14 for Marseille
Never has the Audi MedCup Circuit come to such a central location in the heart of a major European conurbation. The fourteen TP52s are docked only 50m from the town hall of France’s third city, the world’s leading sailors making their cutting edge grand prix boats ready only a matter of metres from the weekend’s strolling locals and visitors as they make their way along the Quai d’Honneur.
Racing for series’ points starts on Tuesday, but Monday is a dress rehearsal with a purpose. Not only is it an important opportunity to measure performance improvements since May’s City of Alicante Trophy regatta, the first event of the 2008 Audi MedCup Circuit and to give crew work a final run through before racing begins, but the practice races serve as the chance for media guests, local, national and international, to sail on the boats and experience the thrill of racing on these exciting yachts.
Making a racing debut at this regatta will be USA-17, the brand new TP52 of BMW Oracle Racing, Challenger of Record for the 33rd America’s Cup. Their core sailing team have had just three days of sailing on the boat, and their three times America’s Cup winning skipper Russell Coutts - who missed the training days off Valencia due to a leg laceration - will have his first competitive sail with the new boat here, sailing as tactician for helm James Spithill. While they may be less familiar with their own TP52 than any other teams here, theirs is a high quality sailing team who have been sailing hard together on a variety of different craft over recent weeks.
Coutts (NZL) guided the 2007 MedCup champion Artemis to victory last year as tactician and skipper for Swedish businessman Torbjorn Tornqvist. USA-17 have been training in Valencia with sister-ship Artemis, skippered by John Kostecki (USA) and steered to sixth place in Alicante by Tornqvist.
“The feeling is positive and we are hoping to have a good week in Marseille at the Audi MedCup.” explains USA-17’s navigator Michele Ivaldi (ITA), “ But the level of this circuit is pretty high and the level of the boats is high. We expect to be improving during the week and hopefully we will get to learn the boat more and more. But to be honest it would be presumptuous to arrive expecting to have a very competitive boat, because there are a lot of very good sailors out there and they have been sailing those boats for weeks and weeks. I expect them to have made big steps forward.
“Our goal is just to keep up racing outside of the America"s Cup and the more we do in these different environments the better it is for us, just trying to keep our competitiveness up.”
Peter de Ridder’s Mean Machine won the first event run in Alicante last month and now leads the 2008 Audi MedCup Circuit by a single point. Winning five races there, they are aiming to maintain their form and stay a step ahead of the opposition. Their only change is the return of veteran crewmember Joey Allen (NZL) for the first time this season:
“To be truthful I was on the boat for the first time today and although the mood and feeling is just typically Mean Machine it is humbling," said double America’s Cup winner Allen. "The standard has gone up so much since last season. I really am being challenged out there. The breeze was not so good today and so we have a lot to do before the racing starts for real. Then we will just tick off the days as they come.”
Mutua Madrilena, who won the MedCup Circuit in 2005, finished a slightly disappointing 7th in Alicante with their brand new boat. Helmsman Flavio Favini (ITA) has a racing commitment elsewhere, so skipper Vasco Vascotto (ITA) will steer and will rely on top French match racer Sebastien Col for tactical and local knowledge input.
“This is my fist time on a TP52 so I am looking forward to it,” says former Col, who sails from the local YCPR yacht club, “As far as the winds go anything and everything can happen here. The most important thing to watch for is the local, coastal effects, produced by the topography.”
Racing for the City of Marseille Trophy - the second leg of the 2008 Audi MedCup Circuit starts Monday at 13:10 with the practice race. Forecast for Monday predicts southwesterly winds of 10 knots with rain showers. Each of the 14 yachts must take a journalist on board for the day to share the experience of racing in the World’s Leading Regatta Circuit.