Flying at 200 knots, 50 feet off the ground, through a winding and rolling course leaves Red Bull Air Race pilots little margin for error. With the aviators regularly pulling in the neighborhood of 10 G’s, the cockpit requires competitors to be at peak physical fitness. But the mental preparation and focus of flying these high performance machines is equally important. Team Garmin pilot Pete McLeod has a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure he’s prepared when cleared into the track on race day.
“Typically for us it’s a week-long event where we show up, prepare the airplane wherever we are in the world, start getting ourselves ready for the race weekend, and begin our testing,” McLeod said. “The flights in the track are critical – the analysis that goes into it, fine tuning our lines and all this builds up to race day.”
All the work in the days leading up to the race will help translate to a smooth race day experience.
“If we’ve done everything right, race day becomes a bit of a routine. I try and get a good sleep – sleep is important to me – some guys might want to get up and go for a run or a workout in early, I like to get that in the night before. I’ll wake up, get a light breakfast in, and head out to the track. I’ve got a great team around me so generally they’ve got everything running like a finely tuned watch," McLeod explained.
A simple course layout of Red Bull cans in the Team Garmin hangar allows McLeod to “fly” the course in his mind.
“There’s a lot that goes into the focus side of it, because when it comes to the track flying, you’ve got about 60 seconds in the track, and a lot happens in 60 seconds. A lot of mental preparation goes into it, mentally flying the race track, reviewing lines, and the data analysis from the tacticians side of the team, taking that input and basically programming that into my mind.”
And he knows when it’s time to race, although his alarm is slightly different than most of ours.
“Usually when you hear the turbines of the filming helicopters start to spool up, I know it’s time to go. Things happen pretty fast, and all the focus and work we’ve put in over the previous week comes together in a one to two hour period.”