Canadian Pete McLeod has pushed the boundaries of sport since early childhood and he shows no sign of stopping heading into the new Red Bull Air Race season.
Last year's third-place pilot is a fan favorite for his daredevil moves and will look to get off to a flying start when the field lines up in Abu Dhabi this weekend. The event will be available on the Red Bull TV app on February 2nd and 3rd.
We caught up with McLeod this week as he prepares for the race and here is what he had to say:
Q: Having grown up in the cockpit of planes and playing ice hockey, do you feel more at home in the sky, on the ice or on the land?
Pete McLeod: I feel the freest and least distracted in the air but that question makes me realize that I can skate, fly a plane, and of course walk without thinking about it!
Q: Do you feel you have an advantage over other Air Race pilots with your improvisational skills as a bush pilot?
Pete McLeod: I think it helps me in some areas, such as demanding tracks and bad weather conditions. I don’t mind when the wind kicks up because I know most of the other pilots worry about it and it can get in their head. The pilots in the series come from a wide range of backgrounds, so everyone have their own strengths.
Q: You are a third-generation pilot, and took the controls from your dad aged just three. Do you have to pinch yourself at how far your career has taken you since then?
Pete McLeod: If I think about my flying and racing career it’s still hard to believe how far I have come, the great experiences, and the opportunities that were once only a dream. I’m very lucky to live my dream, and I feel like I’m just getting started. I have lot I still need to do.
Q: Interestingly, you say you are not much of a thrill seeker, which sounds funny for the career you are in. Can you expand on that?
Pete McLeod: I would say I’m not much of a ‘risk taker’ but rather prefer to manage the risk. Some people I think like to scare themselves a little (or a lot) for excitement. Thrills are great but I don’t like them to come from fear-induced adrenaline. It’s no secret I take huge risks on a daily basis, but I’m comfortable with those risks and they don’t scare me - the flying and racing excites me but not the fact it’s dangerous.
Q: Is there anything you can compare the adrenaline of an Air Race to, especially a pilot like you that flies so close to the edge?
Pete McLeod: For me, there is nothing that directly compares to the race track. It’s a huge sensory overload and I’m probably addicted to it somehow.
Q: Has your daughter's arrival changed your approach to how you fly now?
Pete McLeod: I don’t think it has and don’t expect it to change my flying in the track. I have always had a lot of reasons to respect the risk I take and maximize safety. I do think I’m a better driver (and pilot) when she is on-board though – precious cargo!!! I hope one day she finds something that makes her as happy as flying does for me. You can’t live life in a bubble and you only get one life to live, doing nothing is much worse than doing something you love - even if there is risk.
Q: How motivated are you to start the 2018 season on a high after your performance in 2017?
Pete McLeod: I’m always excited for the next race. There are so many variables the come into a season and how the results stack up in the end. For me, every race and every season is part of a goal to win and be fast. 2017 was great overall, the hope is 2018 is even better!
Q: Who do you think could spring a surprise in Air Race this season?
Pete McLeod: There is a long list! There are more pilots that will be hard to beat then those who should be easy targets. Kopfstein and Velarde are ready to become ‘heavyweights’. Muroya and Sonka will be strong with no surprise. Hall and Dolderer will be swing for the fence. My guess is the top 10 of the field will be closer than ever before in the championship.