Canadian pilot Pete McLeod celebrated Canada Day with 30,000 Red Bull Air Race fans in Hungary on Saturday, when he blazed to the top time in Qualifying for the World Championship stop in Budapest. Current overall leader Yoshihide Muroya of Japan stopped the clock with the second-best time, while two Czech pilots rounded out the top four results ahead of Race Day over the Danube on Sunday.
Only 33 years old, McLeod was dazzling on the 150th birthday of his vibrant young country. With a time of 59.508, he was the only pilot at the iconic Budapest stop to go sub-one minute until Muroya pushed to a 59.950 – enough to break 60 seconds, but not McLeod’s track record. The Czech Republic’s Petr Kopfstein, fresh off his career-first podium in Chiba, Japan, was third with 1:01.296, while his countryman Martin Šonka crossed the Finish Gate at 1:01.345.
Muroya has jumped to the top of the World Championship rankings by winning the previous two races. Clinching a hat trick with a Budapest win would enable him to shake off Šonka, who is tied in the points with the Japanese pilot at 30 each. Reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer had a tough Qualifying day, earning a Did Not Finish (DNF) penalty for exceeding the G limit.
The pilots are allowed two runs in Qualifying, and McLeod surprised the large crowd when he laid down his record time in his first run and elected not to fly the second. He explained that he had hurt his neck in a previous flight and wanted to spare it extra strain with the race just 24 hours away.
“I don’t need to do more, I just need to do it again tomorrow. I’m trying to be ultra smooth and efficient out there, to let the plane run. It seems to be paying off,” stated the Canadian, who also won Qualifying at the race in Japan, only to incur an over-G penalty on Race Day. “We’ve seen some over Gs in the field here already – that’s going to be a threat to everyone. So I’m kind of in the same spot in Budapest as I was in Chiba. I’m on the limit to get times like that. I’m going to need a little bit of luck in this race.”
Qualifying determines the brackets for Sunday’s opening Round of 14, and McLeod will go head-to-head with Spain’s Juan Velarde, who logged the fastest Round of 14 time in Budapest last season. In a sure-fire nailbiter, Dolderer will clash with Muroya.
McLeod also claimed his second consecutive DHL Fastest Lap Award, which goes to the pilot who flies the fastest single lap among the two-lap Qualifying runs. At season’s end, the pilot with the most awards across the eight races will be honored with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy. McLeod’s two awards give him the lead in the competition.
See the raceplanes fly under Budapest’s Chain Bridge! Tickets for the 2017 Red Bull Air Race World Championship are on sale now – including Race Day in Hungary on Sunday, 2 July 2017. For more information on tickets and all the latest, visit www.redbullairrace.com
Results Master Class Qualifying, BUDAPEST 2017:
1. Pete McLeod (CAN) 59.508, 2. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 59.950, 3. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 1:01.296, 4. Martin Šonka (CZE) 1:01.345, 5. Matt Hall (AUS) 1:01.431, 6. Michael Goulian (USA) 1:01.541, 7. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 1:01.546, 8. François Le Vot (FRA) 1:02.444, 9. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 1:02.515, 10. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) 1:02.588, 11. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 1:03.818, 12. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 1:05.235, 13. Matthias Dolderer (GER) DNF, 14. Juan Velarde (ESP) DNF