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Hot air balloon race: unique competitions to be held in Monaco

This is a major event in the Principality! Organised by the Club of Aeronauts of Monaco, the Coupe Prince Albert II will be an opportunity to showcase an exceptional sporting discipline through a brand new event.The first international pursuit race of… ECOLOGICAL HOT AIR BALOONS!

Between 1 February and 30 April (the exact date will be announced a few days beforehand, on the advice of the official meteorologist), six countries divided into ten crews will compete. This is a one-day competition, with an estimated flight time of between 3 and 6 hours, from the point of departure to the final destination. They will all set off from a number of the Principality’s most prestigious locations… before crossing the Italian Alps. The aim? To catch up with the balloon in Monaco’s colours that takes off first, from the Princely Palace.

This is the new event at the start of 2024. The Prince Albert II Cup has made its appearance and has turned the Monegasque sporting landscape, already renowned for its richness and diversity. This prestigious event, organised by the Aeronauts Club of Monaco, is a far cry from what the local public is used to, yet it is a must on the calendar. And with good reason… It will be a world first, departing from the Principality.

An international pursuit (also known as a “fox”) of ecological hot-air balloons! Supported by H.S.H. Prince Albert II, this innovative competition will be an opportunity to let the red and white flag shine at high altitude, in a setting where sport and spectacle will be one and the same. It will also be an opportunity to showcase Monaco’s commitment to a number of fundamental everyday causes…

Hot Air Balloons
Photo credit: Aéronautes de Monaco

The Concept

Organising a unique sporting competition with so much at stake… This is the challenge set by Alain Cruteanschii, President of the Aeronauts Club of Monaco, with the Prince Albert II Cup. “The primary objective is to highlight the sovereign’s responsible ecological policy through an exceptional event,” says Cruteanschii, who is also the pilot of the MONACO balloon.

Scheduled to take place between February and April 2024, this event is the fruit of an ambitious project that has matured over the years. “The idea was born five years ago, when we imagined the creation of an ecological hot-air balloon in the colours of Monaco. This dream has since become a reality, thanks in particular to the contribution of the Marzocco group,” reveals Alain Cruteanschii, before continuing. “The club then presented it to the sovereign, who was delighted with the initiative. The organisation of the PRINCE ALBERT II CUP was then launched…”.

The president of the Aeronautes of Monaco is also delighted with the great interest shown “from the beginning” by H.S.H. Prince Albert II in this innovative project. “It’s a privilege to have his personal support, as well as that of his foundation.”

The competition, the first of its kind, will be a fox chase in which the MONACO balloon (which will take off first from the Palais Place) will be the target. From the Principality, ten international ecological hot-air balloons will take off towards Italy. The programme includes a crossing of the Southern Italian Alps at an altitude of over 6,000 metres, before landing near Piedmont.

Hot Air Balloons
Photo credit: Aéronautes de Monaco

For obvious reasons, the success of the event depends heavily on the weather conditions. These will have to be deemed optimal for all the stages that will be tackled on the route, to ensure the safety of the drivers and, in fact, to meet the objectives set for the deadlines and the race route.

Wim de Troyer has three months to find the right moment and give the go-ahead for the start of the competition, announced on D-3* (details at the end of the article). As Official Meteorologist for the PRINCE ALBERT II CUP, he is fully aware of the responsibilities that will be entrusted to him.

“The weather will determine everything. Rather calm and dry weather with few clouds will be favourable to the smooth running of operations,” he declares, before adding a few more details.

“In the window of opportunity we’re looking for, there should be little wind on the ground, so that set-up and take-off go smoothly. The currents will then have to carry the pilots towards the Italian Alps, before they begin their crossing. To make progress in this crucial stage of the route, a relatively strong wind at high altitude will be a necessity… This will finally allow Alain to calmly control the race and reach a place that he will define as favourable for a safe landing”.

The other competitors will therefore have to adapt in real time to the Monegasque crew as regards the route they adopt.

The international ecological hot-air balloon that lands closest (distance) to the one flying the MONACO colours will win the first edition of the Prince Albert II Cup.

Hot Air Balloons
Photo credit: Aéronautes de Monaco

Alain Cruteanschii, the playground of altitude

With several round-the-world flights in his career, hot-air balloons hold no secrets for him. Alain Cruteanschii has become a benchmark in his field, thanks to the people he has met and the experience he has gained in his sporting activity.

The founder of the first hot-air balloon travel company, RESPACE, in the early 1990s, the president/founder of the Aeronauts Club of Monaco is widely recognised for his passion for hot-air balloons as well as his performance as a pilot. But he’s not one to rest on his laurels…

Always on the lookout for new adventures, he is determined to give himself the means to fulfil his ambitions.
With the organisation of the Prince Albert II Cup, Alain Cruteanschii has succeeded in bringing his favourite discipline to the centre of the local sporting landscape. “I’m very proud to be representing the Principality at such a high altitude,” says the event’s instigator, before adding. “The success of a project like this will, in fact, enable Monaco to occupy a key position in the world of international ballooning. What’s more, we’ll have the privilege of taking to the skies in our exceptional ecological hot-air balloon in Monaco’s colours! I’m delighted.”

