Juan Velarde began his third season in the Master Class of the Red Bull Air Race with a better result than he could've hoped for. His second place finish was his first podium since finishing third in Abu Dhabi in the Challenger Cup back in 2014. It's been a long road, but the dedicated pilot has dug in, worked hard and it's now paying off.
Velarde finished second in Abu Dhabi after a blistering run of 54.166s. However, it wasn't enough to beat Martin Sonka, but he was quicker than Matthias Dolderer and Pete McLeod. There had been glimpses of Velarde's ability to get a podium finish, but he always struggled to perform at his best on Race Day. Early signs suggest 2017 could be a different story.
After watching his run in the Final 4, three-time World Champion Paul Bonhomme said: "I was very happy for Juan and his team, it's only his third season in the Master Class and his second with a fast raceplane. Juan flew beautifully well in the Final 4. He kept his nerves under control and flew precisely, and if you fly precisely, the times will take care of themselves."
The Final 4 in Abu Dhabi was the first time Velarde has progressed on Race Day and he knew the pressure was on. Even though he didn't win, it was a massive step forward in progress for Team Velarde. "It feels like a victory for me and the whole team," he said. "Just to make it through to the Final 4 was a success, to be on the podium is a huge success, and second of course is even more."
Velarde puts his performance down to hard work during the offseason. "We changed a lot of things in the winter and it was great to see it pay-off in the first race," said Velarde. "Everything is coming together. Last season we had very good moments, but we were very inconsistent. I needed more experience to manage the pressure in important times."
Velarde went on to explain what the team had done to help him improve. "We have reviewed internal processes, changed many things and procedures, not just for me, but the whole team. We're now working in a smoother way and I felt more relaxed for this race, the most relaxed race since I started racing. Now I can just focus on racing, I can get into the raceplane and concentrate on my flying."
The Spanish pilot will be hoping to continue in this vein of when he races in San Diego on 15-16 April. You can be there, get your tickets HERE.