Audi IRC Australian Championship resumes

Wild Oats leads the field in Sydney this weekend

Wednesday March 2nd 2011, Author: Nicole Browne, Location: Australia

Round two of Australia’s only grand prix sailing series, the Audi IRC Australian Championship, will be staged on Sydney Harbour and off Sydney Heads this weekend as part of the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta. A total of 29 yachts have entered the IRC division across three boat classes.

In Class A, entries include current series leader Hooligan, second placed Victorian yacht Living Doll and last year’s series winner Loki. Wild Oats X and New Zealand boat Georgia will compete in Sydney (their first outings for this year’s series), adding pressure to the Class A fleet, while Ian Oatley’s new boat Q has also applied for entry.

For Hooligan, which won all eight races in Victoria, owner Marcus Blackmore says the key question will be how they stack up against Wild Oats X.  “If it’s a big boat race with a dying breeze, Wild Oats X will do well because if Richo gets across the finish line first and then the wind dies he’ll be hard to beat. They have a really good crew and they always sail the boat well, but if it’s consistent breeze all the time then they will struggle to beat us – if we go the right way that is! Living Doll is probably our biggest competition as the boat is longer than ours – she was in front of us a few times in Melbourne and is quicker, but in the end it comes down to crew work and that’s what makes a difference.”

The only international entry in IRC Division Class A this weekend is New Zealand yacht Georgia. While none of the crew has been personally affected by the Christchurch earthquake tragedy, they do plan to wear black armbands throughout the weekend’s racing as a mark of respect for those lost and those still missing. Owner and helmsman Jim Farmer finds the calibre of competition in the championship irresistible.

“We originally came over last year just to do Audi Hamilton Island Race Week but we realised the IRC big boat fleet, in the 52 feet and over yachts, is one of the best in the world,” said Farmer. “The competition is better than you get anywhere else, so we thought we’d stay here and compete again this year.”

Farmer understands the need for well-oiled efficiency on board in this competition. “We don’t make many mistakes but in this fleet if you don’t get a good start you’re dead, because you can never fight your way back. I think our crew work is very good but we’ve looked at ways we can improve and we’ve got Chris Dickson doing tactics. “He’s sailed with us a lot previously and was at Audi Hamilton Island Race Week last year and we’ve grabbed him back and will have him for all three regattas we’re competing in, and he’s one of the best sailors in the world so it’s nice to have him back in the team.

“The windward-leeward conditions off heads are different with a bit of swell so that’s something you’ve got to adjust to that. We’re looking at having high speed winches on the boat for Audi Sydney Gold Coast and Hamilton Island but won’t have them in time for Sydney.”

In Class B Daryl Hodgkinson’s Victoire, Paul Clitheroe’s Balance and local Middle Harbour Yacht Club entry Exile will be joined by another seven Sydney boats.

For Daryl Hodgkinson and the crew of Victoire, who are sitting in third overall going into round two of the series, the benefit of sailing at home in Sydney is the chance to get ahead of some of the Victorian boats they are likely to compete against again in rounds three and four later this year.

“It’s a good chance for as obviously in your own home waters, there’s familiarity there, and we’ve got tactician Sean Kirkjean who’s a master around the harbour and offshore - he’s a wizard, our boy,” enthused Hodgkinson. “We do a lot of offshore passage racing normally so I’m glad we did Geelong to tune us up for windward/ leeward racing and we’re looking forward to it. We’re a heavier boat and we need that 12 plus knots of wind to be up there (in the leaders) but hopefully it’ll come through.”

In Class C, Peter Sorenson’s The Philosopher’s Club, a previous divisional winner of the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta and overall winner of Audi IRC Australian Championship 2009, will be looking to add valuable points to its series total after placing third at the end of Audi Victoria Week, while Ryan Walker’s Peregrine has made the trip north from Melbourne to chase series points.

Peter Sorenson, owner/skipper of The Philosopher’s Club says this weekend’s Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta is make or break for the boat in this series: “The aim for this weekend is to win – we’ll need a top three finish and then decide if we do the rest of the series. Both L’Altra Donna and Peregrine are a threat – if it’s windy, we’re favourite to win, medium wind we’ll be in the mix, but light winds could be a problem for us. We’ve applied for a re-rating with a shorter measurement on our mainsail which will give us a slightly better rating, we’ve lowered our headsail closer to the deck, we’ve recut sails and we think we’ll be quicker and hopefully with a better rating.”

Racing in the IRC division of the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta will take place on Saturday 5 March and Sunday 6 March with a windward/leeward course set off Sydney Heads each day.

However, Wild Oats X, Exile and The Philosopher’s Club will also take part in a charity sailing day on Friday 4 March with teenagers from The Smith Family’s Learning For Life program joining the crews of yachts for a fun day’s harbour sailing to learn some new skills and experience the joy of sailing with some of the best.

More than 330 yachts of all shapes and sizes will be taking part in the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta, with 24 divisions and eight courses around the harbour on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the best winning boats in each division will swap the harbour for Eastern Creek raceway where they’ll take to the wheel of an Audi RS 5 coupé and show their driving skills to win a new Audi A1.

The Audi IRC Australian Championship is made up of four grand prix sailing events – Audi Victoria Week, the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta, Audi Sydney Gold Coast Race and Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. Winners in each of the three classes are calculated on total pointscore over the series and each class champion also wins a new Audi for a year.

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