It's been two months since Katowice's Luke Czepiela set a new motorsport milestone by winning the 2018 Red Bull Air Race Challenger Cup, making him the first pilot from Poland to claim a title in the sport. With the new year underway, the freshly minted champion shares how the triumph has affected him – and previews the 2019 campaign.
Czepiela, who is also an Airbus A320 captain for a commercial airline as well as a popular airshow performer, first joined the second competition category of the Red Bull Air Race in 2014, and after taking a year's hiatus, he worked intensely to progress toward his goal of winning the Challenger Cup throughout the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. Even after the Polish pilot sealed the 2018 title at the season finale by crossing the Finish Gate a thrilling 0.052s faster than two-time Challenger Cup champion Florian Bergér of Germany, the full impact of clinching the title didn't hit him right away.
"It took few weeks but that feeling is finally there, and it's awesome. In December a few fellow Red Bull athletes from Poland and I spent a week in Miami partying and chilling, and that's where it finally sank in," Czepiela says.
The pilot, who loves the outdoors and trains in nature whenever time allows, continues, "I also did a lot of hiking in the beautiful Tatra Mountains in Poland, and finally, after three years, I went skiing. The last three seasons were extremely busy with racing and my airline and airshow flying, so I'm trying to find more balance in life now and enjoy it more."
Of course, Czepiela's achievement means that he has to make time for more media attention, from radio and newspaper interviews to an appearance on one of the biggest media channels in Poland, which featured him in an extensive profile. Although the Red Bull Air Race debut in Poland – a spectacular stop in the resort town of Gdynia in 2014 – drew over 130,000 spectators, Czepiela feels that awareness of the sport isn't as widespread as it could be in his country.
"Let's hope that'll change this year when I start winning again," he says with a smile. Already, he's noticing heightened awareness at his airline job.
"When the cabin crew does the introduction and mentions that Captain Czepiela welcomes them on board, a lot of our passengers are asking if it's me and are coming to take a picture after landing," he admits modestly.
The pilot also acknowledges that with the competition in the Challenger Class getting tighter every season, defending his crown will be a tough battle.
"It's much easier to be a hunter than being hunted, I think you're more hungry then," he assesses. But he's clearly eager to take on the new season.
"I already miss my colleagues from the Challenger Class – we are very close and I can't wait to race again," Czepiela shares. Offering a hint of what's to come, he concludes, "My biggest goal will be to be consistent and on the podium at every race, and of course it would be nice if that was the highest step!"