Lamb's 2017 Predictions

Posted on: 21st Feb 2017

It was both exciting and fascinating to sit at home with Hux and watch the first race of 2017. Each race is, of course, just one battle in the long campaign of a race season so it’s hard to predict the outcome but, it’s worth having a shot and seeing how things turn out by the last race in Indianapolis. There are many more pilots likely to win races than likely to be 14th so my predictions here are weighted more towards winning than losing. Factors of misfortune (an unlucky roll of the head-to-head dice, technical problems, bad weather issues etc) will shuffle some pilots further down the field than their capability would suggest.

We can break the group of 14 into 4 categories:

  1. the ‘Veterans’. Three have been racing since the very early days of the sport (Chambliss, Goulian, Ivanoff)
  2. the ‘Mature’, a group of 5 who are now into their 5th or 6th season; (Hall, Dolderer, Muroya, McLeod, Sonka)
  3. the ‘Seasoned’ who have done at least 2 years of Masters racing (Le Vot, Velarde)
  4. the ‘New’. 4 pilots have recently come through the Challenger series and have done one season or less. (Kopfstein, Podlunsek, Bolton, Brageot)

The first two groups (>50% of the pilots) have experience both from the early days of racing when engine power and weight could give a huge advantage and also from 2014 since when the regulations have controlled both power and weight i.e  almost all the aircraft enter the track with a similar power / weight ratio and the racing is more about the pilot than the machine.


Veterans Group

Kirby Chambliss

He won’t like the fact that he is now the oldest pilot but, with that comes invaluable experience.  He is twice a World Champion and was never outside the top 4 in his first 8 seasons. Kirby is hugely talented and flies in a very aggressive style but he will be very unhappy to have had little success ever since the power /weight regulations changed. He has more podiums than anyone else; his team is the most experienced and includes Paulo Iscold who led Paul Bonhomme to many podiums. Kirby’s early pull in a gate in Abu Dhabi highlights the small margin between perfection and a penalty and he has many races to catch up . . if he can find the right style and rhythm and avoid penalties, he is definitely one to watch.

2017 prediction: 3 - 7

Nicolas Ivanoff

He’s just like the French rugby team . . you never know which Nicolas Ivanoff is going to turn up! He has enormous talent and when he’s ‘hot’ he’s virtually unbeatable (the master of taking gates at extreme angles) but, most of the time his mind seems elsewhere and he’s mid-field. His record is interesting . . . . 9 podiums of which FIVE are wins! . . . it seems like when he decides to get on the podium, he goes to the top. So . . I’d say that Nico’s biggest threat is himself . . fifth place after Abu Dhabi is where I was in 2014, the year I managed to win the Championship so, if he has a track analyst at every remaining race and gets himself into the right mood at every time, Nicolas could well be the 2017 World Champion. 

2017 prediction: 1 - 6

Mike Goulian

Mike and I both joined full-time in 2006 and his first win came in Budapest 2009 . . 2 race seasons before mine. Apart from this win and a silver in 2007, the podium has eluded Mike and I have no idea why. He has more aerobatic handling talent than I ever had; he is the consummate professional and surrounds himself with a great team. The record books don’t show this because the race was eventually cancelled but in the last race of 2016, Mike put in a phenominal time in the turbulent track (as tough as it can get) in Las Vegas so we know he has the skill and the pace. If he can find a way to consistently replicate “LV 2016”, then 2017 could be his to win. Mike will be very disappointed to have lost in R8 in Abu Dhabi by 8/1000 sec but he’s still in good shape for the season.  2017 prediction: 2 - 6


The Mature group:

Matt Hall

Everyone is hungry to win but there are different levels of hunger . . . Matt defines the highest level! In 5 seaons, he has 15 podiums including 4 wins. It’s an amazing record. He’s been second for the last two years and must, surely, enter 2017 absolutely famished. I do believe Matt will reach his goal to become Champion but, sadly, I do not think it will be this year. He has changed to an Edge 540. If it was a direct change to a fast Edge (which comes at the next race), I think he could do it this year but, with the field being so competitive and given perhaps a ‘not so fast Edge’, I think Matt will have marked 2017 as his year to ‘re-group’.  2017 prediction: 2 - 6

Pete McLeod

When Pete entered as a rookie in 2009, he was in his mid-20’s and came with a young and exhuberant team from Canada. It was a breath of fresh air to see such youth on the grid! His first year was in a slow machine but, despite coming 15th, it was clear that he had the potential to be very competitive once he re-equipped. In 2010 he showed enormous promise in a faster machine and finished 5th overall. Exceptional progress.  With the re-start in 2014 he was on the podium 3 times so the signs were good and again, he was 5th overall. In the last two seasons, Pete’s reached the bottom step of the podium three times, but his inconsistency placed him 8th and 7th overall. He has the pace and knows where to find the podium so if he can find the key to better consistency, he could do very well.                          2017 prediction: 2 - 6

