Ascot opening day was full of surprises with Canada’s Pete McLeod winning Qualifying while championship leader Hannes Arch of Austria had an off day, finishing fifth. Britain’s Nigel Lamb was third and Paul Bonhomme seventh.

ASCOT, England – Canada’s Pete McLeod put in a brilliant performance on Saturday to win Qualifying for the Red Bull Air Race on Sunday at the Ascot Racecourse, upsetting championship leader Hannes Arch of Austria as well as British pilots Nigel Lamb and Paul Bonhomme in front of an appreciative crowd of 22,000.

Paul Bonhomme, UK pilots and reigning Air Race World Champion said: “I think the wind changed the game hugely today. In training yesterday we had virtually no wind and suddenly we’ve got a monster wind from the west today. Down here in the Ascot bowl it feels quite calm but if you go up there and you suddenly got a 25-knot wind. Picking the right line is quite difficult. We’re happy with the flying. We had two little engine setting issues, that’s a factor. We were very happy with our training time earlier.

He added: “People keep asking me about the home crowd pressure, but I’m not feeling flustered. The pressure is from all the other guys going quickly. Everyone seems to have a quick run here and then a duffer. It’s going to be a completely new day tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”

McLeod mastered the challenging course set up above the historic horse race track west of London on a bright but blustery day and posted a winning time of 1:10.698. France’s Nicolas Ivanoff was second on 1:11.585 while Lamb took third in 1:11.842. Arch, who has won two of the first four races this season, was in fifth while the woes of reigning world champion Bonhomme continued as he finished a distant and disappointing seventh.

Pete McLeod, today’s winner said: “I had a great time and I’m really happy with my position. I’m definitely satisfied with my performance today. I had a lot of confidence and executed my strategy. I think my first run set me up nicely for my second Qualifying run. I just took some more risks on the second run, turned in a little earlier on the gates but I wanted to fly penalty free and even though I risked a bit more in the second run it worked. I know I need to work on avoiding getting a penalty for exceeding the 10g limit.

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘dominate’ here after Qualifying because Hannes has the ability to run this track even a little big faster. He was having a good run in Quali 2 but he just got a little rattled or something. It doesn’t get any better on Qualifying Day than to take first placed. I’m definitely satisfied. It’s been a good progression for me on this track, from training to Qualifying.”

The 12 pilots in the world’s fastest motorsport series delighted the big Qualifying Day crowd, fashionably dressed as they watched from the grandstands and grass terraces, as they roared past from the first standing start in the sport’s history. The cheers were loudest for Britain’s Bonhomme, who is second in the championship behind Arch, and Lamb, who is third overall. Both put in solid runs on the undulating course filled with trees, shrubbery, ponds and other obstacles.