Update 5:45 AM MDT (1145Z) Tuesday, October 10 (1145Z)
It’s breakfast time on the U.S. and Canadian East Coast, and the old America’s Challenge distance record is toast.
The results will not be official until the scoring team goes through all the data and confirms there have been no violations of race rules . . . but Switzerland’s Nicolas Tièche and Laurent Sciboz (Team 6)’s flight appears to be one for the record books. They’ve not only taken out the America’s Challenge distance record of 1998.1 miles (3,215.5 km), but also beaten the longest distance ever flown in the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the World Championships) of 3,400.39 km (2,112.9 miles). This record was set by Bob Berben and Benoît Simeons of Belgium in the 2005 race, which launched from Albuquerque.
The real race now is for the podium in this distance race for gas balloons: second and third places. The current runners-up, defending champions Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke from the USA (Team 1) has flown more than 1,900 miles (3058 km) – a distance that would win the race in almost any other year. They are in northern Vermont. The Polish/USA team of Krzysztof Zapart and Andy Cayton is over southern Quebec, and the USA’s Cheri White and Mark Sullivan in west-central Pennsylvania.
The sun is up where the teams are still flying, and this will give the teams the opportunity to gain altitude without expending ballast or to find a good landing spot. The French team of Benoit Pelard and Benoit Péterlé (Team 8) has now done just that, safely landing southeast of Indianapolis. Over the next few hours, the other teams will begin to run out of real estate as they approach the east coast.
We haven’t mentioned duration (time aloft) in awhile, as distance is the important factor in the race -- the winner of the America’s Challenge is the team that flies the greatest distance from Albuquerque. The teams have now been aloft approaching 60 hours and they’re tired as they prepare for landing, one of the most difficult phases of the flight. The duration record for the race is 71 hours, set in 2011.
Under the race rules, the teams have up to four hours to report they have landed, and we post teams as having landed only after we have received confirmation from the pilots or their crew. This is one reason you sometimes will see balloons being reported as flying that appear from the tracking to have landed.
You can follow the final hours of this race for the record books at http://www.balloonfiesta.com/gas-balloons/gas-tracking, or on the Balloon Fiesta free apps for Android and iPhone.