It's been a season of firsts for the Challenger Cup in 2018 – the first season flying the Edge 540. It's the first season where the Challengers flew the exact same tracks at every location. And it's the first time a Polish pilot has taken a title in the Red Bull Air Race.
Going into the final round of the season, Luke Czepiela was sitting in joint second place with Kenny Chiang, behind Florian Bergér, but after an emphatic win Czepiela found himself top of the standings and the Challenger Cup Champion after a count back. "Anyone could've won the title," said Czepiela after the race. "It was an amazing season – we had a lot of strong pilots and the five guys in the final could've won."
Race Day weather conditions completely changed how the pilots needed to fly the track, but after a less-than-impressive Qualifying performance, Czepiela seemed to take the change in conditions in his stride, taking the win and the title when it counted. "To be honest I didn't expect to win. I flew quite a conservative run, due to the conditions out there," Czepiela explained. "The track was very turbulent, I felt it as soon as I took off, so I went for a point-collector time, not to win. I just wanted a safe flight and it paid off. It couldn't have gone better."
The Challenger Class took on a new look in 2018 with the pilots flying Edge 540s instead of the Extra 330LXs that they had flown in past seasons, making the second tier competition much more competitive. "I think I'm talking for all the Challengers when I say the Edge is a massive step for us – we all enjoy flying it," Czepiela said. "The Extra was ten seconds slower than the Master Class pilots, but now we're only three or four seconds behind. It's amazing, it feels like a go-kart."
The big question remaining for all the Challengers is the move up to the Master Class. and if they're ready to join. "I'm always ready and if the opportunity comes up I'd be happy to take it. The question is, if it comes up," declared Czepiela. "There are a lot of logistics behind it, but I hope I have the opportunity one day and I can join those guys."
For now, Czepiela is relishing his 2018 Challenger Cup Champion title. "It feels amazing to be the Challenger Cup Champion and I'm speechless. It feels fantastic!"