SAN DIEGO // If California is "ruled" by a famous Austrian, it is his countryman who is looking to take centre stage in the Golden State today in the second leg of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. The California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Team Abu Dhabi pilot Hannes Arch both hail from the city of Graz and met at the event last year.
On that occasion Arch, who used to live in Los Angeles early in his career, could only manage fourth place, but then went on to produce a storming finish to the season to claim the world title. And he started where he left off this year in the opening race in Abu Dhabi, delighting the huge crowd on the Corniche - and his sponsors Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - by winning. His plane was shipped straight from the capital to America, where his technician Vito Wypraechtiger went to work in an attempt to make Arch's Edge 540 even quicker.
Arch has spent a fortnight here in preparation, and said: "It's about getting rid of the jetlag, getting the body used to the climate here and fine-tuning the plane in preparation for the race. We haven't got any time to take a break." Their hard work seems to have paid off as Arch has set the pace here, dominating the opening practice session. But the race has been beset by weather problems, and low cloud led to the cancellation of Friday's training sessions, "I wouldn't say it's frustrating, more exhausting," said Arch. "You prepare yourself mentally and then climb into the cockpit only to be told that the weather has delayed it again. I've done that five times so far and it takes it out of you."
As for today's race, Arch will be again looking over his shoulder for perennial main rival who has been on his tail in Abu Dhabi and again in practice in San Diego. "I knew Paul Bonhomme would be one of the main challengers in Abu Dhabi, but there were a few other pilots who showed that they have really come on and have what it takes to challenge for the title," he said. "But I am not at all surprised - everyone wants to win and they are prepared to give everything possible to do so."
Each race has a different course each year, and San Diego's twists and turns could upset some of the under-prepared pilots. But Arch is relishing the challenge, despite losing the third-place fly-off to California's local hero Kirkby Chambliss in 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org