Two stops in and two wins chalked up for Francois Le Vot at the close of play in Rovinj, Croatia tonight. The French pilot, with a strong military pedigree, is already making his mark, having picked up the consecutive podium win after his best run was a clear second ahead of the rest of the field at 1:01.19.
Behind Le Vot, the field narrowed considerably – having previously missed out on the final three in Abu Dhabi, Britain's Tom Bennett took his first visit to the podium this season with a time of 1:02.53. Challenger Cup newcomer Peter Podlunsek, who hails from nearby Slovenia, elbowed his way into the rankings, close on Bennett's tail to take the final step on the podium 01:02.76.
"This was my first ever Challenger Cup, and you never forget your first," Podlunsek explained after his third place finish. "Of course I was a bit nervous, especially the first run, and then I was calmer. A lot of friends came to see the race – hundreds of friends from Slovenia but unfortunately I didn't see any of them because I was so focused on the course!"
With Rovinj in the bag, Podlunsek is already turning his thoughts to the next race in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya next month. "We are all looking forward to the next race. I have a two-seater plane that is quite similar to the Challenger Cup plane, so I will practice with that, and I think that my second race is going to be – for me at least – a little more comfortable."
Three more pilots stepped up for the Challenger Cup in Rovinj, with Polish contender Luke Czepiela and Claudius Spiegel taking their inaugural flights for the 2014 race season. Czepiela is the next Challenger Cup pilot expected to draw a home crowd, when the Red Bull Air Race touches down in Gdynia, Poland in July.
Rovinj Challenger Cup Results:
1. Francois Le Vot (FRA) – 01:01.19
2. Tom Bennett (GBR) – 01:02.53
3. Peter Podlunsek (SLO) – 01:02.76
4. Mikael Brageot (FRA) – 01:03.19
5. Luke Czepiela (POL) – 01:03.27
6. Claudius Spiegel (GER) – 01:05.12
The Challenger Cup is the official pre-training programme for future Master Class pilots, presenting the pilots with the chance to fly throughout the Red Bull Air Race season. Each Challenger Cup pilot will fly in at least three races in 2014, with the fastest six selected for the final in China.