BUDAPEST, Hungary – Canada’s Pete McLeod continued to show ascending form at the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, grabbing a solid fourth place in Qualifying on Saturday after struggling in several of the pre-race training sessions in the sweltering heat in Budapest. McLeod, who was just a fraction of a second behind Qualifying winner Matt Hall (AUS), will also have a clear shot to advance from the Round of 14 to the Round of 8 thanks to another lucky draw — he will race in Sunday’s opening round against rookie Francois Le Vot of France.
Hall took top honours and will be the man to beat in Sunday’s race, the fourth of eight stops in the world’s fastest motorsport series. The high-speed, low-altitude race track set up in the heart of Budapest over the Danube River is one of the most spectacular.
McLeod could do no better than 11th in the 14-pilot field in the timed training session earlier on Saturday after taking seventh on Friday afternoon. McLeod did manage to get as high as third in the first training session on Thursday but was pleased to come up with the goods in the pressure-packed Qualifying.
“We’ve got our aircraft to run pretty cool and it was the best run of the week for me,” said McLeod. “It’s good to do it when it counts — but everyone is so close in the timings. I want a penalty-free run tomorrow.”
Winning Qualifying for the first time in his career, Hall proved to be a master of the heat on therack set up in the heart of the Hungarian capital with its one-of-a-kind start beneath the iconic Chain Bridge and stopped the clock in 58.323 seconds. McLeod’s time was 59.480.
Yoshihide Muroya of Japan took second in the action where pilots hit speeds of up to 370 km/h while Hannes Arch of Austria, who won the last race in Rovinj, bounced back from dismal training results to take third.
Accustomed to flying in the heat at home in Australia, Hall seemed to thrive on the high temperatures in Hungary that soared above 35 degrees as tens of thousands of spectators filled the streets of Budapest while withstanding the unusual heat wave to watch the Qualifying action. The Australian also won posted the fastest time in all three training sessions before Qualifying and will be looking for a first career win on Sunday.
“It’s special,” said Hall when asked how it felt to get his first Qualifying win. “It’s been a good week so far, and one more day to go. Hopefully we can keep doing what we’ve been doing. The airplane is starting to fit like a glove. We put the new winglets on at the start of the year and I’m really starting to ring it out in the turns. I’m really flying tight turns out there and there’s where I think I’m saving so much time.”
Hungary’s Peter Besenyei, the 2003 champion, took 10th place in Qualifying as thousands of fans cheered him in his new Edge 540 V3 airplane from the banks of the majestic Danube River.
What makes the race in Budapest especially exciting for spectators is that the planes are flying just above the waters in the Danube river bed and crowds can see the planes flying by at high speeds below or at the same level. Unlike in past seasons when there were only two or three pilots challenging for race victories and the championship, the entire field this year is wide open with 10 of the 14 pilots flying fast enough at times to win the race.
In the Red Bull Air Race, which is the official world championship of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world’s top pilots hit speeds of 370 km/h while enduring forces of up to 10G as they navigate as precisely as possible through a low-level slalom track marked by 25-meter high air-filled pylons.
Qualifying Results: 1. Matt Hall (AUS) 58.323, 2. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 59.011, 3. Hannes Arch (AUT) 59.328, 4. Pete McLeod (CAN) 59.480, 5. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 59.496, 6. Nigel Lamb (GBR) 59.553, 7. Martin Sonka (CZE) 59.756, 8. Paul Bonhomme (GBR) 59.812, 9. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 1:00.151, 10. Peter Besenyei (HUN) 1:00.862, 11. Francois Le Vot (FRA) 1:02.364, 12. Juan Velarde (Spain) 1:03.839, 13. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 1:03.974, 14. Michael Goulian (USA) 1:04.403