Pete McLeod of Canada claimed pole position for the third race in a row with a win at Saturday’s Qualifying for the Russian debut of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship. The Czech Republic’s Martin Šonka and Nicolas Ivanoff of France also delivered stellar results ahead of Sunday’s racing action in the sporting capital of Kazan.

Spectators flocked to Kazan’s riverside for something they’d never seen before – raceplanes speeding around a high-speed, low-altitude racetrack at 370kmh – and they got an eyeful. As the kickoff to the second half of the season, as well as the first Russian race in history, the showdown in Kazan is a high-stakes affair, and the pressure showed in pilot errors like pylon hits.

The tension seemed to have no effect on McLeod, however, who set a new track record when he stopped the clock at 54.562, the only sub-55-second time of the week. After a penalty for exceeding maximum G in his first Qualifying run, Šonka rallied to deliver 56.339 in his final effort – a cautious result that was just enough to put him ahead of the 56.450 of Ivanoff in third.

The surprise of the day was current World Championship leader Yoshihide Muroya, whose team will be reviewing the performance of his raceplane after he flew well but was able to manage only 57.847 for ninth place on the day. In second and third place overall, Šonka and McLeod will be poised to take advantage of the Japanese pilot’s slightest weakness if he can’t push to the limits on Race Day.

“The plane’s flying good, and I think I’m flying efficiently out there. It’s not an easy track, but today it worked out for me,” said McLeod, whose previous Qualifying win in Budapest followed a pole position in Chiba, Japan. “You don’t get any points for Qualifying, so while it’s nice to be fast and it’s fun to be at the top of the board, tomorrow is a new day. But I know it’s there, and now the rest of the field knows it’s out there, too.”

Qualifying determines the matchups for the head-to-heads in Race Day’s opening Round of 14. McLeod will be facing Mikaël Brageot of France, with Šonka versus another Frenchman, François Le Vot. Muroya will be challenged by Australia’s Matt Hall, and reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer of Germany will go up against the American who is hot off a Budapest win, Kirby Chambliss.

Pete McLeod of Canada prepares to take off during qualifying day at the fifth round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Kazan, Russia on July 22, 2017.
Pete McLeod of Canada prepares to take off during qualifying day at the fifth round of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in Kazan, Russia on July 22, 2017.

McLeod additionally added a third consecutive DHL Fastest Lap Award to his tally, an honor that goes to the pilot who flies the fastest single lap among the two-lap Qualifying runs. At the season finale, the pilot with the most awards will be presented with the DHL Fastest Lap trophy. So far, McLeod is the only pilot to have clocked more than one DHL Fastest Lap in 2017.

Results Master Class Qualifying, Kazan 2017:
1. Pete McLeod (CAN) 54.562, 2. Martin Šonka (CZE) 56.339, 3. Nicolas Ivanoff (FRA) 56.450, 4. Kirby Chambliss (USA) 56.703, 5. Michael Goulian (USA) 56.837, 6. Matt Hall (AUS) 57.068, 7. Petr Kopfstein (CZE) 57.426, 8. Peter Podlunšek (SLO) 57.504, 9. Yoshihide Muroya (JPN) 57.847, 10. Juan Velarde (ESP) 58.323, 11. Matthias Dolderer (GER) 59.478, 12. Cristian Bolton (CHI) 1:00.685, 13. François Le Vot (FRA) SCO, 14. Mikaël Brageot (FRA) DNF