TP52 action starts Tuesday
The answer will finally become clear on Tuesday on the Punta Ala start line for the first race of the 2006 Breitling MedCup TP52 circuit when the full magnitude and might of what will undoubtedly be the most exciting line-up of grand prix raceboats and crew to be assembled for many years becomes clear.
13 boats competed over the course of the Breitling MedCup Circuit last year with Vasco Vascotto finally winning on Pisco Sour. 19 boats have registered to start next week in Punta Ala. Of this fleet ten have launched in 2006 and more are due to join the circuit over coming months.
With a galaxy of sailing talent and new boats the form book is hard to write. The top two boats from last year have been sold on - the Botin Carkeek designed Pisco Sour (now Gonzalo Araujo's Baleària) and the Reichel-Pugh designed Lexus (now Pedro Mendoça's Bigamist VI) and will sail with completely new crew.
By comparison the newest boats have only been on the water for a matter of weeks but have possibly the strongest selection of talent on board. It will take them time to find the optimum speeds through the wind ranges and some have not yet raced in earnest, but as Russell Coutts demonstrated last year on Lexus-Quantum Racing, it does not take long for the top crews to find these small extra percentages.
But there are the early 2006 launches who prepared in the USA, competing at Key West and then the Global Championships in Miami. They reach Punta Ala with the benefit of having done most racing this year armed with the some of the latest designs.
Certainly Punta Ala will be the destination for an exodus of top sailors from the America's Cup Louis Vuitton Acts in Valencia, which finishes Sunday, and a few hard driven professionals will step directly from the finish of Leg 7 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday to head straight for Tuscany.
Three times America's Cup winner Russell Coutts returns to the circuit after taking second last year on Lexus. He will sail George Andreadis and Jaime Yllera's new Botin and Carkeek designed boat with Gavin Brady steering and Quantum Sails' Larry Leonard and Per Anderson on mainsheet and trimming. Limited time on the water should not be a barrier to a team of this quality in a fleet of this size.
Emirates Team New Zealand's Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson bring a strong cast of Team New Zealand sailors on board Fred and Steve Howe's brand new Botin & Carkeek designed Warpath, including mainsheet trimmer Don Cowie, trimmer Grant Loretz, navigator Kevin Hall and bowman Jeremy Lomas. While the American owners are new to the circuit, some of the ETNZ sailors sailed last year when Barker skippered Lexus in Coutts' absence.
Third placed last year Caixa Galicia, skippered by Roberto 'Chuny' Bermudez, brings Brazil's five times Olympic medallist Torben Grael - Chuny's Volvo Race Brasil 1 skipper - on board as tactician. While the boat has reportedly not undergone the same out of season modifications as her Farr designed sisterships Bribon and Aifos which have fitted smaller keels, it will be interesting to see how much Grael's tactical mastery adds an extra dimension to Caixa's racing.
TP52 Global Champions Siemens, Eamon Conneely's Reichel Pugh-designed Patches, confirmed their preparation is absolutely on target. After winning the global title in Miami, they won the Regata Ciudad de Malaga in April. They have +39 tactician Ian Walker as skipper and Dave Bedford steering, as well as Admiral's Cup winning navigator Adrienne Cahalan forming a strong afterguard.
Walker's former GBR Challenge team-mate Adrian Stead skippers Stuart Robinson and Juan Antonio Iniesta's Farr-designed Santa Ana (formerly Stay Calm). They won their first regatta in Key West and also won the TP52 class at Palma Vela.
Established as the de facto top level Grand Prix raceboat class internationally, the circuit has drawn campaigns from Germany's Michael Illbruck, Monaco's Peter de Ridder and Norway's King Harald V.
Illbruck has revitalised the famous Pinta Racing Team name with a new Cookson-built Judel Vrolijk-designed boat, which is being skippered by John Kostecki, with former Ericsson navigator Steve Hayles on board, and Oracle BMW trimmer Ross Halcrow.
Peter de Ridder's Mean Machine race team also have a new Judel Vrolijk design and an equally impressive crew. They have been working the boat up for a week in Palma, but have yet to race in a TP52 race.
As well as overall honours the fleet will be challenging for the Breitling MedCup TP52 Corinthian trophy title, which was won last year by HRH King Juan Carlos and Jose Cusi's Bribon, which finished fourth overall.
Racing starts in Punta Ala on Tuesday 22nd May with a series of windward-leeward