One of Spain's top pilots, Juan Velarde is in his third year of competition for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Velarde first became familiar to Air Racing aficionados when he excelled in the inaugural Challenger Cup season (2014), and after making impressive progress, and claimed his first Master Class podium finish at the 2017 season opener in Abu Dhabi.
Velarde has a warm smile that seems ever-present – even when, as one of the tallest pilots in the field, he squeezes his 189-centimeter (6'2") frame into the tiny raceplane cockpit. When he's not racing, the Madrid native is an Airbus A330 captain for Iberia Airlines. He studied for his pilot licences in Alaska, Florida and Madrid, and he worked towing gliders, as a freight pilot and as a flight instructor before joining Iberia at just 22 years of age.
Velarde began flying aerobatics in 1999 and later joined the Spanish National Aerobatic Team, with highlights including a team silver medal at the World Aerobatics Championships, three medals at the European Aerobatics Championships and the individual Spanish national Overall Aerobatics Championship. For over a decade he has been recognised by the Spanish Sports Council as one of the country's Elite Sportsmen.
Velarde acknowledges that there was a lot to learn in stepping up to the Master Class, and his 2015 season was all about gaining experience. In 2016, Team Velarde put that experience into action, with the pilot winning Qualifying at Spielberg, Austria and securing a spot in the elite Round of 8 at three stops: Chiba, Japan; Budapest, Hungary (where he clocked the best time in the Round of 14); and the USA's Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The members of Team Velarde – who also include technician Ted Reynolds, team coordinator Sergio Catolfi-Salvoni and team manager/track and telemetry analyst Anselmo Gámez – feel ready for a competitive breakthrough.
"I believe 2017 is going to be a consolidation year for us. We are not a new team anymore, and we have learned a lot since we started in this amazing sport," Velarde states. "I like the phrase 'sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,' and it is a very good description of our last season, where we achieved some high goals but were not consistent enough. Now I think we can fight face-to-face with the fastest teams, and I feel ready to aim for the top."