The champion feels the Capital is a 'tricky venue for flying' as he prepares to defend his title where heat will be a significant factor.
Bonhomme is keeping his cool
ABU DHABI // Paul Bonhomme today begins his defence of what was a hard-earned and elusive Red Bull Air Race world championship, when the new season of death- defying aerobatics is launched over The Corniche, Abu Dhabi. Bonhomme, 45, finished second in both the 2007 and 2008 campaigns before realising his lifelong dream by capturing the title last year. On that occasion, he overcame defending champion Hannes Arch, the Austrian daredevil who represents Abu Dhabi, in a series of gripping aerial dogfights.
Going into today's qualifying sessions for tomorrow's race, he described himself as "quietly confident" in his quest to retain supremacy over 14 of the world's best stunt pilots in the eight-race series, which features events all over the world before concluding in Lisbon in early September. "Last year went very well," said Bonhomme, an Englishman of French ancestry. "So we have every reason to believe that this year will go well too. We are fascinated to see what happens here because it is like an unveiling time for modified planes.
"We don't know what everybody else has been doing with their aeroplanes but hopefully we are there or thereabouts in terms of being competitive but the first race of a new campaign is always a journey into the unknown." Bonhomme is pleased with the way his supporting crew members have continued to raise the bar during the briefest of close seasons since their triumphant finale in Barcelona last autumn.
"We have been busy during the winter," he said. "We have been working non-stop making modifications and sorting out all the issues with the engines. We have lightened the aircraft a lot and have got more power in the engine. Hopefully that will do the trick. "It is a case of keeping our fingers crossed. We are pretty sure that our house is in order. But you never know what the other guys have been up to."
Abu Dhabi, in the opinion of Bonhomme, is a tricky venue for man and flying machine. "The significant thing here is the heat," he said. "The engine likes cooler air and so does the propeller. "The aircraft doesn't perform as well here as it does in other cooler countries. We spend most of the week trying to keep the engine cool and me cool both mentally and physically. If we manage to achieve that we are doing well."
Is the world champion a cool customer, then? "I am probably all right on the mental side. I do get a little bit wound up at times but I think that is healthy. If you were super cool all the time you could miss out on a vital part either from a safety point of view or from a racing viewpoint. So you need to get a bit agitated at times for it all to work." His appetite for the thrills and spills of the Red Bull battle has not diminished with advancing years. "I love it," he said. "The competitive element is what it is all about. It is very satisfying to beat the other guys at this level.
"Every year the aeroplanes get more advanced and go faster and the organisers keep bringing in rules to slow us down. It's a never ending process but so exciting for all of us." Today's qualifying, which offers a bonus point to the man who proves himself fastest around the winding Corniche obstacle course, determines the starting order for tomorrow's race from which the winner will earn 12 points and the runner-up, 10. Points are then awarded in descending order down to 11th place.
Bonhomme's world championship-winning aggregate last year was 67 points, seven more than runner-up Arch. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org