Friday, 04 September 2015 03:49
In the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, teamwork is essential. Yet as the series returns to Austria’s famed Red Bull Ring this weekend, Canadian pilot Pete McLeod is putting the load squarely on his own shoulders. With only three races left in the season, it’s make or break time.
McLeod comes to Austria ranked sixth in the World Championship standings, only three points behind defending World Champion Nigel Lamb of Great Britain in fifth, and four points back from the Czech Republic’s Martin Sonka in fourth. If the Canadian wants to end the season with a ranking equal to or better than his fifth-place overall from 2014 – and he does – there’s no better time to make a move.
At only 31 years of age and now in his fourth season in the world’s fastest motorsport series, McLeod is already one of the most recognizable figures in Canadian aviation. Since claiming his first Red Bull Air Race win at Las Vegas last year, the Team Garmin pilot has been hungry for more; and getting close with third place at the 2015 opener in Abu Dhabi and fourth in Budapest only whetted his appetite. But an uncharacteristic 13th-place finish in Ascot, UK this August – including a pylon hit in a head-to-head against Australia’s Matt Hall – may turn out to be McLeod's biggest motivator yet.
In recent races, Team Garmin have questioned the performance of their motor. Sensing that his raceplane isn’t among the fastest in the field, and with no opportunity to make significant changes to the aircraft since Ascot, McLeod believes that the key in Spielberg will be stepping up his game to fly at his very best: aggressively, but error free. He’s got to find a way to push the limits, but not exceed them, on a tricky track at speeds of up to 370 kmh and forces up to 10 G.
“I've been training more at home and will simply be looking to fly better here. I love flying over land, and Spielberg is a good track,” McLeod said from his hangar at the Red Bull Ring. Noting that the overall terrain and setting around the motorsport circuit (which includes a start runway hemmed by grandstands, among other features) can make engine setup and start speed “a challenge,” he added, “I’ll need to have all of this right in order to do well.”
If McLeod does do well, and continues through the rest of the season, he’s still got a shot at the World Championship podium should the right factors come into play. The action kicks off in Spielberg with Qualifying on Saturday, September 5, followed by Race Day on Sunday.