Ready for Adventure: Teams Gear Up for 24th America's Challenge
After a one-year COVID postponement, adventurous gas balloonists are eagerly awaiting the return of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s America’s Challenge distance race for gas balloons. The race launch window opens – weather permitting -- at 6 PM on Saturday, October 2 from Balloon Fiesta Park. They’ll embark on a journey across America that is both scenic and demanding, one of the great challenges of skill and stamina in aviation.
The object of the race is to fly the greatest distance from Albuquerque while competing within the event rules. The teams often stay aloft for two to three days and must use the winds and weather systems to their best advantage to gain the greatest distance. Flights of more than 1,000 miles are not unusual, and teams sometimes reach Canada and the U.S. East Coast.
This year’s America’s Challenge will be an all-American race, with four highly competitive U.S. teams going the distance. Each could make a case for claiming front-runner status. The contenders include four-time champions Barbara Fricke and Peter Cuneo, and two-time champions Cheri White and Mark Sullivan. But in the most recent America’s Challenge in 2019, these powerhouse teams were surpassed as the highest-finishing Americans by upstart Texans Brenda Cowlishaw and Brian Duncan. Noah Forden and Bert Padelt are also proven competitors; Padelt has finished as high as second in America’s Challenge and has been flying balloons for nearly 50 years, longer than anyone else in the race.
Travel, shipping, and COVID-related challenges have sidelined all of the scheduled European competitors – including defending champion Krzysztof Zapart and his American teammate Andy Cayton, French pilots Benoît Pelard and Benoît Péterlé, who were third in 2019, and the legendary German champion Wilhelm Eimers, who had planned to compete with his son Sebastian.
Once again this year, the Balloon Fiesta will offer live tracking of the race and updates through the free YB Tracking app on your favorite mobile device and the Balloon Fiesta’s America’s Challenge Web site, www.balloonfiesta.com/Americas-Challenge. You can also access the feed through the Balloon Fiesta app for Android and iPhones.
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