Quantum Racing, winners in Cascais and leaders on the Audi MedCup Circuit TP52 class may have had a speed and power advantage in the muscular winds on the Atlantic waters off the Portuguese capital city last month, but with the return to the more benign, subtle conditions of the early summer Mediterranean, any big advantage might just be nullified.
That was the early evidence gathered from today’s short windward-leeward practice race on Marseille’s majestic Rade Sud.
Under skipper-helm Ed Baird, the US team, winner Marseille Trophy here last season, finished a close second today behind Italy’s Audi Azzurra Sailing Team which led from the first turning mark and finally acceded to on-board democracy to overcome a superstition that bad luck follows a win in the practice race, and took a winning gun which they chose to forego last month in Portugal.
"We were pretty comfortable today in the lighter winds," commented Quantum Racing's Adrian Stead. "It was all pretty tricky out there. Container were in the left hand corner early on and could not get their way out. Audi Azzurra went for the breeze on the early right and that definitely held long enough to get them across, there were plenty of little, subtle things going that were very easy to miss or lose two or three boat lengths very quickly, but also to get it back. It felt like we were going reasonably well upwind and down, but we certainly see eight very competitive boats and I think it will be how you start and how you get the most out of it around the race track. There were opportunities on each of the beats and on each of the runs. It was good where the race course was located, close enough to the islands to have an influence on the bottom third of the course. It was good fun. Audi Azzurra sailed well and were able to keep themselves out there at the front.
"To be honest going sailing in the lighter airs here we are all learning at the same time. We missed the light air day in Palma but I think that every minute you spend on the boat is valuable, but that is just the same for the guys on Container, on Ràn, all the guys are saying the same. We just have to use our time the best and make sure we can get the best out of equipment. It is going to be good.”
In the lighter conditions- 6-7 knots today – almost all of the learning in Cascais’ prevailing 20+ knots conditions defaults back close to zero for most of the eight TP52 crews. Six of the boats may be brand new this season and not yet raced in earnest in the light to moderate sea-breezes expected here, but so too for the two teams with 2009 generation Vrolijk designs – Gladiator (GBR) and Bribon (ESP) their boats are also new to them this season. So today’s practice race was highly instructive for each team, as well as for the spectators.
As ever in the lighter wind ranges the Marseille track is a tough taskmaster for the tacticians and strategists. On the Rade Sud the picturesque Frioul Islands exert a small influence on the right side of the course looking upwind and the high, bluff limestone mountains to left the including the prominent Mont Rose add interest, not least in mixing up the thermal breezes.
Clearly buoyed up to atone for some of their occasional weaknesses – tactics and, more obviously, speed - in Cascais Audi Azzurra Sailing Team, with Vasco Vascotto and Francesco Bruni combining on tactics, were first to reap the reward of extra wind pressure on the right and were able to lead Quantum Racing down the first run. The two teams got close on the run, but the Italians were able to slowly extend away. And from there the only debate on board the winning boat was between the superstitious Latinos – Italians and Argentinians – and the pragmatic Anglo-Saxons – as to whether they should cross the line.
While it might not have been the high octane action of Cascais, today the speed differentials between the mainly new boats were obviously small and there were tactical options on each and every leg on both sides of the course.
Audi Azzurra's Francesco Bruni commented: “We had good speed but in fact we went to the good side of the course early. We tacked immediately after the start and went right for one and a half minutes and gained enormously. We were the only ones to go right early and that gave us a good early advantage and at the first crossing we were three lengths ahead. The boat is good and so we are full of optimism. In Cascais we were superstitious and did not cross the finish line of the practice race and we did not really have a great week after that, this time we took vote and we chose the opposite. So we will see how it goes."
His strategist Vasco Vascotto added: “Everything worked quite well, although is not good to win the race before the regatta begins, it´s good to do it when you are racing. I voted not to cross the line in the first place, I´m 100% Italian for this kind of things. The rest of the guys decided to cross it and see what happens since we didn´t do it like this in Cascais and we weren´t that lucky there. We´ve done many things the right way and the boat has been sailed well. We´ve made some changes and it seems that they are working, we are happy with them. Our attitude is the right one now, when you make mistakes you have to look at yourself in the mirror and try to correct the things that you didn´t do right. The boat sailed fast, even in these conditions, but we know that the difference between teams is really small. The regatta is still open, Quantum are consistent , always ahead, they are the favorite team to win this season, but we are going to be there, ready to attack when they make a mistake."
Newcomers to the fleet, the British TP52 Gladiator, steered by owner Tony Langley, started well and was third and fourth until the final run when they lost out to Synergy (RUS) and Container (GER) in the final metres.
Gonzalo Araujo, skipper of Bribón said: “It´s been a training day with little wind. At one point we got back in the fight with some pressure that we caught at the right, but then we were caught in the Russian´s dirty air, went to the other side and lost two or three places in the race. We´ve used old jibs, genoas and spinnakers because we didn´t want to damage the new ones. The boats are still very close, with small differences, it will be important to start well and watch the tactics. Apparently, in lighter conditions our boat could sail faster than others, but that´s not our feeling right now. We´ll see when the regatta starts. In Cascais we should've performed worse than we did but the truth is that we didn´t have many problems and sailed as well as the others."
Racing starts for points tomorrow when the TP52 line up for two scheduled windward-leeward races, while the Soto 40 fleet are due to head out for their practice race.
The five boat Soto 40 fleet will race on the Rade Sud for the first time Wednesday. Iberdrola, the Spanish class leaders, were practicing diligently today.
Tour Voile, Admiral’s Cup and multiple French Offshore champion Alain Fedensieu had his first sail with XXII-Marseille today while Patagonia-Negra (URU/ARG) is being sailed by a South American crew who are double winners of the South American circuit, set to enjoy their first experience of racing in Europe courtesy of Patagonia’s owner. Noticia IV reverts to Inaki Castaner’s core crew including past GP42 winning tactician Gustavo Martinez Doreste.