France takes the gold at the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2017

61st-coupe-aronautique-gordon-bennett---prize-giving-ceremony 36870024620_oThe winners of the 61st Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2017 said they were “overjoyed” to be awarded their FAI gold medals at a ceremony in Fribourg, Switzerland on Saturday 16 September 2017.

French pilots Vincent Leys and Christophe Houver won the famous gas-balloon race over the weekend of 8-10 September 2017, and had made the long journey back to Fribourg to accept their medals.

Leys said: “Winning the Gordon Bennett Cup 2017 is a dream come true.”

The Gordon Bennett Cup is the oldest and most prestigious gas-balloon race in the world. Taking place each year it attracts the best gas-balloon pilots in the world, who take off and fly as far as they can. Flying through the night and across international borders, whoever goes the furthest wins.

This year 21 gas balloons took off on Friday evening, 8 September 2017.

Leys and Houver travelled 1,834.72km to take the win. They landed at 8.35am CEST on Sunday 10 September.

They were the only team that managed to navigate through a thin corridor of airspace between Kaliningrad and Belarus, which allowed them to fly northeast across Lithuania and Latvia. They landed in Estonia before the Russian border.

Some 500km behind them, many pilots had to land in Poland because of airspace around the city of Kaliningrad and the country of Belarus.

Switzerland’s Kurt Frieden and Pascal Wutprächtiger (SUI-1) landed just short of the border with Lithuania to come second, winning silver. They had flown a tactical but slower race, landing at 7pm CEST on Sunday after covering 1,366km.

Close behind them in third place, Spain’s Anulfo Gonzales Redondo and Angel Aguirre Rial also landed close to the Lithuanian border. They covered 1,334km.

Leys was particularly delighted with this year’s race because of, “the extraordinary location, the warm welcome and the optimal conditions to prepare our balloon.”

When asked about his team's strategy, he said: “We worked hard with our ground crew in France to prepare for the race. We had two options at the time of take-off: fly north, which meant running the risk of being stopped by a storm and landing at night; or try to pass through the narrow [airspace] gate between Kaliningrad and Belarus. We chose the latter option."

He added: “We decided to fly up to 6,000 metres just after Zurich. We knew that this strategy would reduce our autonomy, however we wanted to have enough speed to be at the Kaliningrad-Belarus corridor early enough before the storm. In the end the weather conditions were stable and we were able to fly as planned.”

Although the race ended on 10 September, the prize-giving ceremony took place on Saturday 16 September. This was to give each team the time to retrieve their balloons and pilots, and to make the long journey back to Fribourg by road.

The win is the second for Leys and Houver flying together as a team – they also won in 2013, when they flew 1,402.42km after launching from France. Vincent Leys has now been one-half of a winning team a total of nine times.

Houver said: “This victory is especially satisfying considering all the time we spent preparing for the race, and all the mental and physical energy we put into it.

“This year we completely reviewed all aspects of our preparation, including our equipment, our ground team and our training methods. In particular we are now working in a more collaborative way. Overall things turned out very positively.”

The win for the French team means that the 2019 Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett will now take place in France. Traditionally, whichever country wins the race hosts it two years later.

Established in 1906, the Gordon Bennett Cup was re-started for the modern era in 1983. Since then it has attracted most of the world’s top balloon pilots, providing a challenge unrivalled anywhere else in the ballooning world.

All pictures: http://bit.ly/2h8eJeG

Tracking: http://yb.tl/gb2017fr