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McLeod Soars from Canadian Wilderness into Title Contention in Red Bull Air Race

A typical day of fun for Pete McLeod as a Canadian teenager involved flying fishermen to distant destinations that often aren’t found on maps.

Growing up with such an affinity for airplanes and experiencing the joy of letting go in the air prepared him for the thrill of competing in such events as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’m from a small town (Red Lake, Ontario) in northern Canada where basically the highway stops,” McLeod said Friday at IMS. “If you want to go further north, you take a plane. A lot of that is just remote wilderness where you’re not even going to an airport, the float planes landing on lakes. My family was involved in a small fishing outfitting business, and the only way to get to those places was a float plane. An airplane for me was like a tractor or pickup truck would be for a farm kid from Indiana.

“The wildlife, the bears, the bad weather and spending some nights unexpected, that’s all part of it. That’s just normal up there. It’s a very cool place to grow up, for sure, a far cry from traveling the world racing airplanes. That environment, me growing up and being so comfortable in an airplane, is a big factor of why I’m able to be here and do this.”

McLeod became the youngest pilot and first Canadian to qualify for the Red Bull Air Race series, in 2009. He won his first race in 2014 at Las Vegas, one of six career podium finishes. He aspires to become the youngest World Champion in series history.

Now 33, he’s still chasing the distinction as youngest champion earned by the late Austrian Hannes Arch, who triumphed at 41 in 2008. McLeod enters Sunday seven points behind leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic and three points back from second-place pilot Yoshihide Muroya of Japan.

A race winner is rewarded with 15 points. Failing to advance to the final four means six points for finishing fifth. Failing to make the round of eight means a getting just two points for ninth.

McLeod earned 12 points for three consecutive runner-up finishes at Budapest (Hungary), Kazan (Russia) and Porto (Portugal) before picking up six points in his most recent start, Sept. 17 at Lausitzring (Germany).

“As long as some of these other young guys don’t win any time soon, I can still (be the youngest champion) for a number of years,” McLeod said. “I’m now not the youngest guy in the series as of this year. Mika Brageot is a couple of years younger than me. I would love to not only win a World Championship, but it’s my goal to win multiple World Championships in my career. We’ve got to start with the first one.”

Racing in this series is beyond the wildest dreams of this former bush pilot.

“I grew up as a Canadian kid playing a lot of hockey and sports and driving snowmobiles, going faster than I should on everything,” he said. “The mix of competition and sport, I’ve always loved that, and, of course, performance and speed.

“There’s not a lot of auto racing up there, but I was about anything with a motor. I was your typical teenage boy. If it’s got a motor and goes fast, I liked it. And I also loved to play sports and compete. To connect all of that with flying, I can’t think of a better scenario. I feel like this sport is made for me.

“I’ve been doing this already for eight years. We work hard and travel a lot, a couple hundred days on the road, and everything in between is all getting ready for the rest of it. But I never wake up and feel like I have to go to work each day because I love what I do.”

After the season ends, McLeod loves to return home and reconnect with his roots, and once again fly to parts unknown in a float plane.

“It’s definitely still a very special place for me,” he said. “Obviously with the schedule, I don’t get up there as much as I’d like to. Typically after this race, we’re at the end of the season, and I try to find my way up before the weather gets too bad up there. I fit it in whenever I can.

“It’s still very relaxing to me to get in the float plane, go one third the speed of the race plane and just cruise around down low and slow, kind of not have to think about much. It’s a little different than having your hair on fire on the racetrack, but it’s still a lot of fun.”

Visit IMS.com to purchase tickets for the Red Bull Air Race World Championship and for more information on the event weekend. Children 15 and under receive free General Admission when accompanied by an adult General Admission ticket holder.

An interactive Fan Guide for the event also is available at www.ims.com/RBARFanGuide.


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Pete McLeod
 
McLeod Soars from Canadian Wilderness into Title Contention in Red Bull Air Race
A typical day of fun for Pete McLeod as a Canadian teenager involved flying fishermen to distant destinations that often aren’t found on maps. Growing up with such an affinity for airplanes and experiencing the joy of letting go in the air prepared him for the thrill of competing in such events as the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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