Ben Murphy's 2018 Red Bull Air Race season
Budapest, Hungary 24 June
Budapest is an iconic Red Bull Air Race stop, and for the first time since 2016 Great Britain will be part of the action, as Ben Murphy and the Blades Racing Team fly their maiden race in the Hungarian capital.
Budapest was home to the second race ever held in the sport, back in the inaugural 2003 season, and has been a highlight of the race calendar for most years since so it’s the race that every pilot wants to win.
The racetrack is set in the heart of the city, over the Danube between Buda and Pest. As the raceplanes approach, they dart under the historic 19th-century Chain Bridge, then fly through the 25-metre Air Gates right in front of the Parliament building, cheered by huge crowds along the riverbanks.
“We’ve been looking forward to this race ever since we formed the team,” says Murphy, who flew in the second competition category before joining the World Championship ranks this season. “I never raced here when I was in the Challenger Class, so for me it’s a brand-new racetrack.”
Budapest marks the halfway point of the 2018 season, and the Blades arrive with growing experience and assurance. On Race Day at Chiba, Japan in May, Murphy flew well despite the bad luck of facing American Michael Goulian in the opening round for the second stop in a row.
“This is a different type of track than any we’ve raced this season, because it’s more linear and narrow. It’s also fast, and can be affected a lot when the wind creates turbulence as it blows past the buildings,” Murphy comments.
Budapest is another opportunity to expand their skills, and after logging a career-high sixth place right off the bat in 2018, the possibilities are wide open.
Chiba, Japan 27th May
Ben Murphy and the team got off to an incredible start in Chiba, Japan, placing 7th in Free Practice 2 and looking like they were going to really push for a top half finish in just their third race of the season.
With high spirits the team went into Quali on Saturday quietly confident with the team’s chosen lines and the capability of ex-Red Arrows Leader and Aston Martin Cambridge Ambassador, Ben Murphy to handle changing winds; a significant factor in this challenging track.
Unexpected issues with the aircraft, exceeding the RPM limit and challenges with power dropping off, resulted in Blades Racing Team finishing 14th in Qualification for the second time this season. Frustrating as this was, the newly formed team pulled together yet again to try to resolve these issues and ready themselves to take on current World Championship leader Michael Goulian, who has had a blistering start to the 2018 season - it was a tough ask.
The issues the team had in Quali were still prevalent and disappointingly Ben Murphy was slower than in Free Practice, and more importantly slower than Juan Velarde who was currently in fastest loser position.
Despite everything not quite coming together for the rookie team, they still managed to place 11th, who will look to improve in the next stop, Budapest.
The only Red Bull Air Race team flying the Union flag will contend in the skies of Japan for the first time when the World Championship stops in Chiba this Saturday and Sunday. In just his third Master Class race, our ambassador, Ben Murphy will be looking to add to his overall points tally.
The start of the season
The first year in the World Championship always presents a steep learning curve. Even for a pilot as experienced as Murphy, who flew in the Challenger Class for 32 years previously.
Following a stunning Master Class debut at February’s season opener in Abu Dhabi, where Ben soared to sixth place in his maiden race, the second stop in Cannes, France proved more challenging – and showed just how quickly The Blades are able to adapt and ramp up.
In Qualifying on the racetrack over the Bay of Cannes, Murphy first incurred a penalty for flying too high over an Air Gate. “In the Vertical Turning Manoeuvre on the first lap, my display blinked on and off – it shouldn’t have distracted me, but it did for a split second,” Murphy described. “By that point I was just too high for the next gate. I was pulling down towards it and it looked all wrong, so I pulled off and flew over it.”
Then, he had a snap decision to make: In Qualifying, pilots get two runs, and the best time counts, so the choice was whether to continue the first as practice, even though the time would be slow, or pull out and regroup for his second run. As he flew at nearly 200 knots, the pilot elected to stay in the track, only to exceed maximum G a few gates later, with an automatic Did Not Finish penalty that negated his opportunity for the second run.
And that was when the team really pulled together. With less than 24 hours before Murphy, at the bottom of the Qualifying pack, would go head-to-head against the fastest Qualifier, World Championship leader Michael Goulian, Blades technician Andreas Kaufman fine-tuned the engine settings, while the pilot conferred with tactician Neil Furness to see how and where he could improve his lines. When Race Day dawned and Murphy sped through the Start Gate in front of the French crowds, he did not top the American, but he did fly confidently and cleanly – with a time that was faster than many of the more seasoned pilots in the field – to salvage a top 10 finish that put him a solid eighth in the overall standings.
“We came back from 14th place in Qualifying to gain a World Championship point, and the lessons learnt in how to deal with results that don’t go our way were an important takeaway,” said team coordinator Annie Stone. “I think any team would be pleased to recover so quickly from a tough day in the track, and as the only newcomers in the field this year, we’ll certainly grow from this and move forward.”
Looking forward to Chiba
This weekend’s stop in Japan presents very different aspects to the relatively sheltered tracks of Abu Dhabi and Cannes, with inevitable winds over the open water, the enthusiastic crush of media and superfans who will be especially fervent for the home race of defending World Champion Yoshihide Muroya, and the ever-increasing intensity of competition with six races to go.
Can The Blades add to their World Championship points for the third consecutive race? Follow all the action on freesports.tv
Or view the full stream on www.redbullairrace.com/live