“Goulian’s Qualifying session was almost certainly the most stunning of this air race series ever.” – Three-time Red Bull Air Race World Champion Paul Bonhomme
Hot on the heels of Qualifying win and third-place race result at Cannes, France, this weekend American pilot Michael Goulian will defend his lead in the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship at the season’s third stop in Chiba, Japan.
What a year for Team Goulian so far: It started with victory at the opener in Abu Dhabi. Then Qualifying for stop two in Cannes, France was a free-for-all, with four track records biting the dust before Goulian’s flight, the last of the day. Although the American had struggled to find his rhythm across earlier practice sessions, he nailed it, claiming the track record for his own at 57.074s, and immediately redefining his mark by a thousandth of a second with 57.073s in next run. It was the pilot’s career-first pole position. On top of praising Goulian’s Qualifying session as the most stunning in the history of the sport, triple World Champion Paul Bonhomme, one of the founding pilots of the Red Bull Air Race, added, “We talk about improving consistency, and Mike gave us the best demonstration ever.”
The pressure was no less intense when Race Day dawned on the Riviera. Team Goulian initially missed out on the Final 4 by less than a quarter of a second and had begun packing up, only to be informed that they were advancing to the last round after all, due to a disqualification ruling. The team scrambled to get their Edge ready for takeoff, Goulian took a deep breath and jumped into the cockpit… and then he pulled off a remarkable third-place result.
While Team Goulian has been accelerating for some time, this season is something special. When asked what is making the difference, Goulian states, “It’s just that we are a little better all the way around. In racing there’s not one adjustment that will make you a lot faster, but one thousand little improvements that make you a little faster. We have definitely improved in taking on the mental challenges of the game, and like everything else, it’s due to everyone on the team.”
Gelling with the team particularly fast has been team coordinator Emily Mankins, new to the roster this year. Goulian says, “Emily’s addition has been fantastic! She’s a natural born team coordinator, and her presence has freed Pablo [team manager Pablo Branco] from distractions in his role and really allowed all of us to work better.”
Next on the calendar is, of course, Chiba, with its incredible Air Racing superfans. Home expectations will certainly be high for Japan’s defending World Champion Yoshi Muroya, but what about the stress at the top of the leaderboard for Team Goulian?
“We have been going about the year on a race-by-race basis; we really don’t feel any pressure by leading the championship yet. Of course two good results in a row is very encouraging, but we know it’s still very, very early in the season with six left to go,” comments Branco. “Abu Dhabi and Cannes were amazing, but we have been very quick at sweeping those under the rug to focus on the next challenge and start over again! We have excellent processes in place now on how we prepare and attack a race week, so we start from scratch as if the next one is the first race of 2018.”
Because the raceplane was shipped directly from Cannes to Chiba, the team did not have access to make modifications, but given the global scope of the sport, that’s not an unusual situation. They focused on track analysis and physical fitness, and also had numerous opportunities to meet media, fans and supporters. Goulian was featured as a native son in a Boston Globe story, the team visited the Swiss home of their sponsor Alpina, and they spent two weeks working with Goodyear Aviation, including flying in Florida at Pompano Beach as well as Tampa, where Goulian performed a display with the Goodyear Blimp. Wherever they went, the encouragement was overwhelming.
“People have been asking me what it was like to experience my first win in the Air Race,” says Branco, who joined the team in 2015. “It was just like I imagined; it was the best feeling in the world. It’s a buzz, and it’s still here. But what surprised me, as I’ve mentioned, was how quickly we swept it away and were already thinking about the next one. How are we going to get that next win? That’s the one that matters.”
He concludes, “The chase is what racing is about. It’s what we love, and it’s why we do it.”
Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool.
Watch it live on: http://live.redbullairrace.com/
Qualifying Day – 26 May:
16:00 Qualifying (3:00 AM EDT)
Race Day – 27 May
14:00 Local – Round of 14 (1:00 AM EDT)
16:00 Round of 8 (3:00 AM EDT)
16:30 Round of 4 (3:30 AM EDT)