x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Red Bull Air Race: F1 of the skies returns to Abu Dhabi after 3-year break

The opening round of next year’s seven-race calendar takes place over the capital’s Corniche on February 28 and March 1.

Paul Bonhomme of Britain soars above the Emirates Palace hotel and Etihad Towers during the Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Race on March 23, 2010 – the last year the race was held. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
Paul Bonhomme of Britain soars above the Emirates Palace hotel and Etihad Towers during the Abu Dhabi Red Bull Air Race on March 23, 2010 – the last year the race was held. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

DUBAI // The Red Bull Air Race World Championship will return to the skies over Abu Dhabi next year after the international event was cancelled for three years.

The opening round of next year’s seven-race calendar takes place over the capital’s Corniche on February 28 and March 1, with the other six races around the world over the next 10 months.

“The return of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship further underlines Abu Dhabi’s capacity to stage world-class sporting events,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, director of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the event’s local organiser.

“Past races in the emirate saw as many as 120,000 people descend on the Corniche to watch the world’s premier high-performance pilots lock wings in two days of exhilarating daredevil displays.

“The authority will utilise its extensive network of overseas offices and global trade partners to ensure the series receives a typically hospitable return to Abu Dhabi, and establishes an international billing as one of next year’s keynote motorsport events.”

Officially the world’s fastest motorsport series, the air race involves 12 pilots racing aircraft through obstacle courses, sometimes as low as 15 metres above the ground, and at speeds of 370kph.

The Abu Dhabi event will be followed by races in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on May 17 and 18, Gdynia, Poland on July 26 and 27, and Ascot in the UK on August 16 and 17.

There will also be a US leg of the tour, in Dallas-Fort Worth on September 6 and 7, and Las Vegas on October 10 and 11. An unconfirmed city in China will host the event on November 1 and 2.

Event organisers say the three-year break has enabled the governing committee to bring in a range of “technical improvements”.

They include standard engines and propellers for all planes, and changes to the nylon pylons used in the obstacle course, which will be easier to burst apart when clipped by wings. Pylon heights will also be raised from 20 metres to 25 metres.

The last racing season in 2010 was plagued by problems. In a race in Perth, Australia, Brazilian Adilson Kindlemann lost control of his plane and crashed into a nearby river. He was rescued, but it was the first crash in the event’s seven-year history.

“We’ve all worked very hard over the last three years fine-tuning some of the safety aspects and bringing the sport to a new level,” said Erich Wolf, chief executive of the Red Bull Air Race.

“We never took our eye off the target and neither have our fantastic pilots nor our great fans around the world.

“Their interest in the sport remained unbelievably high during these past few years and we can’t wait to get back in the air in February 2014 in Abu Dhabi.”

Paul Bonhomme of Britain, who won the world championship in 2009 and 2010, is tipped to take the title again.

Bonhomme’s chief challengers will be the 2008 champion, Austria’s Hannes Arch, and American Kirby Chambliss, who won the title in 2004 and 2006.

Twelve new pilots who have joined the race’s ranks in the past three years will participate in the Challengers Cup competition, a “stepping stone format for RBAR rookies”.

mcroucher@thenational.ae