Courtesy of Red Bull Newsroom
Ahead of the third stop of the season in Chiba, Japan on 3-4 June, Australia’s only Red Bull Air Race pilot reveals his take on the year so far – and what fans can expect from the World Championship action with six races to go.
Matt, two races down: the first in a rented aircraft, then the debut of your brand-new Edge at the April stop in San Diego. It takes a while to customise a raceplane – what’s the latest coming into Chiba?
There have been a few changes, mostly some internal hardware parts that our race tactician Peter Wezenbeek has been working on using a 3D printer. For me personally, I have some new earplugs which should make flying the aircraft a little more comfortable! We also have some news regarding our team.
And that is…?
We had a lot of stability by having [chief technician] Eric Cieslar in our team for so many years, but it was time to move on, and we’re really excited to have Aaron Smith join the team for the foreseeable future. Aaron has a tonne of experience, and we know each other from both of us being based at Lake Macquarie Airport in Australia.
Speaking of the team, besides the refinements for your raceplane, what has Matt Hall Racing been up to since San Diego?
We have been a very busy team. I took some time off for a family vacation in Mexico, which was a nice way to unwind following an extremely busy start to the year. After coming back to Australia, I then went back to San Diego to do some corporate speaking, then jumped off a plane and into my Extra 300L for the Wings Over Illawarra Air Show in Wollongong, NSW. That was a great weekend, and our TC [team coordinator] Andrew and domestic-based Operations Manager Kate were there for that show, too. Finally, just before coming to Chiba I had a trip to Perth and then a personal favourite, the fly-in at Old Raglan!
So let’s talk about how you’re feeling regarding the season so far. You were 10th at the season opener in Abu Dhabi, which wasn’t up to your usual standard but certainly surpassed all expectations given that you were flying a rented aircraft. Then when you unveiled the new raceplane in San Diego you had some very promising runs but got nipped in the Round of 14 by Peter Podlunšek…
As a competitive person, and with our team being very driven, when you’re in the heat of competition it is obviously tough to take the results we have been getting. But when we stop and breathe, we are on track. In San Diego Peter flew extremely well, and we couldn’t beat him. That’s the way the competition works. But looking at the big picture, we were quite fast. We finished fourth in Qualifying and had the sixth-fastest time in the Round of 14. So we made some great steps forward.
Our plan for this season has always been that we need to learn and understand the new aircraft first. Fly clean laps, and by the end of the season we would like to think we will be challenging for race wins again. I think we’re on track, and we have really strong team morale heading into one of our favourite events!
The Chiba racetrack is somewhat reconfigured this year, but generally it has tended to be fairly long and open – and as you noted, your new raceplane seems fast… That sounds like a great combination. What do you anticipate for the race on 3-4 June?
The Chiba track is always a bit of a drag race, while being cautious not to over-G. Our new plane is pretty quick already, so the key for me is going to be getting to know it again in the limited time we have it available, so I get as good as possible at doing great vertical turns without getting an over-G or losing an advantage.
And what kind of season do you think it’s shaping up to be overall for fans who follow the Red Bull Air Race?
Good luck for anyone who thinks they can pick a winner! We’ve had six different pilots on the podium in two races, and plenty of others have been very quick. Some teams have more updates coming too for their aircraft. If you’re a Red Bull Air Race fan, this is a season that feels like it is building to a big crescendo. It’s exciting to be a part of, and I can imagine the fans feel that, too.
About Red Bull Air Race:
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship celebrated its landmark 75th race at the 2017 season opener in Abu Dhabi. The Red Bull Air Race World Championship features the world’s best race pilots in a pure motorsport competition that combines speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, lightweight racing planes, pilots hit speeds of 370kmh while enduring forces of up to 10G as they navigate a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter-high, air-filled pylons. In 2014, the Challenger Cup was conceived to help the next generation of pilots develop the skills needed for potential advancement to the Master Class that vies for the World Championship.