Red Bull Air Race: A Homecoming Fit for a Canadian

Sheiban ShakeriSenior Analyst IMay 27, 2009

The momentum is picking up and the tickets are being sold. Windsor, Ontario, is getting ready to host the third round of the Red Bull Air Race in 2009.

The Cross-Border Classic will be the first time that a Canadian city will host the Red Bull Air Race, which coincides with two other things: the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada and the homecoming for the youngest pilot in the history of the series: 25-year old Pete McLeod.

McLeod's journey to the top flight of aerosports wasn't easy. In our interview back in October, Pete was saying that getting the FAI super-license held a lot of responsibility, especially with his young age.

"I’ve faced the issue of 'is he qualified' or 'is he able to,'" says the 25-year old. Indeed, with all his hard work and determination to make it, McLeod has had to dedicate himself to proving his abilities.

He's been performing aerobatic maneuvers ever since he got his pilot's license at age 16.

Pete's latest achievement before going to Spain for the qualification camp last September was a 12th-place finish at the European Aerobatics Championships in the Czech Republic earlier in the year.

It was his first time in the international scene for aerobatics and the clincher for an invitation to Spain and qualification camp. The rest is history.

After getting his super-license to fly in the Red Bull Air Race, McLeod has been realistic of his abilities and has correctly attributed his success to teamwork.

"For a rookie, when you have a top airplane, your setup is not going to be 100% for at least a year because it’s not just the pilot but the team that’s also learning," he told me in an October interview.

Indeed, with a young team around the Canadian, everybody on board is learning—including Nathan Herbert, the team coordinator who handles media requests and other duties.

When it has come to the Red Bull Air Race itself, McLeod has only raced twice. In Abu Dhabi and San Diego for the first two rounds, the Canadian has been racing a stock Edge 540 racing plane and claims that it is the slowest aircraft of them all.

The first round in the Middle East was not the debut envisaged, but still a learning experience, as McLeod made a rookie error by hitting "an easy gate" and had to SCO (Safety Climb Out) because there was still some torn fabric holding on to the Edge 540.

He came in last overall, but while the race was a writeoff, the qualifying round was his shining moment. He was able to put in not one, but two clean runs, albeit slow.

In California, McLeod was able to improve by finishing his run during race day. He was still the slowest - a good 15 seconds slower than race winner Nicolas Ivanoff - but he was able to show his ability even during unpredictable and windy weather on Saturday qualifying.

In the first two rounds, McLeod has taken last place. Keep in mind that he is still a rookie and has a lot to learn. He does not necessarily have the same experience as the other rookies, but it has to be enough if he has made it here!

Still, after San Diego, McLeod and fellow rookie Matthias Dolderer flew to Oklahoma— where the Zivko Aeronautics factory which builds the Edge 540 racing planes—and put in new modifications to their respective aircrafts.

Perhaps the first steps toward the first points for the first Canadian in the first Red Bull Air Race in Canada.

The Red Bull Air Race in Windsor will be the homecoming for Pete McLeod and with a huge fanbase developing, as seen on his Facebook page, the Canadian has the expectations of a nation on his shoulders at his first home race.

Further reading:

An Hour With Pete McLeod:

Part I

Part II

Part III