Ten things to know about Juan Velarde
1) Flying is in his blood
Juan's father is an accomplished pilot, and Juan can remember wanting to become a pilot himself as early as three years old. By 14 he was already studying videos of aerobatic competitions in slow motion, trying to understand what the aeroplanes were doing and why.
2) But if he couldn't be a pilot, he would be pursuing...
"Something related to motorsports," Juan says. "Bikes, cars – for many years, what I liked most besides flying were motorbikes. Every winter I often rode bikes off-road in the mountains near Madrid with my friends."
3) And he seems to have a variety of fallback skills
Juan shares, "When I was very young, before I was able to earn money flying, I worked temporarily as an assistant gardener, a pizza deliverer, making cakes in a bakery and as a production assistant for TV ads – that was fun and good enough to buy my first motorbike!"
4) The number 26 was his destiny
Juan always flew a Sukhoi 26 aeroplane for aerobatic competition. Then when Repsol first became one of his sponsors, Juan met famed Spanish MotoGP rider (and fellow Repsol athlete) Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa races the number 26, and they put a big 26 on Juan's plane. Finally, when Juan joined the Master Class of the Red Bull Air Race, his first plane was an Edge 540 V2 with the serial number 26, and that cemented it: 26 was clearly meant for Team Velarde.
5) His aerobatic medals encompass World, European and National levels
Juan was a member of the Spanish Aerobatic Team from 2004 until 2015, with which he won the Silver Medal at the World Championships, as well as Silver and two Bronze Medals at Europeans. He also claimed the Spanish National Overall Aerobatics title and has competed in China and the UAE. "All that was the basis for building the skills to join the Red Bull Air Race," Juan notes. He has been recognised by the Spanish Sports Council as an Elite Sportsman since 2006.
6) He has a passion for historic aircraft
"I've been in contact with the vintage collection of the Infante de Orleans Foundation since I was 15 or so, following in my father's footsteps. It´s a privilege to be able to fly such machines, maintained exactly as they were in the early years. Most recently I have been flying their 1938 North American T-6 Texan in formation with a Soviet Polikarpov I-16 from 1935, a sight that's very rare to see anywhere in the world," Juan relates.
7) When he's not in the sky, he's on the waves
To avoid injuries that could ground him, Juan switched hobbies from riding motorbikes to kitesurfing. "The combination of wind, waves, the sea, the beach and great friends is hard to beat," he enthuses. "I go to Tarifa, in the south of Spain, whenever I can. In just three or four days I get my batteries back to full charge."
8) Life on the road suits him
Juan remarks, "I love traveling, and when I had more time I used to go for backpack trips around Central America, such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Panamá, Costa Rica... Hiking in the rain forest, or scuba diving in the Caribbean – it was amazing."
9) He's 189cm tall, but his family still calls him Juanito
"I'm the youngest of four children, so they all still call me 'the little one,'" Juan smiles. "I have a very close relationship with my siblings: they support me a lot, and they will be at the Porto race cheering for our team. They're our Number 1 fans, although my mother never, ever saw me flying in my aerobatic competitions before I started air racing in the Red Bull Air Race. She was too scared, but now she takes it more easily."
10) Chaos is definitely not his thing
With a laugh, Juan admits, "I'm very organised, methodical and a perfectionist, especially on race weekends, so quite often my teammates give me a hard time with their jokes about it!"