x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Spanish showdown to decide who takes crown

Going into the final round of the season in Barcelona, the British championship leader Paul Bonhomme is four points ahead of Team Abu Dhabi's Hannes Arch.

Hannes Arch practises yesterday for the final round of the tournament in Barcelona.
Hannes Arch practises yesterday for the final round of the tournament in Barcelona.

BARCELONA // One of two pilots will become the 2009 Red Bull Air Race champion this weekend. Going into the final round of the season in Barcelona, the British championship leader Paul Bonhomme is four points ahead of Team Abu Dhabi's Hannes Arch, the reigning champion. With 13 points available for a first-place finish, 11 for second and 10 for third, Arch, nicknamed the "Flying Falcon", needs to take victory and hope his rival makes mistakes. While that task may daunt lesser men, the Austrian, 42, is supremely confident and says he deserves to retain his title due his performances during the six-race season.

"I will not be happy with second," said Arch, who won the season opener in Abu Dhabi, but has since had to be content with two second places, a third and a fourth. "I know we always had the fastest times, we have always been ahead of the game. After Abu Dhabi, in San Diego I hit a bird, OK that was bad luck, but in Budapest [the fourth round] the judging was too harsh [Arch was given a two-second penalty and only finished fourth].

"If the title ends up being decided by that, I will be seriously unhappy. But anyway, I'm not planning on being second." Though the big points are at stake in tomorrow's race, the fastest pilot in today's qualifying round can gain a bonus point which could turn out to be crucial. Should Bonhomme and Arch finish level on points, the Briton would be crowned champion by virtue of having won two races to Arch's one. Arch has been trying to put extra pressure on his rival. "I will hunt down Paul in Barcelona," he said. "I have to attack. This game isn't over yet. Paul is feeling the pressure."

With 100,000 spectators expected, Arch thinks the Spanish course, which is much more technical than the last round in Portugal, is suited to his flying style. In a season that has seen many of the rookies impress, the team Abu Dhabi man says his love of the sport will keep him on top of the game. "I consider myself one of the most experienced guys, but I still have the passion of a rookie," he said. "I look to the other experienced pilots and always try to learn something.

"You need the right machine and need to be on top of your game. But you also need some luck at the right time, then you will become world champion, otherwise you end up like me in second place, but still with a shot at the title." twoods@thenational.ae