Team Goulian on Sunday’s race in Budapest: “Confidence is switched high” 

As they prepare for the first European stop of the Red Bull Air Race season on July 1-2, Team Goulian is humming like a well-oiled machine. They’re one of the most consistent contenders in the lineup, and they’re headed to Budapest, a location where they know they can win. How do they know? They’ve done it before.

“Once you experience a win in a location, it feels special every time you come back.”

The USA’s Michael Goulian won the Budapest stop of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in 2009 – the last race in the Hungarian capital before the series went on hiatus. Now the racetracks, rules, and raceplanes have changed, but the American’s passion for the sport is only more intense, and Team Goulian is firing on all cylinders.

The team that flies number 99 is one of the most consistent in a rollercoaster season: Only Goulian, Martin Šonka and Matthias Dolderer have managed to advance to the Round of 8 in every race so far. And consistency is the name of the game.
Heading to the midpoint of the season with Qualifying in Budapest on July 1 and Race Day on July 2, Goulian is tied in the points with Canadian Pete McLeod, who holds fifth place. That’s Team Goulian’s strongest position ever at this point in the season, and with five races to go, they’re poised to make a bid for the overall podium.

In the Round of 8 at the last stop in Japan, Goulian delivered a time of 55.018 seconds, making him the second-fastest pilot over the entire day of racing. Unluckily, he did so in a head-to-head elimination heat against the one man who was even faster, Šonka. The Czech edged out the American by just 0.118 of a second. If Goulian had made the Final 4 and replicated his Round of 8 time, he would have carried the winner’s trophy back to Massachusetts, so while disappointed, the team took away a positive message.

“I like the stride we’ve hit. We’ve been patient, addressing one thing at a time, whether that’s how we work together as a team or something about the raceplane,” says Team Coordinator Pablo Branco. “Now every time Mike goes out and flies, he’s a little faster, a little faster. We’re sticking with the plan and the confidence is switched high.”

Budapest presents a new challenge in 2017, as the pilots were given alternative racetrack layouts to study, in order to accommodate fluctuations in the level of the Danube. In a sport where teams spend weeks analyzing a stop’s track design so their pilots can practice in simulators and through visualization, this time there were two tracks to learn – and one to try to forget now that the final layout has been determined with only days to go until the race. Goulian doesn’t seem to be fazed, saying,

“For me, Budapest will always hold a special place as it’s where I got my win in 2009. I am ready to re-create that magic in Budapest again this week.”