ABU DHABI - Canada's Pete McLeod pulled a rabbit out of his hat at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship season opener in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, grabbing a remarkable third place for his Garmin Racing team in the high-speed, low-altitude battle after struggling all week and through Qualifying with an under performing engine.
McLeod, who got the first victory of his career in Las Vegas last year, put in a series of clutch performances under pressure in the new knock-out race format to advance to the Final Four after winning his first two one-on-one duels against Spain's Juan Velarde and then Japan's Yoshi Muroya.
"It was a great day for Garmin Racing and for me - and hopefully this is the first of many podiums to come," said McLeod, who got off to a flying start towards his goal of becoming the youngest world champion in the sport's history at the age of 31 in this year's eight-race championship. "It was a pretty hard-earned result. I was struggling (with the under-power) engine through a lot of the week in training and so I'm thrilled to get on the podium. It's a great way to enjoy the season."
McLeod, who was fifth overall in 2014, said he is hoping to learn from what worked and didn't work last year when he was the fastest qualifier in five of the eight races but only won the one race in Las Vegas. "I looked at last season closely and what I could learn from it," he said. "I'd like to be the fastest guy out there. That's eating me at me a little bit. I want to have that hammer that I can lay down and put the pressure on the others. You need that hammer if you want to make a serious run for the championship."
Britain’s Paul Bonhomme won the first stop of the world's fastest motorsport series on Saturday in Abu Dhabi with a time of 57.787 with Australia's Matt Hall taking second in 57.871 seconds in the race while McLeod took third with a time of 58.843 seconds in the race. In the race, which is the official world championship of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world's top pilots hit speeds of 370 km/h while flying just above the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Abu Dhabi, with its knowledgeable and enthusiastic motorsport fans, hosted the Red Bull Race World Championship season opener for an eighth straight time. There were 14 pilots from 11 nations battling for championship points in the race in which pilots navigate a low-level slalom track made up of 25-meter high air-filled pylons at high speeds while enduring forces of up to 10G. Many of Abu Dhabi's high-society spectators watched the action in style at the Sky Lounge and Race Club, the official and exclusive hospitality programs. The next race will be in Chiba, Japan on May 16/17.
Results: 1. Paul Bonhomme (GBR), 2. Matt Hall (AUS), 3. Pete McLeod (CAN), 4. Hannes Arch (AUT), 5. Nigel Lamb (GBR), 6. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN), 7. Peter Besenyei (HUN), 8. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA), 9. Matthias Dolderer (GER), 10. Martin Sonka (CZE). 11. Francois Le Vot (FRA), 12. Michael Goulian (USA), 13. Juan Velarde (ESP), 14. Kirby Chambliss (USA)
World Championship Standings: 1. Bonhomme (12 points), 2. Hall (9), 3. McLeod (7), 4. Arch (5), 5. Lamb (4), 6. Muroya (3), 7. Besenyei (2), 8. Ivanoff (1), 9. Dolderer, 10. Sonka, 11. Le Vot, 12. Goulian, 13. Velarde, 14. Chambliss