To the victors the spoils! Swiss pilots reign at Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2016
Switzerland’s Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witpraechtiger (Team SUI 1) were crowned champions of the 60th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett – the world’s most prestigious gas balloon race – at an elegant ceremony in Gladbeck, northwest Germany tonight.
Team SUI 2 pilots Nicolas Tièche and Laurent Sciboz were presented with the silver medals, while Spain’s Anulfo Gonzalez and Angel Aguirre of Team ESP 1 stepped up to claim bronze.
There was rapturous applause as the winning Swiss pilots accepted their medals for a triumphant flight that ended just before 10.30am CEST on Wednesday September 21 in Stavros in central Greece.
The gas-balloonists, who have won two previous Gordon Bennett championships, had covered 1,803.48km in 58.12 hours, on what pilot Frieden described as a “perfect” flight.
“The weather conditions meant it was not very clear in the early stages how far we would be able to go, but as the weather got better and better on Tuesday, we realised we could make it to Greece,” said Frieden. “It was a perfect flight.”
His co-pilot Witpraechtiger believes that flexibility is the key to their success.
“One of the great things about ballooning is that you never know where you are going to land,” he said. “You have to be able to adapt and change your strategy depending on the situation.”
The Swiss pilots also made history by landing in Stavros, as they became the first ever gas balloon pilots to land in Greece.
“It’s a very nice feeling to be the first to do something like that,” Frieden added. “We were given a lovely, warm welcome.”
Laurent Sciboz, of Team SUI 2, was also delighted with his silver medal-winning performance.
“For me, Gordon Bennett races are all about freedom, so it’s like a dream to do so well in such a marvellous competition,” Sciboz said.
Team ESP 1’s Anulfo Gonzalez said it was a privilege to be so highly placed in such an experienced field.
“We were leading the race at one point, but that doesn’t mean anything until everyone has landed,” he said.
“We had to make the decision not to cross the sea to Greece for safety reasons, but it was one of the nicest flights we have ever done and we are very happy to be on the podium.”
FAI Executive Director Frits Brink presented the race winners with their medals. "It has been a truly fascinating event," he said. "I have been following the race avidly via the live tracking, and I am very pleased to be here in Gladbeck to meet the pilots and take part in the prize giving ceremony."
FAI Secretary General Susanne Schoedel congratulated all the competitors on a fantastic race.
“This is probably the toughest FAI championship to take part in,” she said.
“Pilots need endurance, as well as tactical skill and a good understanding of meteorological conditions. Well done to all the participants!