Muroya wins first Red Bull Air Race World Championship for Japan
oshihide Muroya’s race went from disaster to delirium on Sunday, when after facing elimination in his opening heat, the Japanese pilot finished as the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Champion. In the season finale at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Martin Šonka of the Czech Republic earned second overall and Pete McLeod of Canada took third.
Indianapolis (USA) – The season finale was heartstopping from the very beginning, with Šonka and Muroya, ranked one and two in the standings, going head to head in the Round of 14. Flying first, Muroya’s championship hopes seemed to be over when he incurred a two-second penalty – but in strong winds Šonka hit a pylon for a three-second penalty that advanced Japan’s hero to the Round of 8. The other two pilots with a chance for the championship, Pete McLeod (Canada) and Kirby Chambliss (USA) also stumbled in the opening round, but Muroya still couldn’t rest, because Šonka ended up advancing after all as the round’s fastest loser. When the title contenders both won their Round of 8 heats, it all came down to the Final 4.
There, going first with everything on the line, Muroya was fearless, flying to a new track record of 1:03.026 that 2016 World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany and Spain’s Juan Velarde couldn’t match. The pressure all was on Šonka. The Czech pilot flew cleanly, but with a technical issue plus a wing stall in the Vertical Turning Maneuver, he could manage only 1:07.280, and both the race win and Asia’s first Red Bull Air Race World Championship belonged to Muroya.
As the race awards were handed out in the iconic infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Muroya was joined on the podium by Dolderer in second and Velarde in third. Then, when the World Championship trophy was presented, Muroya was sprayed with champagne by Šonka and McLeod, who stood on the overall podium for the first time themselves with second and third place overall, respectively.
“This is an amazing chapter for motorsports to win a race here. It was the tightest championship ever with the four of us close right up until the end. We were behind at the start of the season, so it was the long way and the hard way, but we made it,” said Muroya as he held back tears. “I thought the timing was broken when I saw my time in the Final 4, and before the race our computer would have said it wasn’t possible, so something was pushing me quite a lot. That was the fans, my family and my team, so thanks to them for making it happen.”
Clinching Japan’s first World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway also marked a remarkable new milestone in the history of the century-old racetrack, where just this year Takuma Sato – who was on site all weekend to cheer Muroya – became the first Japanese racecar driver to win the famed Indianapolis 500.