Courtesy of Red Bull Air Race Media Service Team
Before he had even climbed out of his cockpit to accept the winner’s trophy at the Red Bull Air Race stop in Kazan, Russia on 26 August, Czech pilot Martin Šonka was crediting his teammates for the achievement. Get to know the members of Red Bull Team Šonka, and find out what has made them back-to-back race winners who are tied for second overall with three stops remaining.
From the time Martin joined the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in 2010, his right-hand man has been his older brother, Team Coordinator Josef Šonka. Josef works to keep the pilot’s distractions to a minimum and stays on top of a range of responsibilities, from managing partnerships to liaising with the Red Bull Air Race organization, media and fans.
Josef also makes sure the team collaborates seamlessly and at top efficiency. “It takes communicating with all of them, keeping them in the comfort zone, let’s say, for us – and for them as well,” he explains. “Sometimes of course a hiccup happens, but you have to get over it and go on.”
Josef says that one of the most frequent questions he receives is whether working for a relative makes his role easier or more difficult. He answers, “I don’t know because I haven’t worked for anybody else in this way. What I would say personally is sometimes it’s better because you are closer, but sometimes it’s probably harder. It’s mainly better!”
On the technical end, Technician Lance Winter of the USA is the only non-Czech member of the team. Lance already possessed extensive experience in the Red Bull Air Race when he signed on with Martin’s crew in 2014, and he is in charge of everything from installing raceplane modifications in the off-season to setting up the Edge 540 V3 at each stop and maintaining top performance throughout race week. Red Bull Team Šonka’s Edge is widely regarded as one of the fastest raceplanes in the World Championship, but with all the teams constantly making improvements, staying ahead of the game takes continuous effort.
“We’ve been working hard,” Lance said only moments after Martin clinched victory in Kazan. “Before Budapest we changed all six cylinders, and we got a win in Budapest. So we were here in Russia, and we thought things were going to go good, but [in Qualifying] we didn’t have the results we wanted. Today, we’re on the flip side of that and we’re in first, so I’m real happy.”
Martin himself acknowledged the frustration the team had been feeling in Russia, as they finished a middling sixth in all three Free Practice sessions and then dropped to a startling 12th in Qualifying: “The week hadn’t gone as we expected, and we were struggling a lot. We were playing with different trajectories.”
Turning things around would require scouring the data to piece together the best solutions from all the flights they’d already flown in the racetrack, and time was running out.
Media/Public Relations Manager Ivan Krákora notes, “It’s not about our individual responsibilities – we need to work on things together. We didn’t know what was wrong to produce that time in Qualifying, and we had tried so many things with the settings, the airplane, and whatever. So we spent four hours in the hotel that evening, analyzing everything, simply everything. It was long, but finally it paid off. To be part of this team is a big honor.”
A crucial voice in those team collaborations is, of course, Tactician Petr Františ, an expert aviation scientist, researcher andprofessor (as well as aerobatic pilot) whose primary task is to help Martin find the best lines through the racetrack. The pair have known each other for years, and Petr too brings up the importance of teamwork and communication.
“Martin and I are friends on a personal level, but of course it’s not always easy. He is a very talented pilot who wants to win all the time, so we have to – not have an argument, but, you know, talk and discuss things.”
Frantis goes on, “For sure, it has taken lots of work for us to get where we are today. Between the races we do many tests, some development, and so on, and at this Kazan race, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday it meant working until midnight. Not just in the hangar, but analyzing everything. We get together, spend lots of time, and finally, on Sunday morning, it just clicked together. So it’s a miracle, especially after Saturday when we thought that everything was bad.”
In the end, what was the secret of that “miracle” win? The answer was in discovering the perfect line around a sweeping turn spanning gates 3 through 6 – a deceptively difficult, smooth curve that Šonka executed beautifully. “That was the key,” the pilot reported. “The victory belongs to the whole team, definitely.”
Czech fans will have the chance to see their Red Bull Team Šonka heroes close to home when the sixth stop of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship comes to Wiener Neustadt, Austria on 15-16 September 2018. For information on tickets and all the World Championship news, visit: www.redbullairrace.com
Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
20-22 April: Cannes, France
26-27 May: Chiba, Japan
23-24 June: Budapest, Hungary
25-26 August: Kazan, Russia
15-16 September: Wiener Neustadt, Austria
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
17-18 November: Fort Worth, USA
About Red Bull Air Race
Created in 2003, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship has held more than 80 races around the globe. 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 370 km/h while enduring forces of up to 12G 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.