Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service Team
The first Japanese pilot in the Red Bull Air Race, Yoshihide Muroya, and the first Czech pilot, Martin Šonka, have built a rivalry across seven seasons. This year, the 2017 World Champion from Japan and the 2018 World Champion from the Czech Republic are the top favourites.
When it comes to
one-to-one heats between Muroya and Šonka, the pilot from Japan has won
five of their six match-ups to date. And while Šonka has had 21
appearances in the Final 4 to Muroya’s 15, in the 10 instances when they
have both made that final round, Muroya has finished ahead of Šonka
But statistics don’t tell the whole story. Take
their first season together, 2010. Both were relative newcomers, but
Muroya had a year’s experience in the sport, while Šonka was a rookie.
Although Šonka finished several places below Muroya at the first stop,
by the final race the Czech rookie finished one position ahead of his
Japanese opponent. It’s been a back-and-forth battle between them ever
After a hiatus, the sport returned in 2014. At Ascot,
the pair faced each other in their first head-to-head, and Muroya came
away with a 2.990s advantage. The next year, they squared off in the
first round of the season opener, where Šonka lost out due to a penalty,
although his net time was 0.070s faster than Muroya’s. At the very next
stop in Japan, they were at it again, and once more Muroya prevailed in
their head-to-head, though he exceeded maximum G in the next round.
had to wait until the penultimate race of 2015 to see them both make
the Final 4. Under pressure in Fort Worth, each hit a pylon, but
Muroya’s run was ultimately cleaner, putting him third and Šonka fourth
behind Paul Bonhomme (GBR) and Matt Hall (AUS).
the third stop of 2016 in Chiba, Šonka and Muroya were back together in
the Final 4, and this time the pair dominated the round, with Muroya
taking his first home win by a tiny 0.105s over Šonka. However the World
Championship that year belonged to Matthias Dolderer.
then came 2017. Across the eight-race season, the overall lead changed
six times, mostly seesawing between Šonka and Muroya. At the Abu Dhabi
opener, Šonka took pole position and his career-first race win. But the
Japanese pilot turned things around in San Diego, defeating Šonka by
0.221s in a Round of 8 head-to-head and claiming his own win. At the
sixth stop in Porto they locked horns in another head-to-head, and this
time, it was Sonka’s turn to advance and win the race. At penultimate
stop of the season in Germany, Muroya won the day, but Sonka’s third
place was enough to keep him at the top of the overall standings by four
points over Muroya.
The Indianapolis finale was
heartstopping, as Šonka and Muroya went head to head in the Round of 14.
Flying first, Muroya’s championship seemed over when he incurred a
two-second penalty – but then Šonka hit a pylon for a three-second
penalty that moved Japan’s hero to the Round of 8. Still, Muroya still
couldn’t rest, because Šonka ended up advancing as the round’s fastest
loser. Eventually, they met in the Final 4. There, Muroya flew to a new
track record of 1:03.026 that Matthias Dolderer and Spain’s Juan Velarde
couldn’t match. The pressure all was on Šonka. The Czech pilot could
manage only 1:07.280, and both the race win and Asia’s first Red Bull
Air Race World Championship belonged to Muroya.
In 2018, both
pilots picked up where they left off, making it to the Final 4 at the
opener, where Muroya was second and Šonka fourth due to a technical
disqualification. At Cannes, Muroya was again in the Final 4, and Šonka
should have been there, too, but he incurred another technical DQ. The
Czech pilot clawed back with third place in Chiba, while the Japanese
ace was out in the opening round. Then, at the midpoint of the season in
Budapest, Šonka edged Muroya by 0.032s for pole position and charged to
the race victory, while Muroya languished in 11th.
the Czech hero was on a streak, winning the race in Kazan and facing
down a fierce Final 4 challenge from Muroya in Wiener Neustadt to clinch
the top stop of the podium by just 0.036. At the season finale, Šonka
confidently claimed a maiden title for the Czech Republic, while Muroya
finished fifth overall.
“Yoshi will be back next year with a vengeance, and it’ll be great to watch,” predicted three-time World Champion Paul Bonhomme. He
could not have been more right. Muroya and Šonka have intensified their
rivalry in the condensed four-race 2019 season, and they have been
one-two in the standings since the opener in the Emirates, where the duo
delivered the tightest winning margin in Red Bull Air Race history as
Muroya nipped Šonka by 0.003s.
Then, just last weekend in
Kazan, it was again Muroya topping the podium, with Šonka third.
Including points that each have won in Qualifying sessions, Muroya now
has a nine-point advantage over the Czech star.
massive 28 points is up for grabs at each of the two remaining stops. So
will it be Muroya or Šonka claiming the crown at the season finale?
Pilots like Matt Hall,
a three-time runner-up in the World Championship who at third overall
is poised and ready to strike, would tell you it’s neither one of them.
See Yoshihide Muroya, Martin Šonka, Matt Hall
and the rest of the 14-pilots-field fight for the Red Bull Air Race
World Championship at the next stop in Lake Balaton, Hungary on 13-14
July. For ticket information and all the latest, visit www.redbullairrace.com.
Red Bull Air Race 2019 Calendar
8-9 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
15-16 June: Kazan, Russia
13-14 July: Lake Balaton, Hungary
7-8 September: Chiba, Japan
About Red Bull Air Race
The Red Bull Air Race World Championship is an aerial motorsport series that demands a combination of speed, precision and skill. Using the fastest, most agile, high performance raceplanes, pilots compete in iconic locations over water and land. The high speed, low altitude and extreme manoeuvrability required make it accessible only to the world’s most exceptional pilots.
Flying just metres from the ground,
14 Master Class pilots race against the clock whilst reaching speeds of
up to 370 km/h, requiring a combination of precision and skill unmatched
in the world of aviation. Pilots must be in peak physical condition as
they endure forces up to 12G while navigating the technical racetracks
made up of air-filled pylons. The Air Race was developed in 2003 and is
accredited by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), with
more than 90 races completed across five continents. As the most
advanced aerial challenge in existence, competing in the Red Bull Air
Race World Championship is the highest accolade for elite pilots.
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