With the championship on the line in the season-ending competition in Indianapolis last October, Yoshihide Muroya did not find himself feeling any anxiety.
He said he was thrilled with the challenge and excited to be in position to be battling for the world championship.
Perhaps having that mindset was the key.
Muroya, who was in the runner-up spot in the overall standings leading up to the final event, overtook leader Martin Sonka with a victory in the last race and became the first Japanese to ever capture the Red Bull Air Race World Championship title last year.
Muroya recalled that he and his Team Falken arrived in Indianapolis about 10 days prior to the competition in order to have enough time to prepare for the final race. But he said he didn’t really feel any sense of desperation in his chase for the world championship.
“I only tried to do my best,” Muroya said at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday. “I wasn’t thinking of the points or the world championship too much, and I guess it was the right approach.”
The Air Race World Championship is a global competition established 2003. The participating pilots compete for points in each event, and the series championship is determined by the number of points accumulated during the season.
Pilots race against the clock and need to complete tight turns through a 5-6 km slalom course consisting of pylons in about a minute’s time. They reach a maximum speed of 370 kph, and competitions are mainly held over large bodies of water near cities.
Muroya is a pilot in the Master Class, which is the higher-level competition (the Challenge Class is the lower division).
The eight-competition 2018 campaign is scheduled to start on Feb. 2-3 in Abu Dhabi.
While three of the host sites have yet to be announced, two of those races will be held in Asia. Japan has hosted a series race in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture, for the past three years. Of those, Muroya has won the last two.
Muroya will enter the upcoming season as the reigning champ, but the Nara Prefecture native has no intention of getting in the air and acting like a king, because it’s a whole new year and the battles will be different.
“The year of 2017 is over,” said Muroya, who will turn 45 on Jan. 27. “New teams are participating and our aircraft will be upgraded. So I’m excited for the new challenge. It’ll be a totally new season. I’ll put last season behind me to get into the new season.”
Yet the veteran added he will be able to take advantage of the experience he’s accumulated and thinks he has an edge over some of his competitors.
“I have high motivation and would like to be the champion in the end,” said Muroya, who posted the most wins (four) last year. “I’m thrilled.”
Meanwhile, Muroya also has his hands full outside of the Air Race World Championship competition.
He is actively working on a project to attract children, both boys and girls, to the aviation industry as well as air competitions at the Fukushima Sky Park in Fukushima city, where he’s currently based.
There, Muroya hosts aerial shows and lectures to teach young people about aviation. The park, which is operated by the nonprofit organization Fukushima Flight Association, also serves as a base to develop pilots with Nippon Sport Science University.
“I’ve won the world title, but the collection of the effort from so many different people enabled me to become the best in the world,” said Muroya, who is one of the association’s directors. “And now I have to relay this to the next generation and I feel that’s my mission.”
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