It was as though the ancient Japanese Gods were demanding the Red Bull Air Race teams earn their respect before blazing through the pylons in the seaside city of Chiba. They sent super-typhoon Noul and its pummeling waves to cripple the race hangars. They shook the ground beneath the teams’ feet with a 6.0 magnitude earthquake. Despite their best effort, the Gods were unable to deter the resolve of Michael Goulian and Team #99.

The storm and ensuing quake delayed preparations for the race, infringing on valuable practice time on the race course. Each pilot was only budgeted one practice session before the ever important qualification runs on Saturday morning. The brief look at the course would force each pilot to rely on a strategy forged from data, not experience.

Michael Goulian (USA) - ActionGoulian expressed surprise early on:

We analyzed the track over and over again during the past weeks, and we all thought it was going to be a flat, quite straight-forward lap. As it turns out, it isn’t! Gates 3 and 4 are very tight and technical, and it’s been obvious that over-g’ing will be an issue at the vertical turns.”

Team #99 posted a respectable time of 52.014 seconds; enough to secure a start in fifth position on race day.

The trial of the prior week gave way Sunday morning to the warm adoration of 60,000 fans lining the Japanese shoreline for the final race day, though a stiff wind would continue to challenge each pilot. Michael Goulian flew in the first heat of the day against Canadian Pete McLeod. While he posted a very fast time, McLeod earned himself 5 seconds of penalties incurred from incorrect attitude flying through a gate and striking a pylon with his wingtip in the last seconds of the lap. Goulian flew conservatively to ensure a flawless turn on the course, easily securing passage to the next round with a lap time of 52.976 seconds.

Passing into the “Round of Eight” for the first time in 2015, Goulian would go head to head against Australian Matt Hall; known to be one of the fastest racers on the circuit this year. Hall’s highly modified MX race plane would edge out Team 99 by just over 1 second, bringing the Chiba race to a close for Goulian who placed 6th overall, earning 3 points for Team 99.

It was a large step in the right direction for the team as it claws its way back from a disappointing 2014 season.

I flew my heart out this week. Even though we didn’t make it to the Final 4 we flew consistently clean, penalty free runs and now we just have to keep this momentum, build on it and keep finding that speed out of our Edge 540. It’s a great feeling that our entire program is moving in the right direction. I really can’t wait to go racing again!” said Goulian.

Goulian won’t have to wait long as the Red Bull Air Race is poised to once again streak across the Croatian sky in just under two weeks. The course plays to Goulian’s strengths. The tight, technical course demands the type of precision that Goulian has honed from years of air show and competition flying in the United States.