Yoshi Muroya

In his 5 seasons, Yoshi has never finished a season with a lower ranking than the previous year; starting 13th and climbing up to 6th. He has had some excellent results but his accomplishment in Japan last year shows that he is more than capable of winning the championship this year. Having flown several home races, I know just how hard it is to navigate through the distractions and keep yourself in the right place mentally. But, in England, there are too many sporting super stars for anyone in aviation to have much of a profile outside the aviation press so the pressure is not that high. In Japan, Yoshi is a super star throughout the media; they were all over him in Chiba so I am in awe of the way he managed to win in front of his home crowd. If he can replicate that mental zone, he will be very hard to beat. Like Kirby’s early pull and failure to get through R14, Yoshi’s over-G demonstrates the fine margins. It’s a big set back but I still expect a fine season from Yoshi.  2017 prediction. 1 – 6

Matthias Dolderer

His progression since 2009 (9th, 8, 7, 5, Winner) says it all. He improved steadily; found his self-belief by the end of 2015; went away to hone his mental strength and came back to win in 2016. Given that his win was so emphatic and not much has been done to make his Edge go faster, we know that success will come to those who find the way mentally. Who knows what will happen with Matthias this year . . could there be something of a Nico Rosberg in him or will he come back hungry for more? In Abu Dhabi, he wasn’t as solid as last year yet he made it to the  Final so I expect a very good season for Matthias. 2017 prediction: 1 – 5

Martin Sonka

Like Matthias, Martin has shown great progress: 13th, 8, 4, 7th. Last year did not go his way and in my view, his 7th place was not reflective of expectations. We’ve seen him on the podium 4 times so we know he has the skills, the team and machine to win races. His wins in Abu Dhabi (both Qualifying and the Race) will give enormous confidence to Martin and his team so I expect him to be a regular on the podium this year.  2017 prediction: 1 - 4


The Seasoned Group

Juan Velarde

By now, Juan is very familiar with the bitter / sweet nature of this sport; the euphoria of winning a Qualification (in his second season!) to the dismay of too many penalties the following day. He knows he can do it but, so far, has never found out how. He has a great attitude, superb skill and a fast machine (Paul Bonhomme’s Edge) so, if he manages to find some kind of ‘as yet elusive’ Spanish Matador clinical precision, I believe he will win a race soon. Like Sonka, Juan will head to race two with confidence surging through his veins. If he’s found the formula to minimise the small errors, he can look forward to a great season.  2017 prediction: 2 – 7

Francois Le Vot

This World Unlimited Aerobatic Champion definitely knows what it takes to win a world title at the highest level and under the highest pressure. So, why’s it not come right for him in two seasons of air racing? Self-belief simply cannot exist without faith in one’s machine. Whilst it is clear that as long as the machines are roughly equal, one should look first at one’s own performance, in Francois’ case, it’s not just about power and weight, it’s about handling too and I know he’s struggled to get his Edge the way he likes it. He has all the other necessary attributes so, once he finds faith in his machine, he should start posting very fast times. Abu Dhabi would not have been confidence inspiring for Francois so I expect he’s resigned himself to mediocrity until his new machine arrives mid-season. I hope he gets comfortable in it from the get go!  2017 prediction: 6 – 11


The New Group

Petr Kopfstein

In his first season, he posted some excellent times. He clearly has a fast machine so, if he’s done some good mental preparation in the winter months, I believe we could be in for some surprises this year as his first race show. Welcome to the bitter / sweet of air racing Petr but don’t lose heart . . your results were excellent and you know you have a fast machine and all the skills. The podium beckons!  2017 prediction: 4 – 7

Peter Podlunsek

It’s hard to say without knowing what off-season changes Peter may have implemented to both himself and his machine. Based on his results last year and knowing just how hard it is to eradicate penalties and compete at this level, I was not expecting such fast times in Abu Dhabi. Peter will be angry with his DQ but once he realises that he has only himself to blame and sees the true potential in his previous times, he should come back stronger for race 2. 2017 prediction: 8 – 12

Cristian Bolton

Cristian came in at a tough time last year to replace Hannes Arch who had died in a helicopter crash in the Alps. In the two final races of 2016, he acquitted himself very well and I think he has surprised himself with a top half result in his first race this year. His Qualification mid-field shows solid consistency so, whilst I think Cristian’s plan was to use this year just to build his team and consolidate, his surge in confidence might well bring some excellent results earlier than he expects  2017 prediction: 6 – 12

Mikael Brageot

I had the pleasure to be Mika’s mentor through the 2016 season. He was able to fly a fast machine in the track at each race and have full access to the highest level of analysis; invaluable experience for a rookie; he worked within a well drilled and bonded team which knows how to lead a pilot to the podium and he managed to persuade every member of that team to join him for this season. He may be the youngest pilot competing in 2017 but I believe he has the full package: the skill, the mentalty, the machine and the team. Mika is certainly podium capable and although he will have come away from Abu Dhabi somewhat disappointed, knowing that he could / should have made the next round, 2 Championship points in your first race is a great result.  2017 prediction: 5 - 9