ABU DHABI // Hannes Arch, the Austrian aerobatics ace now known as "The Flying Falcon" in recognition of his Abu Dhabi connections, yesterday declared it was all systems go in his campaign to regain aerial supremacy from his main rival, Britain's Paul Bonhomme. Arch goes into his second sponsorship year sporting Team Abu Dhabi's falcon logo still smarting from the fact that the first season - which started so encouragingly with victory in the UAE capital - ended with the frustrating relinquishment of his Red Bull Air Race world title to Bonhomme.
A drastically revamped and considerably lighter Edge 540 plane and a solid winter training programme will, he hopes, restore him to the summit of an impressive group of daredevil pilots. The Abu Dhabi leg of the global Red Bull flying circus kicks off the new campaign at the weekend when 15 of the most skilful aviators on the planet will be hoping to steal a march on their opponents in the exciting eight-race series which concludes in Portugal in September after visiting Australia, Brazil, Canada, United States, Germany and Hungary.
Arch, 42, is brimming with confidence for Friday's qualifying session and the race itself on Saturday after putting his modified aircraft through its paces over the Abu Dhabi Corniche's demanding obstacle course. "From the first moment I could see the new aircraft's great potential," he enthused. "There is a definite change from the old Edge and everything we have tried to accomplish so far has worked out.
"We made a few small mistakes last year. I think I suffered from the stress of trying to make a successful defence of the world championship and perhaps took too many risks on the track. I tended to worry too much about what the other guys were doing, rather than concentrate on my own racing.But we have learned from those mistakes and reviewed our tactics accordingly. We are now trying to be more professional and forward thinking and we hope that the long-range strategy will pay off, not just in 2010 but beyond that."
All 15 Red Bull teams expect to get a firm idea of their prospects for the season from Saturday's opening race. Arch said: "I think it is really hard to assess my chances before the first race of the season and I expect most of the other guys are thinking the same way. "But our team are well prepared. If somebody is better prepared than us, they have done a brilliant job. "You never know what tricks the other teams are coming up with. We will know a lot more after this opening race and will be able to proceed with our strategy for the rest of the year."
Arch requires no motivation for the Abu Dhabi opener in which the Spanish pilot Alejandro Maclean will be sponsored by The National. "I consider this to be my home race and I'm really proud of my association with Abu Dhabi," said Arch. "I have really good memories of this venue. In my first successful season here I was second and last season I won. I am looking for another win here on Saturday. I really enjoy racing here."
The Austrian pilot is aware that he is playing a key role in enabling the UAE capital to present the three sporting elements of air, land and sea, having added Formula One and the Volvo Round the World yacht race to the portfolio. "The people here are proud of those three elements and I'm pleased to be able to represent them in one of those elements," he said. "It is a big motivational factor for me." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org