With the second half of the Red Bull Air Race season kicking off in Kazan, Russia on August 25-26, American pilot Michael Goulian and his team remain among the top favorites to claim the World Championship. The Massachusetts native and his team manager, Pablo Branco, took a few moments from their intensive preparation to share info and updates.
Your tenth season in the World Championship has definitely been your best, making the Final 4 in all four races so far and snapping up a complete collection of race trophies for first, second and third. Now you’re warming up here in Russia, where you were part of a North American podium sweep last year. What’s the plan for Kazan?
MG: Well, the game plan is to do exactly what we’ve done in the first four races. We have our finger on the pulse of what it takes to do well, and we’ve been continuing to just sort of perfect that formula to be sure it works for each race.
There’s been an unusually long break since the last race in Budapest at the end of June. What have you been up to?
MG: (smiles) I would have to say there’s no such thing as a break for our team ever, so we did what we always do, which is work and fly airplanes. But that’s what we love.
PB: To give you an idea, since Budapest we did air shows in Traverse City and Battle Creek, a lot of aerobatic training at Hartzell Propeller in Piqua, then Michael flew at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, which is aviation’s biggest celebration, with over 600,000 people in attendance. And right before we left for Kazan we moved our hangar! So it’s been a good summer before engaging in racing again. We’ve come to Kazan hoping to hit the ground running and to pick up where we left off in the first half of the season.
Speaking of where you left off, the last time fans saw you in competition, you were having a great race in Budapest, but then somehow seven seconds of penalty piled up in your Final 4 run – which is completely uncharacteristic for Team Goulian. You still came away with a bundle of points, and you’re only two points off the overall lead, but what happened?
MG: Budapest was a funny thing. We learned a lot about how to deal with people trying to pressure you to get going quickly in the Final Four. There were things that were beyond our control, and even though I felt relaxed, it was really a rushed thing. So we had a gate hit that was a culmination of a bunch of sort of bad timings that happened in that round – which we won’t let happen again. And the rest of the penalties happened because after I hit the gate, I knew I had to go really fast, and the only way to do that is to cut corners. The aggressive flying that led to early pulls was nothing more than trying to secure a third place when there almost wasn’t one available there. So the penalties were nothing, it was really a ripple effect of the gate hit.
With everything you’ve been up to this summer, have you had time to do specific preparation for Kazan?
PB: Because we’re not based in Europe, we unfortunately couldn’t keep the raceplane after Budapest for work and on-season practice. That situation is becoming more and more challenging with the increasingly close times we’re seeing in the World Championship, and how quickly the machinery evolves these days. The last two races of the season will be in the US, but for now, going into Kazan, it’s been all internal, mental, physical prep and rest. A sharp team and pilot count more than a fast airplane in most instances!
What about the track here in Russia, which is the last race over water this season and has a new layout this time?
PB: Kazan has a pretty unique track design, with only one VTM [Vertical Turning Maneuver] and predominantly right-hand turns. Pilots inherently prefer to roll left; some would say that’s because your heart is on the left, and some would say that’s just how your arm is hinged against the control stick. In fact, if you’re going to win in Russia, you need to show up ready to tackle that challenge. Having only one VTM is also going to bring a new challenge on strategy plays. Is there less to lose, or more to gain with it? Time will tell!
MG: We have our own preparation process that we do at home for every race, and it didn’t change for Kazan. We have had it all laid out for some time now. We’re ready to go, and we understand what the track is going to give to us and have tried to think of everything in advance in terms of what the challenges might be. So we have a game plan in our head, and now that we are here, we are just going to relax, execute, and see where the chips fall.
Team Goulian will race in front of Kazan’s historic Kremlin on August 25-26, 2018. For tickets and all the World Championship updates: www.redbullairrace.com.
Red Bull Air Race 2018 Calendar
2-3 February: Abu Dhabi, UAE
20-22 April: Cannes, France
26-27 May: Chiba, Japan
23-24 June: Budapest, Hungary
25-26 August: Kazan, Russia
15-16 September: Wiener Neustadt, Austria
6-7 October: Indianapolis, USA
17-18 November: Ft. Worth, USA
Photos courtesy Red Bull Content Pool.