Hannes Arch is confident he still has enough time to catch Red Bull Air Race championship leader Paul Bonhomme in the final two races of the year, even though his three-race winning streak came to an abrupt end in the last round in New York.
The Austrian ace has never flown better than this season and is supremely optimistic about his chances of catching the defending champion from Britain by putting together another winning streak down the home stretch.
“I want to be first and not second,” Arch said ahead of the sixth 2010 race at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany, on August 7-8. “I think I can win the last two races. I know exactly what to do to be the fastest. I think I can win if I put it all together mentally. The team, the airplane and the experience are all there. The championship is definitely still within reach.”
Arch is currently second in the championship with 48 points, five behind Bonhomme of Britain. If Arch – who arguably has the fastest plane in the championship this season – were to win the final two races in Germany and Budapest and win at least one of the two bonus points for fastest qualifier he would be the 2010 champion even if Bonhomme were to take second in both races. Arch’s route to the championship would be even easier if Bonhomme were to finish lower than second in the final two rounds.
“Paul has made mistakes before,” Arch said, referring to Bonhomme’s late-season tailspin in 2008 where he was only 7th in London and 10th in Porto. “Maybe he hasn’t made as many mistakes as me in the past. If I win the next two races, Paul has to perform. And we all know how fast a screw-up can happen in this race.”
Arch strong in Europe
Arch has done well in the European leg of the last two seasons and knows Bonhomme has sometimes had problems, ironically, on the home leg of the championship. Arch also knows that no one since Kirby Chambliss in 2006 has led the championship from start to finish. Bonhomme gave up championship leads in 2007 and 2008 while Arch gave up the championship lead at the midway point in 2009.
Arch knows how to attack from behind. He won the 2008 world championship with a thrilling spurt at the end of the season to overtake Bonhomme and believes he knows what it will take to put together another late rally.
“I’ll try to put more pressure on him; that’s the name of the game,” Arch said. “So far it looks like he’s able to handle it. But we’ll see what happens.”
This year, Arch got off to a dreadful start in March with 11th place in Abu Dhabi. But with a new-found relaxed approach to racing, Arch won the next three races; Perth, Rio and Windsor.
In New York, Arch won the point for fastest qualifying on Saturday to cut Bonhomme’s lead in the championship to just one point. But in the race Arch got a six-second penalty for clipping the air gate in the final run and finished 5.34 seconds behind the winner, Bonhomme. Obviously, had Arch not hit the pylon he would have won New York and with the 12 points for first place moved ahead of Bonhomme in the championship. Instead he got eight points for fourth place and is now five behind Bonhomme.
Arch admits he enjoys hunting Bonhomme more than being the hunted; as he was when he led the championship for the first half of the 2009 season.
“It’s all part of the development of an athlete,” Arch said. “In 2008 I won the championship not because I had a lot of experience but because Paul helped me by making mistakes. Last year I had the potential to win the championship but couldn’t deal with the pressure. This year I screwed up at the start and now I’m chasing him. I think I’m good at chasing. The pressure is gone. This year, it’s been the pure joy of racing for me.”
It also helps Arch to know that he has the most powerful; and probably the fastest; plane in the field, an Edge 540 V3.
“I think Paul was at his limit in New York and I don’t think he can fly any faster than that,” Arch said. “He’s still more consistent than I am. I’ve been helping him with my mistakes so far. But I’ll keep the pressure on him. I’m not sure if I have the fastest plane. But I do have the most powerful plane. That’s a good feeling, for sure.”