Air races return after 3-year hiatus

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The Red Bull Air Race World Championship returns next year with seven stops around the world, including Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 6-7 and Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 11-12.

The series took a three-year break to reorganize and improve safety.

Competitors race in high-performance airplanes between 50 and 80 feet above the ground and navigate an obstacle course of air gate pylons at up to 230 mph.

Among the changes are standard engines and propellers for all pilots, changes to the lightweight nylon pylon material to make it easier for them to burst apart if they are clipped by plane wings and raising the height of the pylons that the pilots pass through to 82 feet. A 270-degree "Quatro" turn through a set of four pylons has been eliminated because of the exceedingly high G-forces it exerts on the planes and pilots.

Red Bull Air Race was started in 2003, with the first U.S. race taking place in Reno in 2004. Since then, the series has held nine races in the U.S., with stops in San Francisco, San Diego, Monument Valley, Detroit and New York. For the first time in the U.S., the series will feature both stops taking place in speedways, a departure from the past when events were held above water or undeveloped land.

Red Bull Air Race pilot Kirby Chambliss is from Corpus Christi, Texas, "so it's going to be cool racing in my home state, for sure. ... It's a really cool perspective from a spectator standpoint because you're actually looking down on the airplanes as they race through the gates."

Reigning champion Paul Bonhomme of Britain, who won the last two world championships in 2009 and 2010, will be looking for an unprecedented third straight title in 2014. But he will be up against 2008 champion Hannes Arch of Austria and Chambliss, who won the world title in 2004 and 2006.

The rest of the pilots in the field include Nigel Lamb of Britain, Matt Hall of Austria, Peter Besenyei of Hungary, Nicolas Ivanoff of France, American Michael Goulian, Matthias Dolderer of German, Yoshi Muroya of Japan, Pete McLeod of Canada and Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic.

The new Challengers Cup competition will be introduced in 2014. The stepping-stone competition will give new pilots experience racing under less pressure on the day before the Red Bull Air Race. There will also be several training camps for the new pilots during the season.