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Czepiela Picks Up First Challenger Cup Win

Luke Czepiela’s week began with a bout of illness, but it ended with him becoming the first pilot to win an air race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

A native of Poland, Czepiela posted a time of 1 minute, 16.484 seconds to the Red Bull Air Race’s Challenger Cup race Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing more than a half-second ahead of runner-up Melanie Astles.  

Czepiela had a strong start, hitting the first split in 15.308 seconds – more than three-tenths faster than Astles – and was nearly a second faster at the second and third splits. His run marked the only sub-1 minute, 17-second time of the weekend. 

“It’s been an amazing week,” Czepelia said. “It started quite badly. I came down with some sickness. I was struggling throughout all the training, fighting my body. Thankfully to our medical team here, I feel much better now. I’m elated to have been in first place and put my name down in Indianapolis.”  

Czepiela’s win, coupled with a second-place finish in the last race at Eurospeedway Lausitz, put him in fourth place in the standings heading into the winner-take-all Challenger Cup championship race Oct. 15-16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

The Challenger Cup is the Red Bull Air Race’s development series – described by many over the weekend as the series’ version of IndyCar’s Indy Lights division – allowing new pilots to gain experience and work their way to the top division. They run planes owned by the series, and at Indy, ran the same track configuration as the Master Class. 

“Being in the Challenger Class is a lot like being in an Indy Lights car,” said Louisiana’s Kevin Coleman, who finished fourth. “You’re learning the whole thing, learning how to race, developing your skills.” 

Czepelia hopes his first victory gives him an opportunity to move up to the top Master Class in the future.  

“The challenger class is like a preschool for our pilots to be masters,” Czepelia added. “We are flying exactly the same track here. Our planes are slightly heavier and less powerful, so we get slower times, which gives us more time to tink and hone hour skills to where we want to be for one day to join the guys. Hopefully, thanks to wins like this, I can sit next to those guys in the Master.” 

Astles, the first female pilot in the Red Bull Air Race series, posted her best finish of the year as the race runner-up. Like Czepiela, she had a clean, penalty-free run of 1 minute, 17.053 seconds. The runner-up finish was a reward for running a clean race.   

“It was really important for me today, I really wanted to fly a penalty-free run. I’ve been testing the system and trying to find the limit of what I can do before getting a penalty. Today was really far from the limits,” Astles said. “I flew really conservative because my aim was to be penalty-free. I stalled the plane in the maneuver and lost a lot of time, because I was a little nervous, but this was great. All my times (today) were faster than in the week, but now I know what I should do. It will be a positive in the next races.” 

Ben Murphy of Great Britain was third in 1 minute, 20.651 seconds – shaving eight tenths of a second off his qualifying time from Saturday. 

Coleman came into Sunday as the top seed after the previous day’s qualifying runs, but couldn’t duplicate that performance Sunday. He incurred six seconds of penalties by hitting two pylons, giving him a time of 1 minute, 24.503 seconds. He is in a second-place tie in the standings. Florian Berger and Daniel Ryfa – who did not compete at Indianapolis - hold the top two positions in the standings heading into the winner-take-all championship event. 

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