Challenger Class pilot Mélanie Astles is the first woman to compete in the Red Bull Air Race, and in the 2017 finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she became the first woman to win a race in the sport. The achievement additionally made her the first woman to win a major motorsport event in more than 100 years of racing at the American oval. Another milestone happens this season, with her first home race as the Red Bull Air Race makes its French debut in Cannes.
"On top of being in my home country, it's very close to where I grew up," the pilot shares.
Astles' story is one of passion, persistence and overcoming the odds. Brought up in modest circumstances, no one imagined she could achieve her childhood dream of becoming a pilot as she left school at 18 to enter working life. With determination she became manager of several gas stations and saved money for flying lessons. Trainers recognised her ability, and Astles traded work at the airfield for lessons. In her first year of aerobatic competition (2007) she clinched victory at the French Cup in the Espoir (Hope) category.
She moved up through the categories, winning five national championships, the designation of High-Level Sportswoman from the French Ministry, and a place on the National Team. In 2014 she finished seventh at the World Advanced Aerobatic Championships and first in the female ranking. In 2015 she was ranked fifth-best female pilot in the world in the top (Unlimited) category and was on the French team that won the Unlimited Aerobatic World Championship. The versatile aviator also performs in air shows, creates freestyle flying programs to music, is an ambassador for the association "Les Ailes du Petit Prince," and joined Air France in 2017 to become a commercial airline pilot.
During her first two Air Racing seasons – 2016-2017 – Astles accumulated four podiums. With the overall objective of someday securing a berth in the World Championship lineup, in 2018 her goal is to develop stronger consistency.
"If you really want something, if you feel you have a talent, go for it," Astles says. "Obstacles will be in your way, but if you look at my own experience, they can be broken down with work and determination. Never, ever, give up – and... keep smiling."