Britain’s Paul Bonhomme managed to pull off a dramatic victory in Qualifying on Saturday over Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship stop in Rovinj, Croatia.

Bonhomme will be looking to win his third straight Red Bull Air Race on Sunday in one of the tightest Qualifying battles but the two-time champion was trailing Muroya at the third of four intervals before opening up the throttle in the final sector to just beat Muroya in his new Edge 540 V3 airplane. Bonhomme’s time of 54.266 seconds was just fractions of a second ahead of Muroya’s 54.305 with Australia’s Matt Hall taking third in 54.329 seconds.

The competition on the challenging track just off the coast of Rovinj was intense and the top five pilots finished within 0.206 seconds of each other. Germany’s Matthias Dolderer was fourth in 54.360 and Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic was fifth in 54.472. There was a total of 18 pylon hits in the difficult, windswept course during Qualifying.

“I’m really, really happy,” said Bonhomme, who had a rare pylon hit earlier in training on Saturday in the world’s fastest motorsport series. “We’re very happy to come off a training session with a pylon hit and win Qualifying. That’s really good. That’s exactly what we’re looking for: reliability and consistency. But the competition is fierce,” he added after discovering he will be facing France’s Nicolas Ivanoff in Sunday’s Round of 14.

Muroya, who got the first podium of his career in Rovinj last year with third place, clearly likes the Croatian race track. He set the fast time early in the Qualifying session and watched with growing confidence as many of the top favorites failed to top his time until Bonhomme just edged him at the very end of his final run.

“We’re very happy with the result but we still have space to go faster,” said Muroya. “We’ll be better tomorrow.”

In Challenger Class Qualifying on Saturday, Daniel Ryfa of Sweden had the best time with 1:04.770, more than a second ahead of Mikael “Mika” Brageot of France in second and Cristian Bolton of Chile with the third-best time.

The field in Sunday’s Challenger Cup competition will be rounded out by an athlete close to the heart of Croatians, Peter Podlunsek, from neighboring Slovenia with a big crowd of supporters in Rovinj, as well as Francis Barros of Brazil. Despite rest and decongestant medications, Florian Berger from Germany is not feeling well and won’t compete this weekend.

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