The Air Racing rivalry that keeps on giving: Muroya vs. Šonka

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 nine times. 

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 since.

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.

Fans 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). 

By 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.

And 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.

From there 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. 

However, a 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

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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