Pete McLeod is Canada’s only Red Bull Air Race pilot, and after clinching his first overall podium in 2017, hopes are high that he will become the country’s first World Champion as well.
When McLeod joined the Red Bull Air Race World Championship as a 25-year-old in 2009, he was the youngest pilot in its history. By his third season, 2014, the Canadian had already emerged as one of the top competitors, with three podiums including a career-first victory in Las Vegas, which also made him the youngest race winner at 30.
Today one of the most popular aviation figures in Canada, McLeod was airborne at six weeks old, first clutched the controls atop his father’s knee at age three and got his private pilot’s licence at 16. He was an accomplished bush pilot before pursuing aerobatics as an 18-year-old, earning his aerobatic instructor rating in less than a year. Following successes including the North American Collegiate Championship (while pursuing an economics degree from the University of Western Ontario), McLeod competed in classical aerobatics internationally before switching his focus to racing.
Although McLeod’s hard-charging style initially branded him as a maverick in the Red Bull Air Race, as he continued to accumulate podiums, he refined his talent, dialling in the critical balance between aggression and restraint. In 2016, he was the only pilot to make it through the entire season without hitting a pylon.
Then in 2017 the Red Lake native was in the title hunt from the beginning, taking third place at the season opener, capturing four consecutive pole positions mid-season and earning three second-place finishes in a row. He sealed up the DHL Fastest Lap Trophy long before the end of the year and was part of a four-way battle for the crown right down to the finale, ultimately finishing third in the World Championship. Last season, despite some setbacks with penalties in the racetrack and late delivery of a practice plane, McLeod still managed highlights like a second-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he’s expecting even more in 2019.
“For me the Red Bull Air Race is an expression of some of the greatest things in life – speed, extreme performance and world-class competition, and doing it all in an aeroplane,” McLeod states. “This season I expect the aircraft to be faster than it’s ever been, and the team and partners supporting me are strong. The target is for every race in 2019 to be better than the last, and I will push for results as the puzzle pieces are put in place. There are so many strong competitors in the World Championship these days that nothing comes easy, but I’m ready for the challenge.”