Former RAAF Hornet fighter pilot Matt Hall just missed out on winning the Red Bull air race world championship on the weekend after taking out the season finale in Las Vegas.
Hall, 43, from the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, finished 2015 in second place behind three-time champion Paul Bonhomme of Britain.
The win in Las Vegas was Hall’s second for the year and he finished on the podium in seven of the eight races to be just five points behind Bonhomme, whose remarkable second place was enough to deliver him a third world title.
The Red Bull air race is a terrifying slalom course for acrobatic planes, generating up to 10G of force as they fly at between 350 and 426 km/h (220-265 mph) through “air gates” just 10-15 metres (33-49ft) wide – there’s as little as 1.5m either side of the plane’s wingspan as it flies between them – just 25 metres (82 ft) off the ground. If a wing slices through a pylon there’s a time penalty.
Hall ended last year in sixth place and described 2015 as his watershed year in just his third season of Red Bull racing.
“I came here to win this race and I was able to do that which is really satisfying,” he said.
He knew beating rival Bonhomme was always going to be a difficult task, requiring the champion to make a rare mistake.
“He had a lot of pressure on him and he was able to get the job done to claim the title but we pushed him all the way,” Hall said.
Bonhomme, a 10 season veteran, admitted it was the toughest world championship he’s ever faced. He finished on a record-breaking 76 championship points, with Hall on 71.
The weekend’s racing over the Las Vegas motor speedway Hall smashed the track record despite “shocking” conditions, with rain squalls sweeping through the desert location, including one downpour that damaged Bonhomme’s plane and almost cost him the championship.
Hall returns to Australia on Thursday to plan for the 2016 season. If you want an inkling into how it feels to race like that, Hall runs flights out of Lake Macquarie airport.
Here’s video of the final day of racing and The Ashes battle between Bonhomme and Hall.
Hall’s final race of the day, to give him the round win, starts at 58 mins. He already knew Bonhomme would take the championship, but Hall’s 48.6 second race was the fastest of the day and watching it against the “ghost” plane of his German rival, Dolderer, superimposed on the footage, is a thrilling dogfight.
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