Salzburg, (Austria) – The battle for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship will be wide open in 2016, and joining the fray at the eight stops across seven countries will be two pilots who distinguished themselves in the Challenger Class: Peter Podlunsek of Slovenia and Petr Kopfstein Peter Podlunsek of the Czech Republic.
The newcomers are flying into a World Championship that will be more unpredictable than ever, thanks to technical innovations, two new locations and the retirement of two of the most successful pilots in the sport’s history, Hungary’s Peter Besenyei and 2015 World Champion Paul Bonhomme of the UK – whose departure opens up the top of the leaderboard for the Master Class field comprising 14 of the world’s best pilots.
The Challenger Cup, an element of the Red Bull Air Race introduced in 2014 to give the next generation of pilots the chance to develop skills in maneuvering through aerial racetracks at high speed and low altitude, has produced four Master Class pilots to date. Kopfstein, who won the Czech National Aerobatic Championship in four categories as well as international prizes, was also the Challenger Cup champion in 2014. Over two seasons he amassed seven podiums, and his exceptional overall performance in all areas during that period earned him the coveted Unrestricted Superlicense and invitation to join the Master Class.
“It is a great honor to become part of the unique group of aviators in the Master Class. The first year will be a season of learning, testing and tuning, but all of us on my team want to do it quickly and become competitive as soon as possible,” Kopfstein states. “While we have high ambitions, it will be a tough and challenging season.”
Also earning his invitation after two seasons of Challenger Class experience was Podlunsek, the top aerobatic pilot in Slovenia and the first Slovenian pilot in the Master Class. The eight-time National Aerobatic Champion, who has claimed numerous international podiums, was runner-up for the 2015 Challenger Cup Championship and clinched four Challenger Class race podiums.
Podlunsek says, “Joining the Master Class is a dream come true. As we start from zero, my teammates and I will first have to see how we function together as a team and eventually become the best we can be. Our strategy is flying safe and smart.”
Australia’s Matt Hall has been contending in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship since 2009, when he achieved the best-ever placement of any first-season pilot: third overall. Now coming into the 2016 season as the highest-ranked Master Class pilot, Hall remembers that it was “a milestone” in his career to be a rookie joining the World Championship ranks. “It’s pushed me to become the pilot I am today and to enjoy the most exciting flying of my career,” Hall relates. “I’ve watched the Challenger Class over the past two years and have been impressed with the progression and attitude of all the pilots, and obviously Peter and Petr have demonstrated that. I am looking forward to having them join us in the Master Class hangars.”
Kopfstein and Podlunsek will be making their debut in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the season opener in Abu Dhabi on 11/12 March.
2016 Master Class Pilots
Hannes Arch (AUT)
Kirby Chambliss (USA)
Matthias Dolderer (GER)
Michael Goulian (USA)
Matt Hall (AUS)
Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA)
Petr Kopfstein (CZE)
Nigel Lamb (GBR)
Francois Le Vot (FRA)
Pete McLeod (CAN)
Yoshihide Muroya (JPN)
Peter Podlunsek (SLO)
Martin Sonka (CZE)
Juan Velarde (ESP)