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Four in a row: McLeod claims Porto pole

A crowd of 250,000 were cheering In Porto, Portugal on Saturday, as Canada’s Pete McLeod clinched the top time in Qualifying for the fourth Red Bull Air Race stop in a row. Overall World Championship leader Kirby Chambliss of the United States clocked the second-best result, and in one of Porto’s biggest stories, Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya came back from technical problems to take third. Race Day in Portugal is Sunday.

Porto (PORTUGAL) – It’s been eight years since Porto hosted a Red Bull Air Race, and the huge crowds were breathless with anticipation. McLeod’s 1:07.192 was the class of the field, a full three-quarters of a second ahead of Chambliss. The American’s time of 1:07.942 barely edged out not only Muroya (1:07.972), but also Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic (1:07.979).

The excitement is even higher because with just three races to go, the World Championship standings are as tight as the Porto racetrack – and in two of three previous Porto races, the winner has gone on to clinch the World Championship. Chambliss, Muroya, Czech pilot Martin Šonka and McLeod are locked within a two-point spread at the top of the overall leaderboard, with Kopfstein right behind in fifth overall. When Qualifying finished on Saturday afternoon, Muroya may have been the most relieved: His team put in an exceptional effort to repair a crack discovered in their raceplane’s airframe on Thursday, finishing final inspections only on Saturday morning. While Šonka finished seventh in Qualifying, he’s expected to be a real threat on Race Day, as he set the Porto track record in Free Practice with 1:06.222.

In the Red Bull Air Race, the pilots who finish fastest in Qualifying race head to head with the pilots at the bottom of the timesheet. McLeod will go up against Chile’s Cristian Bolton, who did not start in Qualifying because of a radio issue, and Chambliss will face off with Spain’s Juan Velarde, who also was unable to start Qualifying because of propeller damage in Free Practice.

“We’ve had a good season but no wins yet. The plane is running good, flying’s good and the team is working well together. We need a bit of luck and things to go our way on Race Day,” said McLeod, who has earned three podiums in 2017. “To come out with two second places this season and think it’s underperforming shows how far we’ve come. There’s a lot of speed out there, and if I do my job well, we’ve got the chance to win.”

McLeod earned his fourth consecutive DHL Fastest Lap Award for flying the fastest single lap among the two-lap Qualifying runs. At the 2017 finale, the pilot with the most awards will be presented with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy, and the Canadian’s new tally assures him of the honor

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