After winning the “Ballon Concept Challenge*” a few years ago (before the creation of the Monaco balloon), it was inconceivable for Alain Cruteanschii not to organise the start of an international ecological hot-air balloon competition on Monegasque soil.

The idea was simple: take inspiration from other countries, yes, but without copying them. The main aim was to find the special feature, the key element… that would make this Prince Albert II Cup unique.

“The pursuit allows us to stand out from the crowd by offering something that has never been done before. It’s also a concept that’s easy for the public to understand,” says the president of the Monaco Aeronauts Club. He then put forward the idea of giving “the whole world the opportunity to follow the race live via a tracking application, which would be available on the internet as well as on smartphones”. It remains to be seen how this can be achieved.

This initiative would allow international fans of the discipline to accompany the drivers as they cross the Italian Alps by air. An essential and decisive stage that Alain Cruteanschii is looking forward to with enthusiasm and serenity. “All the crews are used to long journeys at high altitude. We’re equipped with oxygen masks, VHS radio transporters and various items of equipment to protect us from the cold…”.

With optimum weather conditions, it is estimated that it will take 3/4 hours to fly the entire route before reaching Piedmont. During this time, Wim de Troyer will be in constant contact with the MONACO balloon pilot. “It’s important to communicate with Alain to get his impressions at the time. For my part, I’ll keep him informed of what I see on the satellite images and in the weather model updates.”

The set-up has been completed, the race route established and the teams ready to battle it out for the prestigious trophy… all that’s left to do! The big event is approaching and Alain Cruteanschii is not hiding his excitement. Not just for the influence he and the MONACO balloon will have on the sporting outcome of the PRINCE ALBERT II CUP, of course, but also for other reasons… “Since the beginning, we’ve been talking about the Monaco Next Generation Project from the outset.

I will have the chance to take off from the Princely Palace with my son Alix as co-pilot. Several crews will also be made up of father/son or father/daughter pairs… for me, this moment will be symbolic of the handover to the new generation. “

Hot Air Balloons
Photo credit: Aéronautes de Monaco

Ecology at the heart of the Prince Albert II Cup

Sport is an essential part of today’s society, and by virtue of its universality, it is one of the most important vectors of communication. It is a major medium through which certain fundamental claims can be made.

Alain Cruteanschii is well aware of this… Deeply concerned by the issue of ecology, the president of the Aeronauts of Monaco saw in this Prince Albert II Cup an opportunity to convey the right messages to as many people as possible.

“One of the main objectives of this first event is to promote the Principality’s strong commitment to preserving the planet, respecting the environment and saving energy,” says the event organiser, before adding. “Research in these areas is the DNA of our club.”

With his ambitions on display, the man in many hats goes on to detail the characteristics and design features that will enable the MONACO balloon to achieve the recognition it deserves.

“The basis of an ecological hot-air balloon is to have a double envelope, as we have. This reduces heat loss and saves up to 70% on fuel. The ‘light’ nacelle, made from titanium and composite materials, weighs almost 100 kg less than if it were made from conventional wicker.

The club’s partner, ROMANO ENERGY MONACO, will also be supplying us with biopropane produced by catalysing waste. This revolutionary fuel reduces our CO2 emissions by more than 60%…”.

Through this exceptional sporting competition, Alain Cruteanschii is asserting his overriding desire to “get a global message across about ecology in a fun way by promoting various realities such as “the effectiveness of thermal insulation in the fight against energy waste.”

Hot Air Balloons
Photo credit: Aéronautes de Monaco

The first flight of the Prince Albert II Cup is therefore expected to start from the Principality between February and April 2024. During this period, all eyes will be on the Aeronauts of Monaco, as they await the official announcement of D-Day (departure), which will be announced at D-3.

*D-3 before departure, path (Concept, paragraph 3):

– D-3 Validation of the weather window and confirmation of the departure date of the Coupe Prince Albert II. Crews have 24 hours to reach the Principality.
– D-2 Arrival and installation of the crews in the partner hotels. First briefing.
D-1 Hot-air balloons are deployed on the take-off zones. Hover flights with partners. Second briefing.

DAY D Start of the Coupe Prince Albert II. This will be given by H.S.H. Prince ALBERT II. Results announced at the landing zone in the presence of the race partners.
MAY 2 (TBC) In the presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II, gala evening by invitation at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco. Presentation of the Prince Albert II Cup to the winning crew.

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