As the Red Bull Air Race World Championship arrives in the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario this week for the fourth round of the 2010 season, all eyes are on the widening field of title contenders.
In the most closely-fought battle in the sport’s history, at least five teams are in the running, including local hero Pete McLeod, the youngest pilot in the championship. The Canadian, who currently sits in fifth place, is looking forward to his home race over the Detroit River after dazzling the crowd of 300,000 last year as a rookie with a brilliant performance under pressure.
Britain’s Paul Bonhomme, at 31 points, is clinging to a shrinking lead at the top of a pack of challengers that includes compatriot Nigel Lamb (28 points), Austria’s Hannes Arch (27 points), Australia’s Matt Hall (22 points) and McLeod (19 points).
Bonhomme, who turned his flagging 2009 season around with a victory in Windsor, will be looking for the same to happen this year after back-to-back third-place finishes at the last two races in Perth and Rio de Janeiro.
“It is most definitely a three-horse race...or possibly four?” said Bonhomme. “No one is going to have an easy year. We’re still at the top of the table. That might change, but compare us to any other team and we’re not doing that badly. I’m now itching with excitement to get into the track in Windsor to try to win a race.”
"The support of the Canadian fans really motivates me." –Pete McLeod
McLeod has happy memories from last year’s race in Windsor, where, despite competing in a relatively slow and heavy plane, he got his season's best result to the delight of the home crowd. It was an impressive performance by McLeod on a racetrack over the Detroit River made challenging by changing winds.
McLeod, who has gained the respect of veteran pilots with his flying prowess on difficult tracks, shrugged off the pressure of racing at home that has so often caused other top pilots problems. With a greatly improved plane and a year’s experience under his belt, the Canadian ace is looking forward to using the local crowd to his advantage in Windsor again this year.
“I’m stoked about coming back to Canada for the next race,” said McLeod, who learned how to fly float planes in Canada’s rugged north and aims to be the world champion by the time he is 30 years old. “l feel overall I have an advantage in Windsor. We’re close to home, and the support of the Canadian fans really motivates the team and me. As for the track, it was one of my favorites last season – very tight and unforgiving.”
Windsor is also looking forward to hosting the Red Bull Air Race for the second straight year. Ontario’s Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan has been full of praise for the race, which he said gave the region an important economic boost last year.
The race in Windsor marks the halfway point of the 2010 season. The next stop is New York on June 19-20. The world championship then shifts to Europe for the final three races in Germany, Hungary and Portugal.
For more on the series, check the official Red Bull Air Race website.