One of Spain's top pilots, Juan Velarde has just completed his third year of competition for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, and it was a season to remember as he bookended his season with podiums. He started the year with a second in Abu Dhabi and finished with a third in Indianapolis. This will drive him on for 2018.
Velarde first became familiar to Air Racing aficionados when he excelled in the inaugural Challenger Cup season (2014), and after making impressive progress, 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-centimetre (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.