ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It is the most grueling competition of Balloon Fiesta, but this year there are big changes to America's Challenge.
Pilots are currently getting ready for takeoff.
The balloons could end up as far as the other side of the U.S. when the race ends.
But instead of the dozen or so balloons that typically race, this year it is down to just five.
Since 1995, teams from across the world have come to Albuquerque for America's Challenge, a cross-country high flying balloon race where the winner goes the furthest.
Due to a worldwide shortage of helium, which is expensive and scarce, all of the pilots will be using hydrogen.
Hydrogen is highly flammable, but the balloons should fly the same distance as a helium balloon.
Because hydrogen balloons are far more common in Europe than in the U.S., two of the five teams are from Europe this year.
For the first time ever a team from Russia will be competing.
One of the pilots who won last year's race says hydrogen balloons bring on more of a challenge.
"It's a bit more reactive to changes in temperature, changes in pressure, changes in altitude affect the balloon more…so you're flying it more. With helium you can sit back a bit more," Pilot John Mason said.
Pilot John Mason landed at the North Dakota-Canada border nearly a thousand miles away from Albuquerque last year.
He and his crew are expecting another 72 hour journey in the sky this time around.
The five teams competing in this year's America's Challenge race for gas balloons are getting ready and are set to launch around 6 p.m. Sunday.
The crews have packed light snacks and lots of water.
You can track each balloon as it travels>>
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