have any tools to analyze the tracks or telemetry or anything! Even so, we were just two seconds slower than the fastest teams. I'm amazed we could do the season, attend all the meetings, practices, races ... all with only the three of us! One year later we had narrowed the gap to only half a second. Even with all the challenges, it was amazing seeing ourselves there, at that level of flying, surrounded by the best pilots in the world. It was a huge jump forward in our sports careers. I remember Anselmo and I elbowing each other, saying, ‘Do you realize where we are?’ Unbelievable.”

Petr Kopfstein, Czech Republic
First race: 2016, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“I remember my first race in the Master Class as if it was yesterday! Flying into the Abu Dhabi track in our newly upgraded Edge 540 V3 was definitely a dream come true. Having my own team behind me and switching from the (Challenger Class) Extra to the Edge was a whole different feeling!”

Mika Brageot, France
First race: 2017, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“The feeling of being part of the group of pilots I had been following for years! In a fraction of a second while going through the Start Gate, I was one of them. It's really at this exact moment that you're in the game, which is fully realized after the Finish Gate! From a team perspective, it's a huge pleasure to get aligned for a race with a team you trust, and for the first time we had to go all together through our first week of racing. Even if we'd already had some projects together, the first official race week was like a first day at school! Amazing and unforgettable. And finally there was the after-race feeling, when you just can't stop thinking and dreaming about the next … Still today, it's a non-stop living dream! I'm lucky to have the strong and infinite family support that this sport requires.”

Ben Murphy, Great Britain
First race: 2018, Abu Dhabi, UAE

“I’m sure every pilot’s first Master Class race sticks in their memory; mine in Abu Dhabi was no exception! It was a mix of feelings – pressure of our first race, a new race plane that I had very little time in and a new team that hadn’t worked together before. And the spotlight was firmly on us as the new team. But I also had a sense of calm and confidence – we had done the prep, we weren’t fazed by the occasion, and we just did our job. Our sixth-place result in our first race was testament to doing that job well. But the overriding memory was enjoying it! We were racing in the most exciting motorsport there is against the best pilots in the world – nothing can beat the thrill of that competition. I’ll never forget that first ‘taste’ – and I’m hungry for more.”

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