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Fascinating Trio Took Off from Unique Life Runways To Fly with World’s Best

Their ascendance to the skies started out in such unique origins as Hong Kong, Poland and the French region of Guadeloupe.

Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class pilots Kenny Chiang, Luke Czepiela and Daniel Genevey are proof that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, that anything is possible for aerobatic aviation enthusiasts.

From an early age, they just loved airplanes. Unlike some established Master Class pilots, they didn’t come from families with generational aviation experience.

When asked how he was able to make it to the Red Bull Air Race this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Genevey said with a chuckle Saturday morning: “Frankly, I don’t know. I have no idea. Nobody in my family ever touched a plane.”

Genevey, 40, lives with his family in Hungary and is the first pilot in series history to fly under that country’s flag. But he started out in Guadeloupe, an island group in the south Caribbean Sea.

“When I was a teenager, I told my parents I was interested in planes,” he said. “This is how I started. I had to build up everything myself, and this is where I am now.

“I’m the happiest man in the world because this is what I dreamed of. I just started as an engineer because I didn’t have my pilot certificate. Then I got a waiver so I could fly airplanes. I started with small airplanes. I did the aerobatics, and I was a fan of aerobatics since I was a young age.”

Chiang, 29, was also hooked for as long as he can remember while growing up in Hong Kong.

“That’s the only thing I liked,” he said. “I love airplanes. I’ve always been captivated about flying. It’s really the only thing that I remember ever wanting to do. I was very fortunate that I had the opportunity to fly when I was 13, to have my first flying lesson.”

At 19, Chiang became one of the youngest pilots at an international airline to fly a 747 and 777.

“When I was 19 on my eighth full trip, I was flying to San Francisco from Hong Kong,” Chiang said. “We landed, and the drinking limit there is 21. So all the older guys went to the bar, and I couldn’t go.”

As a result of becoming the first Challenger pilot in series history to sweep two weekend races in the previous stop at Austria, Chiang took the points lead. Czepiela, who isn’t competing this weekend, is in second. They both have 26 points, but Chiang is first based on having one more win than Czepiela.

“I’m very, very proud,” Chiang said. “It’s a privilege to be racing among the best pilots in the world in this very difficult discipline of sport. To represent Hong Kong at this stage is really cool.

“I’m really loving the track. It’s my first time coming to Indy. It’s a very historical race ground. I’m learning a lot from this. I went to the museum. It’s a very, very special, unique place. A lot of great motorsport athletes have been racing here, so it’s a real privilege to come here.”

His message of inspiration is shared by Czepiela and Genevey.

“The world is small,” Chiang said. “You just have to leverage your resources.”

That’s what Czepiela did after growing up in Poland.

“My dad took me to an air show when I was 6, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “I started flying gliders when I was 14, but that was as much as I could afford. I was cleaning planes, building a hangar and doing building work.

“At 19 after high school, I completely ran out of money and my parents were unemployed, so I needed to do something. I moved to Great Britain, but the only way to go was as an au pair.

“I was a baby sitter. I would take the kids every morning to school, and then I had to pick them up at 3 p.m. In between was my free time. I would go over to a local airport, where I was working as an aircraft engineer. Then I would come home and look after the kids. All the work I was doing at the airport, I converted to flying lessons.”

Czepiela, 35, is proud what he’s accomplished. He won this season at Budapest, Hungary, and also has two second-place finishes.

“I’m a perfect example and a good role model for those who come to watch it,” he said. “I came from absolute nowhere. Through the hard work and no money, you can still live your dreams. If you want something really hard, you can get it.”

Genevey smiles when asked about his humble beginning in Guadeloupe.

“It’s known for very good rum and really beautiful beaches,” he said. “It’s a very nice country, small but very nice. And maybe we don’t have enough airplanes, which is why I moved to Europe and live with my wife in Hungary.

“My home country is Hungary. It’s where I live with my family. Guadeloupe is part of France actually; it’s a French territory. But you know what? When you’re in an airplane, you can’t see the boundaries in the world.”

In just his third race in his 2017 series debut, Genevey won the pole at home in Budapest. His best result this season was a career-best third at Budapest.

He is ecstatic about returning to the U.S., where he received a master of science degree in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech University.

“I couldn’t expect that I would ever be flying here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Genevey said. “This is one of the coolest places we have in the championship. I really love it.”

He hopes his success story will inspire others to do the same.

“This is exactly what I needed when I was young, for people to tell me: ‘Do you want it? Just go for it. You can do it,’” Genevey said.

The Challenger Class race starts at 11:45 a.m. Sunday. The Master Class Round of 14 starts at 1:05 p.m., followed by the Round of 8 at 3:05 p.m. and the Final 4 at 3:35 p.m.

Red Bull Air Race tickets are available at www.IMS.com. Children 15 and under are admitted free to general admission areas Sunday when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder.

A variety of World of Red Bull athletes will demonstrate their skills Sunday, both in the air and on the ground. Performers include Geoff Aaron (motorcycle trials riding), Aaron Colton (motorcycle street freestyle riding), Robbie Maddison (freestyle motocross with the SCSUNLIMITED team), Luke Aikins and Miles Daisher (Red Bull Air Force Skydive Team), Aaron Fitzgerald (The Flying Bulls aerobatic helicopter), Jim Peitz (aerobatic airplane) and Pal Takats (paragliding).

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