Almost one million people flocked to the banks of the Douro River to watch this year’s Red Bull Air Race, which returned to the skies over Porto and Gaia after an eight-year break.
Czech aerobatics and fighter pilot Martin Sonka was the winner of the unique event and now leads the competition, which sees small planes niftily dodge and dice between giant inflatables set up in an obstacle course along the river.
A total of 850,000 people lined the banks on either side of the Douro River over the past weekend.
This number is believed to be more than the combined total number of people who watched the first five races of the season elsewhere around the globe. Porto Mayor Rui Moreira, deemed the event and its turnout as “extraordinary”, and stressed the “political importance” of having managed to bring the race back to Northern Portugal after “consolidating efforts at various levels.”
He said communication between the Porto and Gaia councils as well as the regional Development and Coordination Branch and tourism board “created the necessary conditions for the event’s sustainability.” And that, he said, “is very significant.”
However, the figure is still down on the one million people who gathered in Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia to watch the last Red Bull Air Race, staged in northern Portugal back in 2008.
At one point it looked as if the return of the Portugal leg of the event to northern Portugal would have to be cancelled after plans to stage it from Maia were scuppered when permits for the local aerodrome were refused.
The race was left hanging after the Portuguese Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) said it would not recognise Maia municipal aerodrome as an air traffic service provider. But an alternative air base was found and the event went ahead without a glitch.
Established in 2003 and created by Red Bull GmbH, the Red Bull Air Race is an international series of air races in which competitors have to navigate a challenging obstacle course in the fastest time.