12 Oct 2023

Eric Decellières and Benoit Havret win the 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

The 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett gas balloon race was an absolutely thrilling competition with a breathtaking final duel resulting in the triumph of Eric Decellières & Benoit Havret of France (Team FRA-2) over 2022’s winners, father and son Wilhelm and Benjamin Eimers (GER-1).

It is the French pair’s first win in aviation’s oldest competition. They flew a remarkable distance of 2661.40 km during a 85h49m flight after launching alongside 16 other balloons from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA on Saturday 7 October and eventually landing near Jacksonville, North Carolina, very near the Atlantic Coast on Wednesday morning.

Sibylle Maus Gordon Bennett Coupe Aeronautique 2023
Launch of the 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2023. Image Credit: Sibylle Maus

After the launch, followers from across the globe watched the balloons all fly east together, via Gordon Bennett’s livestream tracking, with different teams taking the lead until just two remaining teams - FRA-2 and GER-1 – flew through a fourth night just a few kilometres apart. 

Tracking 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett 2023
Screenshot of the gas balloons flights across the USA

The Eimers in GER-1 finally landed shortly beforehand at 0959 MDT on Wednesday 11 October near Wilmington, having travelled 2587.21km. Decellières & Havret in the FRA-2 balloon persevered to the coastline and made a triumphant touchdown at 1100 MDT, just outside Jacksonville, North Carolina, less than 50km from the Atlantic Oceans shores.

Screenshot winners 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett
Screenshot of the top three balloons in the 66th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

Team FRA-1 (Benoît Pelard and Benoît Péterlé), secured a third place finish with 2359.95km after landing their balloon close to Savannah, Georgia, during the afternoon on 10th October.

  • View full results (The official results remain subject to final confirmation by the FAI jury)

The new champions

The FRA-2 victory does not come as a surprise. In just a few short years, Decellières and Havret have established themselves as an important presence in the world of gas ballooning. They finished second in the 2021 Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett, and previously attained impressive Gordon Bennett results with two top five finishes and an additional four top tens. Moreover, Eric Decellières came in second in the America's Challenge in 2019 alongside the great Gordon Bennett champion Vincent Lëys.

Their reputation precedes them as tough and gutsy competitors who always give their utmost effort. Outside of competition, Decellières is a businessman and entrepreneur, and Havret works in real estate.

The French team achieved the difficult feat of beating the German father and son reigning champions Wilhelm and Benjamin Eimers. Wilhelm Eimers has participated in thirty Gordon Bennett races, more than any other balloonist in history and won the competition five times.

Eric Decellières Benoit Havret
Eric Decellières & Benoit Havret, Team FRA-2

All the teams will reconvene in Alberquerque on 14 October for the prize-giving ceremony. 

The next edition of the race will take place in Münster, Germany, on 13 September 2024.

About the 66th coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

This year's race was part of the Alberquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Launch: 7 October 2023, Alberquerque, New Mexico, USA.

There were 17 balloons from nine nations:

  • Austria (two teams)
  • France (three teams – one was unable to launch)
  • Germany (three teams)
  • Great Britain
  • Lithuania
  • Poland (two teams)
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • USA (three teams)

Find out more

Header image: Ken Tuley