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Japan's Muroya wins San Diego Red Bull Air RaceJapan's Muroya wins San Diego Red Bull Air Race

Familiar names absent from podiumFamiliar names absent from podium

Japanese pilot Yoshihide “Yoshi” Muroya, who funded his aerobatic career by teaching others to fly sailplanes, powered his Edge 540 V3 to victory in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship’s April 16 race in San Diego. Muroya topped defending world champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany, who came in third, and Peter Podlunšek of Slovenia, who finished in second place. 

Yoshihide Muroya of Japan performs during the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in San Diego, April 16. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Kirby Chambliss was the top American, just off the podium in fourth place, while AOPA Ambassador Michael Goulian clipped a pylon and came in eighth.

Muroya’s final four time of 58.529 bested Podlunšek’s 1:00.454 by two seconds. It allowed Muroya to jump 10 places in the overall standings to third place, behind Dolderer in second, and Martin Sonka, of the Czech Republic, the leader.

Podlunšek explained in a post-race interview that he flew right up to his limits but didn’t cross over because it was a “really, really short step to the other side” before “losing everything.” The Slovenian pilot said he was “super happy” to be on the podium after committing to flying the fastest line through race course during the round of eight and into the final four.

About 40,000 spectators watched pilots participating in the second stop of the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship season weave in and out of red pylons strung across the heart of the San Diego Bay during conditions that were nearly ideal.

“The event was fantastic,” said Jiri Marousek, AOPA senior vice president of marketing. “The setting takes the cake as does the weather, and pilots came out in force. The AOPA tent was packed all day with new pilots joining the AOPA ranks and grabbing their free limited edition Red Bull/AOPA T-shirt.” The area was abuzz as current AOPA pilots stopped by to chat, watch the races, and take in the many advantages of membership. Pilots flying in received fuel discounts at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport; free rides from the airport to the harbor side race venue; and complimentary sodas, snacks, and sunscreen.

Spectators watch the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in San Diego, April 16. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

AOPA will have a similar presence Oct. 14 and 15 at the Yard of Bricks when the season concludes at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stay tuned for updates on a special event for AOPA members and guests to be held Oct. 14.

Marousek said, “Tens of thousands of people came out over the two days” of events to watch air racing surrounding the Easter holiday weekend. Marousek noted that “thousands more watched from free viewing areas all around the bay.”

Race fans saw several upsets during the day including Goulian, who had posted some great times, but was stymied by a pylon hit in the round of eight that took him out of the running. “That's a cold three-second penalty. Hard to make that back up in the fastest motorsport on Earth,” added Marousek. “Kirby just missed the podium in the final four, but he still flew home with solid points” for the remainder of the eight-race season, which is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Yoshihide Muroya celebrates his victory during the finals at the second stage of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool

Muroya’s victory sets up an exciting next race, which is set for June 3 and 4 in Muroya’s friendly skies of Chiba, Japan. In 2016, the hometown hero posted his first Red Bull Air Race World Championship victory in front of the partisan crowd that will be rooting for a repeat.

According to the pilot’s personal website, Muroya’s journey started when he was a youth in Fukushima, Japan, when he decided that he wanted to “fly freely in the sky” even though a number of walls seemingly stood between him and his dream. Muroya wrote that he did not give up despite a lack of money and no track record.

He pursued soaring throughout college, and when he was 20, Muroya came to the United States to learn aerobatics. He funded his aerobatic habit with glider instruction in his homeland and set his sights on aerobatic competition. In the 1990s Muroya studied under noted California stunt pilot and aerobatic competitor Randy Gagne, and the young Japanese pilot began competing in the Sportsman class when he was 24.

Muroya recognized the need to foster aviation in his homeland, so in 2003 he founded Japan’s NPO Fukushima Flight Association to elevate aviation culture and awareness including community development, safety, and environmental improvement. He was given the honorary title “Ambassador of Fukushima City” for his efforts.

A devastating 2011 earthquake nearly derailed Muroya’s racing efforts just as his career was taking off in Red Bull’s Challenger Class. His Fukushima Sky Park home base airport suffered serious runway damage, and practice plans were postponed for several months while helicopters were given top priority to ferry supplies from the airport to stricken communities nearby. When conditions improved, children and families affected by the tragedy were invited to the airport for an airshow hosted by Muroya.

The 44-year-old Muroya finished sixth overall in the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championship and wrote that he continues to fight against his own limit, “aiming for tremendous evolution,” both in his raceplane and in his aviation outreach activities for Japan’s next generation of aviators.

Yoshihide Muroya won the Red Bull Air Race World Championship event in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Air Racing

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