Since its inception in 2014 the Challenger Cup has produced some stunning races and season-long battles. And 2017 was one of the best.
The 2017 season was to be contested by nine pilots in total. Three new pilots joined in 2017 including Kenny Chiang, the first pilot from China to compete in the Red Bull Air Race. The other two new pilots were Baptiste Vignes of France and Daniel Genevey flying under the Hungarian flag.
They were joined by 2016 Challenger Cup Champion Florian Bergér, the most successful Challenger pilot Daniel Ryfa, Melanie Astles, the first woman pilot in the Red Bull Air Race, Kevin Coleman, Ben Murphy and Luke Czepiela. It was going to be a tight season where everybody had the chance of winning. Here's how the season panned out.
The season opener saw seven pilots compete. Neither Chiang nor Genevey competed. Qualifying saw Bergér set the pace and was almost a second quicker than his closest rival, Ryfa. Going into Race Day Bergér was the clear favourite being the only pilot to post a time under a minute.
Ryfa, however, had different ideas. He saw that Bergér had posted a time 1:00.561 and as the next pilot to fly, knew what he had to do to take the win. He beat Bergér's time by 0.355s drawing the first blood of the season and walking away with 10 points. Bergér had done enough to cement second and Melanie Astles finished third.
Abu Dhabi 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
Ryfa wasn't racing in San Diego and it gave Bergér the chance to catch up after Abu Dhabi. He took that opportunity with both hands and set a time of 1:09.383. Which after a pylon hit in Qualifying boosted his confidence. That was enough for him to take the win, with Kevin Coleman in second place, more than a second behind. Luke Czepiela was third, more then three seconds behind the race winner.
San Diego 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
Chiba (rescheduled in Kazan)
The rescheduled Chiba race was to have the biggest field, with eight of the nine Challengers competing. The race belonged to Luke Czepiela who won, with Daniel Ryfa finishing second and Ben Murphy claiming his first podium of 2017 in third. New pilot Genevey missed out on a podium finish by 0.152s.
Chiba 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
Bergér won his second race of the season in Budapest and took his lead to 12 points over Ryfa in second. Ryfa could only managed a third place in the Hungarian capital with Czepiela in second.
Budapest 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
The fifth race of the season threw the championship on its head. With Bergér not racing it was a chance for Ryfa to collect some points and catch up to his fierce rival. Unfortunately for the Swedish pilot he had the worst race of his Challenger Cup career, collecting eight seconds of penalties which included two pylon hits, that saw him finish in last place. At the other end of the timesheet, Chiang in his first season, took the win in only his fourth race. Vignes finished in second and Coleman finished third.
Kazan 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
Going into Porto the gap had closed at the top and there was only four points separating the top three of Bergér, Ryfa and Czepiela. Ryfa and Czepiela weren't racing in Portugal so Bergér had a chance to extend his lead. Coleman spoiled the German pilot's party by taking the win and pushing Bergér into second place. Astles finished third.
Porto 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
The race at the Lausitzring was the last push for the Challenger pilots to see who would take the six places at the season finale in Indianapolis. The race was one of the closest finishes in Challenger Class history with Ryfa taking the top spot and Bergér second, just 0.013s behind. Czepiela finished third, Murphy fourth and Astles fifth.
Lausitzring 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
The six pilots in the final were Bergér, Ryfa, Czepiela, Coleman, Astles and Murphy. Qualifying was to be the decisive result as the race itself was cancelled due to adverse weather. Melanie Astles took the race win – becoming the first woman in the sport's history to take the top spot on the podium. Czepiela finished second and Ben Murphy was third.
However, due to his success throughout the season, Bergér's fourth place finish was enough for him to take the title and make history. Becoming the first pilot to win the Challenger Cup back-to-back.
Indianapolis 2017 Challenger Cup highlights
The Challengers will be back racing in Abu Dhabi on 02-03 February and new competitors Patrick Davidson and Dario Costa will join them. Get your tickets HERE.