The Red Bull Air Race season kicked off last week with new rules, new faces and unusual weather in the Persian Gulf city of Abu Dhabi. Team Garmin pilot Pete McLeod looked to bounce back from a disappointing end to the 2015 season by jumping out to a fast start in 2016.
Teams arrived in the United Arab Emirates capital a week before race action, assembling their airplanes and testing new modifications for the year’s inaugural competition. An unprecedented dose of Mother Nature brought wind and rainstorms mid-week to the desert metropolis, wreaking havoc on the race airport and causing destruction within the city.
After several days of dodging clouds and rain, Thursday brought clear skies for practice in the track, however, a new issue emerged. Pilots were consistently exceeding the 10-G limit, prompting race officials to issue a reduction in course entry speed from 200 knots to 180 knots.
Despite the adjusted rules, Canada’s Pete McLeod maintained his signature aggressive approach in the racetrack and finished Friday’s qualifying round with the eighth fastest time, pitting him against Team Breitling’s Nigel Lamb. After a clean and fast run by the Canadian, Lamb – from England – headed into the course looking to advance. Following a fast start, Lamb incurred costly penalties allowing McLeod to win the heat and ultimately move on to the Round of 8.
The Round of 14 victory placed McLeod against Matthias Dolderer of Germany in the Round of 8. Dolderer, with the heat’s honors, posted one of the fastest times of the day putting heavy pressure on the Team Garmin racer. McLeod, knowing he needed an impressive track time to advance, risked it all and received an over-G disqualification on the first lap in the course.
Dolderer moved on to the Final 4, where he finished second, behind Nicolas Ivanoff, and ahead of Francois Le Vot, both from France. Despite the disqualification in the Round of 8, McLeod took sixth on the day, claiming four points in the world championship standings. The Red Bull Air Race circuit now heads to Spielberg, Austria for the next stop on the tour, April 23-24.