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McLeod pushes the limit in Red Bull Air Race Series

Pete McLeod gets hometown support in Poland at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship

BY CLAIRE CUDAHY

Former Red Laker Pete McLeod raced in Round 4 of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship on July 26 and 27 in Gdynia, Poland with hometown support among the 130,000 spectators from his father Dave McLeod and Kerri and Vic Aniol.

In the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, the world’s best pilots navigate a low-level aerial racetrack made up of air-filled pylons, reaching speeds of 370 km/hr. They compete for points at each race, and the pilot with the most at the end of the season is named the Red Bull Air Race World Champion.

During McLeod’s first qualifying run on July 26, a sharp vertical turn caused his G meter to briefly spike over 10G, resulting in a disqualification due to the recent reduction of the allowed max G from 12G to 10G this year.

“There were a lot of changes this season—some to do with safety, some to do with the overall structure of the sport,” McLeod said in an interview with The Northern Sun News. “Unlike auto racing or motorcycle racing, in aviation, even though we are racing airplanes, we still fall under laws, local regulations and the design criteria.”

McLeod’s second qualifying run, however, was fast enough to earn him a strong starting position for Sunday’s race.

Before starting any race, McLeod—who began racing in the Red Bull Air Race Series back in 2009—works on finding his focus.

“Different strategies can make that happen. So you can have different elements of the track that you are more focused on than others. The wind can be a factor. Weather considerations. How the plane is running. Who you are racing against. All those things come into play,” he explains. “The goal is to go out there, fly fast and win, of course. It’s not an airshow. You are out there to compete against others.”

Rain and strong winds swayed the pylons on the day of the Super 8. On his first lap, McLeod appeared to be on his way to setting a track record, but the vertical turn at the end of the course caused his G meter to spike again, this time at 11 G—a force of 11 times his body weight.

“Last season this would have been a legal turn. My body can take it; my plane can take it. It’s a sporting rule, not a rule I like,” admits McLeod.

The second disqualification brought McLeod an 8th place finish in Gdynia and brought down his season points standings to 5th.

Hannes Arch of Austria came in first, followed by Nigel Lamb of Britain and Matt Hall of Australia in third.

“Pete has been in the final four all season long which is a huge accomplishment, and one little thing or another, like the rule on the G, has stopped him from being on the podium so we’re hoping that those little events don’t reoccur, but that’s the racing road,” says Dave McLeod. “If you’re not going to push hard like that then you’re never going to win. That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a fine line.”

This is the second race in a row that ended with disqualification for McLeod, who has already competed in Abudabi, U.A.E.; Rovinj, Croatia; and Putrajaya, Malaysia this season. But the youngest racer on the circuit is not letting those results discourage him as he prepares for the next event in Ascot, UK on Aug. 16-17.

“The next race will be a different story. I am a guy who pushes it to the limit. I am not out here for a Sunday drive, and when you run Max Power you are always close to the line.”

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