Fort Worth to decide Red Bull Air Race World Championship on 17-18 November
The season finale of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship will be celebrated in motorsport-loving Fort Worth, USA for the first time on 17-18 November 2018, with the raceplanes flying at 370 kmh/230 mph in front of the Texas Motor Speedway grandstands. For the three pilots still fighting for the title – including a home US hero at the head of the leaderboard – this one will be all or nothing.
The stakes could not be higher. After battling over land and sea across three continents since the season opener in February, only seven points separate the USA’s Michael Goulian, the Czech Republic’s Martin Šonka and Australia’s Matt Hall at the top of the overall standings. When the confetti rains down on the World Championship podium in Fort Worth, one of them will have clinched the title for the first time.
Something special is brewing in the elite ranks of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Over the past two seasons, a pair of newcomers – Mika Brageot of France and Ben Murphy of Great Britain – have rocketed to success at unprecedented speed during their respective rookie seasons. These former members of the Challenger Class are already taking the fight to the top contenders, and they could be creating a next-generation rivalry.
A champion aerobatic pilot, Brageot was a member of the second competition category of the Red Bull Air Race for two seasons, then took part in the sport’s Master Mentoring Program, where he was coached by 2014 World Champion Nigel Lamb. When the British pilot retired, Brageot burst onto the World Championship scene in Lamb’s former raceplane. With Lamb’s former team as his own, they collected 24 points and made the Round of 8 four times across 2017 – a record for a rookie in the Master Class. This year, he and his #11RACING team have taken their game even higher, with their first race podium and a current position (heading in to the final race of the season) of fourth place overall. “The trick is work,” says the 31-year-old. “Personal work, team work. Add that together with a super-strong motivation and a fantastic team spirit, and I go for the best flights I can achieve!”
Murphy, meanwhile, is a former Team Leader of the Royal Air Force aerobatic team “The Red Arrows.” He also spent two seasons in the Challenger Class before kicking off his World Championship career with the Blades Racing Team at the 2018 opener. As the season finale approaches, Murphy is eighth in the standings, with 22 points and four finishes in the top eight, including his maiden appearance in the Final Four just weeks ago in Indianapolis. The British pilot comments, “We’re only just getting started... We were never going to be fully ‘dialed in’ in our rookie season, and the fact that we have picked up some great results is testament to the hard work everybody has put in and how well we have gelled as a new team.”
Steve Jones, Race Director of the Red Bull Air Race, coaches Challenger Class pilots and has witnessed the rapid rise of Brageot and Murphy. While noting that both pilots showed their abilities right from the start, he too emphasizes the importance of the team factor, saying: “Scoring World Championship points requires vastly more than just great piloting skill. Mika and Ben have both demonstrated that they also have the ability to surround themselves with top team members. It is the team ‘package’ that is vital to success. Pilot skill, team member ability and aircraft performance. If any one of these things is not top-class, the pilot will not succeed.”
Jones additionally points out the value of the newcomers’ strong aviation backgrounds before concluding, “It is really great to see our new Master Class pilots getting themselves noticed and ruffling a few feathers among the more established competitors!”
In an interesting twist, there are many threads that link the two new teams, and Murphy’s tactician, Neil Furness, actually worked for Brageot last season, supporting the French pilot’s tactician Max Lamb. “[Neil and I] worked in the hangar together as the team transitioned from my dad to Mika,” explains Max Lamb (son of former World Champion, Nigel Lamb). “When the opportunity came for Neil to take charge of the role with The Blades, our processes were pitched against each other, and I know we both took the opportunity to step up our game!” He adds, “With so much shared knowledge, professional and personal history, the Blades are a permanent member of my critical rivals for sure.”
Along with big results come big expectations, and although a number of former Challenger Class pilots now dazzle fans (and foes) in the World Championship, for Brageot and Murphy, that pressure has ramped up faster than usual. “It’s been fun to be the troublemaker when people haven’t been expecting it,” Brageot claims. “We take one thing at a time, and try not to be affected by external pressures. We know what we have to do, and as a team, we pull together. Sometimes the stars don’t align, but you gather your thoughts, learn from mistakes and come back stronger. I hope 2019 will be an even better year for us!”
Murphy confides that his mindset for 2019 is: “Keep learning, keep developing, keep pushing. Keep humble. We need to mature our processes … and we still have a lot of work to do in understanding the aerodynamic characteristics of our individual raceplane. Most importantly, though, we plan to keep on enjoying it! The opportunity to race in such an exciting World Championship series is amazing, and to be a part of a growing and dynamic motorsport is truly an honor. We hope to give our fans and sponsors another successful year next year – but, first, we have the final race of 2018!”
See Ben Murphy and Mika Brageot in the Red Bull Air Race season finale at Texas Motor Speedway on 17-18 November 2018