Update 5:45 PM MDT (2345Z) Monday, October 9, 2017
The America’s Challenge leaders are approaching the 1,500-mile (2,414 km) mark, and having transited Lake Superior are over a remote area of southeastern Ontario and streaking towards Quebec at 58 mph (93 kph). Team 6 (Nicolas Tièche and Laurent Sciboz of Switzerland) has opened up about a 90-mile lead on their closest pursuers, Americans Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke of Albuquerque (Team 1).
Cuneo and Fricke just crossed second Great Lake in a day. Earlier they crossed Lake Michigan, and at this writing are headed towards the southern end of Lake Huron and toward Canada.
Seven of the eight teams have now passed the 1,000-mile (1,609.3 km) mark in the race, tying an America’s Challenge record that has stood since 2005, a year with a similar weather pattern. In that year also, seven balloons went more than 1,000 miles, but there were also more balloons – 12 – competing in the race that year. If weather conditions remain favorable and the teams have sufficient resources (gas and ballast) to remain aloft, they could challenge the 1,998-mile (3,215.5 km) America’s Challenge distance record set in 2000 by the late David Levin and his brother Alan. The world record of 4,227.1 km (2,626.6 miles) will be harder to beat, since it was sent during a transatlantic flight by 2011 America’s Challenge champion Sir David Hempleman-Adams of Great Britain. The longest flight from Albuquerque – and the previous distance record for the size AA-6 balloons used for the America’s Challenge is 3,400.39 km (2,112.9 miles), set in 2005 by Bob Berben and Benoît Simeons of Belgium in the 2005 Coupe Gordon Bennett.
One team has landed in the last couple of hours: Team 2 – Phil Bryant and Mike Emich of the US – has made a safe landing about 35 miles SSE of Terre Haute, IN. Interestingly, any of the six teams remaining aloft has a reasonable shot at unseating the leaders and winning the race. But there are a lot of “ifs” in the equation: if the weather remains favorable, if they can catch the right winds to carry them to the right point on the east coast, if they have sufficient resources left to continue the flight.
We’ve thrown a lot of numbers into this update, but what it adds up to is we are witnessing an astonishing balloon race. You can keep track of all of the teams via live tracking on the Balloon Fiesta website, http://www.balloonfiesta.com/gas-balloons/gas-tracking, or on the Balloon Fiesta free apps for Android and iPhone.