The pilots are preparing for the second half of the 2018 Red Bull Air Race World Championship and race five kicks off in Kazan on 25-26 August. It will be the series' second trip to Russia and last year it was a big weekend for the Challengers as they had to compete in two races; one on Saturday and another on Sunday!
The plan was to have the rescheduled Chiba race on the Saturday and the Kazan race on the Sunday, sounds simple enough, but it was anything but for the pilots competing as the conditions were so different from the Saturday and Sunday, so it took the pilots concentration levels to the maximum. The two pilots to come out on top were Luke Czepiela in Saturday's rescheduled Chiba race, and Kenny Chiang, who won on Sunday. Chiang was in his debut season and competing in only his fourth race.
Eight pilots were competing in Saturday's race and it was close! Luke Czepiela won by just 0.099s. Beating race favourite, Daniel Ryfa into second place. Czepiela's win wasn't too much of a surprise to the Polish pilot, he'd already picked up a third and second place finish in the 2017 season. "It always feels great to be on top of the podium," he said after his win. "It was my third podium of the season from third second to first. It was a great race and a lovely, difficult track."
Czepiela flew fifth in the race and had a clear idea of what he needed to do to take the win. When he set the time of 1:07.091 he knew it was going to be tight, especially with Kevin Coleman and Daniel Ryfa to fly after him. Coleman clipped a pylon at Gate 4 and he knew his time wouldn't be good enough to win. He seemed to slow down in the track, which saw him bottom of the timesheet.
Last to fly was Daniel Ryfa, and the pilot most likely to beat Czepiela's time. He passed the Finish Gate in 1:05.190, which would've seen him easily win, but the judges said he had passed through Gate 14 at an incorrect level and was given a two second penalty, which pushed him down into second place.
Ben Murphy, now in the Master Class, put in a time that he thought would be easily beaten, but it was enough for third position.
Daniel Genevey flew exceptionally well and missed out on the podium by just 0.152s. Just behind Genevey was Melanie Astles, who was fastest in this morning's session, but a pylon hit at Gate 4 saw her down in fifth. Baptiste Vignes was sixth after a clean run, and Kenny Chiang was in seventh after a pylon hit, again at Gate 4.
The Sunday of Kazan last year brought a change in conditions that were getting worse as the day progressed. Six Challengers were to race and Kenny Chiang, who only joined the Challenger Class at the start of 2017 season, wowed the crowds in Kazan by taking the first win of his Red Bull Air Race Career.
Chiang was the first pilot to fly in the track and set a time that he didn't think was god enough to win. But in the testing conditions he won in fine style, posting a time of 1:07.264. Baptiste Vignes, another pilot who was also in his debut season, finished second, just 1.001s behind the Chinese pilot.
The more experienced pilots seemed to struggle in the race. Kevin Coleman was third, but was not be happy with his time. Melanie Astles was fourth, more than two seconds behind the race winner.
Ben Murphy collected a penalty at Gate 7 for incorrect level flying, but even without the penalty he wouldn't have beaten Chiang. It would've been enough to see him in second place.
Daniel Ryfa had a spectacularly bad day at the office in Kazan. After his second place finish in the Saturday's race this was for the taking. However, he took down pylons at Gate 4 and Gate 7, then collected two more penalty seconds for incorrect level flying, giving him a total of eight seconds of penalties.
After his win Chiang was quick to explain that like all the competitors in the Challenger Class, he has one goal. "Just to get into the Red Bull Air Race is a dream come true and a mission I've been trying for the last 10 years. It's taken a while, but to be here I'm already so happy. It's such a difficult sport and I'm still learning, but the dream is to be in the Master Class. I'm taking it step-by-step but I'm happy with the progression so far," he concluded.
The Kazan race in 2018 isn't a double-header, however six pilots will be competing and hoping to get that win! Both Kenny Chiang and Luke Czepiela will be returning to the site of their wins. Melanie Astles and Kevin Coleman, as well as the two newest Challengers; Dario Costa and Patrick Davidson will join them for the Russian return.
The Kazan race takes place on 25-26 August, get your tickets HERE.