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Matt Hall - What it takes to become a World Champion


I can finally say I am a World Champion. I was starting to get concerned after three times on the bridesmaid step of the World Championship podium that I was never going to say it. 

Let’s take a quick look at how the preparation worked on that final day racing for the win.

Wind the clock back to the end of May this year. We had only done one race, with an average result of fifth place, and a season ahead of us to make up the difference and chase down the pack leading the way. 

It was suddenly announced that this would be the final year of the Red Bull Air Race, and it had been shortened to a four race championship. 

I felt my stomach tighten for a number of reasons. There were the financial implications of not racing anymore, with a team of great people around me employed with that money. There was the thought of ‘what will I do to keep me sharp?’, but mostly there was the thought that I was running out of time to finally grab that World Championship trophy.

I’ve been in situations before where I was focused on the result too much, and not enough on the process. A very clear example of this was when I touched the surface of the Detroit river while racing in 2010. The standout problem there was my focus; I was focused too much on future results, and not enough on what I was doing at the time. I’ve been very aware of this issue and talk a lot about it with my QBE Airmanship discussions, but here I was, with those exact thoughts creeping into my mind. 

 I also thought about how I was going to be feeling when running into the track on race day at the final race. Was I going to be emotional, knowing each time I went into it, if I was knocked out in that round, it would be my last ever race? This was mentioned a lot by all the pilots, and recognised as a potential safety issue, because it would be very easy to have your concentration pulled away by these emotions. Added to that was if I was racing for a World Champion with the last possible opportunity, it was going to be a focus nightmare.

We addressed this with the team leading up to the last race. We did our best to ignore the fact it was the last race, and we were in contention for the title. 

When I did the media interview, this was all they seemed interested in talking about, so we had pre prepared answers for the typical questions, including “what will you do after racing?” by responding “we haven’t thought that far ahead yet, we’re just enjoying racing while we can” and “are you nervous that this is your last opportunity to be World Champion?” by saying ”No, we can’t make ourselves be World Champion, all we can do is perform to our best potential and we will then see where that places us”.

To the outside world, the answers sounded like we were pretty excited about the whole thing, but within the team and my family, everyone knew there was a lot on the line, however the most important thing on the line was not having an incident in the last race due to focus misdirection.

We had our team performance coach on site for the last race, which was very important for us. She was able to keep everyone focusing on the present, and not worrying about possible future outcomes. 

It’s this focus on the present, using fixed routines, that ensures you are able to follow your processes, and not become too overwhelmed by stress and excitement. We made sure we did everything we would normally do at a race. We even talked about how I was feeling and we knew we were looking good. 

I said I felt a little sick in the stomach on race day and this sounds funny, but whenever I feel a little sick, it means my desire is high, my energy is high, and we can trust my focus will kick in when needed. The day itself apparently played out like a bit of an emotional roller coaster - so I have been told by many people who watched it both on site and on the broadcast. 

For us as a team, it was just another race. I was aware what was happening with my competitors, though I wasn’t focusing on them. The day went by one step at a time, with never a thought of ‘this maybe the last time in the track’, or ‘what if Yoshi wins this round’. 

I just focused on what I was currently doing, whether that was getting into my flight suit, strapping into the plane, or running into the track for my Final 4 run It was just a matter of focus and concentration on doing the best job of what I was doing right now.

The only thought I had about the future was as I dived down to cross the finish line of my final run. 

I was the last to fly in the round, I was aware all I had to do was fly a conservative run and place third on the podium to be World Champion. I knew I had done enough, so allowed myself, for a brief second, to have a thought outside my focus. As I unloaded the aircraft from the 12 G turn, to dive down the hill with the task of levelling out and passing through the finish gate, I thought “I’ve done it, and I am about to be the last person to ever pass through a Red Bull Air Race gate”. 

And I think that was a nice thought.

Chase your Dreams!

Matt.


Read more about Matt Hall and the QBE Airmanship Program.