Arch wins first point of 2010 in Red Bull Air Race Abu Dhabi Qualifying

Hannes Arch of Austria in action during the Red Bull Air Race Qualifying session on March 26, 2010 in Abu Dhabi

Austria’s Hannes Arch won the first point of the 2010 Red Bull Air Race World Championship by posting the fastest time in Qualifying on Friday ahead of Saturday’s season opener in Abu Dhabi. Defending champion Paul Bonhomme of Britain made a thrilling dash to try to beat Arch and snatch the one point away from his rival but hit an Air Gate at the end of his run and ended up a disappointing third. Britain’s Nigel Lamb got second while Australia’s Matt Hall took fourth.

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Arch, the 2008 world champion, was delighted to get back on top after Bonhomme narrowly beat him for the 2009 title at the end of last season. On Friday Arch, the Team Abu Dhabi pilot, delighted the Qualifying Day crowd of 45,000 with a superb time of 1:12.78 on the 5.6km long track, 1.55 seconds ahead of Lamb. Bonhomme got third on the strength of his first Qualifying time of 1:14.45, which left him 1.67 behind Arch. After watching Bonhomme slice open the final gate in Q2 from a TV monitor in his hangar, Arch smiled and exchanged high fives with his teammates back in the hangar.

“The secret to winning the point today is that all the effort we put into the plane came together,” said Arch. “The job they did has made a really fast airplane. The problem before was me. I was nervous in the days before Qualifying and I felt the pressure from Paul as he was flying really fast and never gave me any margin. I really had to give everything and try to stay calm.”

Arch had posted the fastest times in two of the four training sessions going into Qualifying, while Bonhomme had beaten him in the other two sessions, setting the stage for another memorable showdown over the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf in front of Abu Dhabi’s towering skyline.

Bonhomme, flying last, was 0.12 seconds ahead of Arch at the midway point in the final Qualifying run but lost his lead on the second lap. He would still have have ended up a close second. But instead the British ace slashed open the final Air Gate, picking up a careless six-second penalty. It was a day to forget for the normally error-free Bonhomme, who had also picked up a 2-second penalty for incorrect wing level flying through an Air Gate near the very end of his first Qualifying run an hour earlier.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Bonhomme said of the pylon hit. “About a hundred yards before the Air Gate I realised what was going to happen. I was just trying to save time and went straight for it.”

Lamb, who has introduced striking new winglets that curl up at the end of his wings, was a sensational second on a hot day on the track alongside Abu Dhabi’s Corniche beach. Even though Lamb was only sixth overall last year, he won glory for his Team Breitling on Friday with second place.

Martin Sonka, a rookie from the Czech Republic, celebrated his 32nd birthday on Friday with an impressive debut. Sonka took 12th place in his very first race with a time of 1:22.89 – 10.11 seconds behind Arch but just four seconds away from 10th place. Adilson Kindlemann of Brazil, the second rookie this year, was 14th with a time of 1:38.91 that included 14 seconds in penalties.

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