America's Challenge

Oct 9, 2016

Albuquerque Team Lands; Are Provisional America’s Challenge Winners


Update 0745 MDT Sunday, October 9, 2016 (1345 UTC)
The Command Center reports that Peter Cuneo and Barbara Fricke of Albuquerque, the last team aloft, has landed near Monroe City, Missouri, about 20 miles west of Hannibal, MO, as the apparent winners of the 21st Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta America's Challenge distance race for gas balloons. All results are provisional until the teams complete their debriefing with Scoring Officer Jim Byrd and their tracking data is confirmed.

Peter reported to the Command Center that they made a stand-up landing in a field at about 7:45 AM CDT (1245 UTC) and that the landowner was happy to see them. Their chase crew along with local balloonists from the area are in the process of retrieving the balloon. Provisional data shows Cuneo and Fricke flew 866 miles (1,394 km) and flew 54 hours and 39 minutes.
In a race where weather patterns took the five competing teams in at least three distinct directions, Cuneo and Fricke were the tortoises to the pace-setting Polish team's hare. Krzysztof Zapart and Bazyli Dawidzuik chose a "high and fast" strategy that put them well ahead of the other teams. They flew an impressive race to a second-place finish and a landing in south Texas.
Meanwhile, the first night Cuneo and Fricke hung back over the Rio Grande Valley. About three hours into the flight, Peter wrote an e-mail to his crew: "After 2:45 hrs of flight we are directly over AIBF [Balloon Fiesta Park]. What fun." They then moved out of the Albuquerque area after sunrise and pursued a slower course towards the northeast. The team was able to conserve ballast and stay aloft a third night, which greatly increased both their distance and duration.
This is Cuneo and Fricke's fourth win in the America's Challenge, more than anyone except the late Richard Abruzzo, who won the race five times. Cuneo and Fricke's three previous victories came in 2001, 2010, and 2013.
Provisional results place Team 1, Zapart/Dawidzuik, in second place, Team 2, the US team of Padelt and Forden in third place the French entry of Pelard and Lajoye (Team 6) in fourth place (following a rare westward track to a landing in Arizona), and Team 4 (Bryant/Emich) in fifth place.

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