2017 Red Bull Air Race
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Another Indy Win for Japan

Yoshihide Muroya Wins Red Bull Air Race and

World Championship on Dramatic Day at IMS

captions and photos by Tim Hailey story courtesy of IMS and Red Bull

Yoshihide Muroya of Japan and fellow countryman Takuma Sato—winner of this year's Indy 500

Yoshihide Muroya of Japan flew to his first Red Bull Air Race World Championship in dramatic style Sunday, winning the season-ending event with a track-record run in the final round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Muroya erased the four-point lead that Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic held entering this event to edge Sonka, 74-70, in the final standings. Muroya, 44, become the first Japanese champion in the world's most prestigious aerobatic racing series. "Let's go have the biggest party tonight," said Muroya.

Muroya gettin' vertical going.....

Heavy rain showers and gusty wind threatened to cancel the season finale, but ended up merely delaying the high-flying action. In fact, once the planes took to the air, the inclement weather served to intensify the competition as the swaying race gate pylons created an extremely technical and constantly changing course for the pilots to navigate. Four pilots from four different countries entered the weekend with hopes to take home the championship title, and it was an all-out battle to the last.

The win and title were secured when Muroya blistered the course featuring 19 inflatable Air Gate pylons over the IMS infield with a track-record run of 1 minute, 3.026 seconds in the final round. The incredible run came despite winds reaching 20 mph. Muroya's winning run in the Final 4 was 1.531 seconds quicker than his victorious run just minutes before in the previous round, the Round of 8. "Fans, teams and families were pushing me really hard," Muroya said. "I can't believe I went that fast. I can't believe it, but we were aiming to be World Champion."

....and coming MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

Muroya rallied for the title before a crowd of family and friends that included 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil winner and compatriot Takuma Sato after qualifying a disappointing 11th in the field of 14 Master Class pilots Saturday. "Yesterday I was thinking a little bit too much about the World Championship," Muroya said. "Today I just forgot about it and thought about each flight, the forecast, and that (final round) race made it happen.

“This is an amazing chapter for motorsports to win a race here. It was the tightest championship ever with the four of us close right up until the end. We were behind at the start of the season, so it was the long way and the hard way, but we made it,” said Muroya as he held back tears. “I thought the timing was broken when I saw my time in the Final 4, and before the race our computer would have said it wasn’t possible, so something was pushing me quite a lot. That was the fans, my family and my team, so thanks to them for making it happen.”

Matthias Dolderer MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

2016 World Champion and Indianapolis winner Matthias Dolderer of Germany finished second Sunday at 1:05.546, a staggering 2.520 seconds behind Muroya's magical run in an ultra-competitive series in which victory sometimes is decided by thousandths of a second.

Juan Velarde MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

Juan Velarde of Spain ended up third after his run of 1:05.829 in the Final 4.

Martin Sonka sliced through a pylon in the opening round but still made the final 8. There was a lot of pylon slicing going on as it was a very windy day. I was 4 or 5 stories up and had a very difficult time holding my camera and 600mm lens steady in the gusty gale, so these guys have mad skills and balls. The planes weigh a minimum of 1535 pounds with pilot and are powered by Lycoming engines maiking only 300 horsepower, according to the Air Race program.

Sonka placed fourth after his disappointing run of 1:07.280 in the Final 4. The other two contenders for the World Championship entering this event, Pete McLeod of Canada and Kirby Chambliss of the United States, were eliminated in the opening Round of 14.

Pete McLeod was on a pass until he sliced the finishline gate MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

McLeod's chance at a title disappeared when he suffered a three-second penalty for hitting the Air Gate at the finishline. Chambliss' chances for a third career title evaporated when he hit an Air Gate on the final lap, incurring a three-second penalty. "My team performed great," Chambliss said. "My plane was running good. It was all on me. I made a mistake out there. I was trying to be super-aggressive to put down a fast time."

American Kirby Chambliss MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

The early exits of McLeod and Chambliss were part of a dramatic Round of 14. The biggest showdown of the opening round came between Sonka and Muroya, the leading protagonists in the world title fight.

Muroya recorded an opening run of 1:06.134, including a two-second penalty for incorrect level flying through Gate 4. That opened the door for Sonka, but he finished at 1:07.866, including a three-second penalty for hitting Air Gate No. 16. That result vaulted Muroya into the Round of 8. Meanwhile, Sonka had to nervously watch the timing monitors for the final three heats of the opening round, hoping his time would stand as the fastest losing run of the opening round, which earns a spot as the No. 8 seed in the Round of 8. Sonka's time held up, and he moved on.

Mikael Brageot MORE AIR RACE PHOTOS

Muroya dusted off Mikael Brageot of France by 2.569 seconds in the Round of 8, grabbing one of the Final 4 spots. Sonka earned a boarding pass to the Final 4 by beating top qualifier Matt Hall of Australia in the Round of 8.

Number one qualifier Matt Hall buzzes through the finish gates in front of the wet and cold Indy fans

Results Master Class race Indianapolis 2017: 
1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 2. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 3. Juan Velarde (ESP), 4. Martin Šonka (CZE), 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE), 6. Mikaël Brageot (FRA), 7. Michael Goulian (USA), 8. Matt Hall (AUS), 9. Cristian Bolton (CHI), 10. Kirby Chambliss (USA), 11. Pete McLeod (CAN), 12. François Le Vot (FRA), 13. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 14. Peter Podlunšek (SLO)

Final standings, 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship: 1. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 74 pts,   2. Martin Šonka (CZE) 70 points, 3. Pete McLeod (CAN) 56 pts, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 53 pts, 5. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 43 pts, 6. Matt Hall (AUS) 40 pts, 7. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 39 pts, 8. Juan Velarde (ESP) 37 pts, 9. Michael Goulian (USA) 28 pts, 10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 24 pts, 11. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 16 pts, 12. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 14 pts, 13. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 9 pts, 14. François Le Vot (FRA) 9 pts

Melanie Astles of France made history by becoming the first woman to win a major race at IMS when she was awarded the victory in the Challenger Class. She also is the first female winner in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

Midday rain and low cloud cover forced series officials to cancel the Challenger Class race, and Astles was awarded the victory due to being the fastest qualifier Saturday, per series rules.

Astles also made history Saturday by becoming the first female top qualifier in the series and for a major event at IMS. Her qualifying run marked a strong recovery from the earlier final practice, in which she was last due to a two-second penalty for climbing in an Air Gate.

Florian Berger of Germany clinched his second consecutive season title in the Challenger Class. 

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