Mélanie Astles of France is the first woman to compete in the Challenger Class, and in the 2017 finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she became the first female race winner in the history of the Red Bull Air Race. The achievement additionally made her the first woman to win a major motorsport event in more than 100 years of racing at the famous American oval.
Astles' story is one of passion, persistence and overcoming the odds. Brought up in modest circumstances, she left school at 18 to enter working life, but she saved money for flying lessons, and when trainers recognised her ability, she traded work at the airfield for instruction. In her first year of aerobatic competition (2007) she clinched victory at the French Cup in the Espoir (Hope) category.
Astles 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 first in the female ranking and seventh overall at Advanced Aerobatic Worlds, and in 2015 she was part of the Unlimited French team. In 2018, she ranked third overall, Unlimited, at the Open de France, and at the Unlimited French Championship she was third in the female ranking. Astles also performs in air shows and is an ambassador for the association "Les Ailes du Petit Prince" as well as sponsor of a squadron of the French Army Light Aviation flight school, the "Escadrille des Services d'Aerodrome."
During her first two Air Racing seasons, Astles accumulated two podiums at the iconic "Brickyard" in Indianapolis, with second place in 2016 and her landmark win the following year, plus third-place results in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and Porto, Portugal. The 2018 season saw her finish just off the podium in each of her four races. With the overall objective of someday securing a berth in the World Championship, Astles intends to take her performance to a new level in this year's campaign.
"My goal for 2019 is to give my best and continue to deliver strong performances, but refine the details even more," comments Astles. "Being part of the Red Bull Air Race is already a dream come true, but I would love to move to the Master Class soon. I think it would be great for the fans to have a female pilot in the World Championship, and that's what I'm working toward."