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USA's Coleman Tops Challenger Cup Qualifying

Kevin Coleman of the United States was the fastest qualifier in the Challenger Class for Sunday’s debut Red Bull Air Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A native of Coushatta, Louisiana, Coleman finished his three-lap run in 1 minute, 17.032 seconds, besting the competition in the training series by more than two seconds.

Luke Czepiela of Poland qualified second in 1:19.688, France’s Melanie Astles was third in 1:20.245 and Ben Murphy of Great Britain was fourth in 1:21.463. Astles had the fastest three-lap net time based purely on speed, but she racked up two penalties for passing an air gate at incorrect flying levels, each penalty tacking on two seconds to her time, relegating her to third.

Despite ending the day with the best time, Coleman was not pleased with his qualifying run.

“I got a little too excited,” Coleman said with a grin and a slight southern drawl, in quite a contrast to his international competitors. “We improved (Friday), and then we really improved (Saturday morning in practice), and then in qualifying I just tried to take too big a bite – I was just a little too aggressive, and that really slowed me down. You know, sometimes being aggressive is not always good. So tonight we need to rethink what we’re doing and just go back to what we did in the first practice session, or we will not be first for sure. The Challenger Class is so tight right now, everybody can win at any time.”

The Challenger Cup division was created in 2014 to provide experience for rookie Red Bull Air Race pilots. These competitors fly at the same locations as the veteran Master Class competitors but generally fly a simpler track configuration. Indianapolis is unique in that the Challenger Class and Master Class are both flying the same track setup, including a standing start, tight air gates and a vertical turning maneuver. 

“Basically the Challenger Class is the Indy Lights series,” Coleman said “It gives us up an opportunity to fill up our skills and hopefully one day move up to the Master Class if the opportunity becomes available.”

Challenger Cup competitors must race at a minimum of three races throughout the eight-race Red Bull Air Race season. The Top six pilots will be invited to fly in the season finale, and the winner will be crowned Challenger Cup champion. That championship race will be held in Las Vegas, the second consecutive in Coleman’s home country after an entire season spent abroad.

“I’m just happy to be in the United States, at IMS and the Brickyard – this place is a prestigious place when it comes to motorsports,” Coleman said. “It’s awesome that Red Bull Air Race is here and we get to compete here.”

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