To the wire in Barcelona?
Barcelona, the Olympic sailing venue in 1992, is set to witness the closest finish to the Audi MedCup Circuit in four years when the TP52s conclude racing for the 2011 Audi MedCup Circuit title.
Quantum Racing, skippered by former Alinghi helm Ed Baird, need a solid final regatta if they are to hold off the advances of Italy’s Audi Azzurra Sailing Team and lift the title.
“We are really looking forwards to Barcelona," says Ed Reynolds, Quantum Racing’s Project Manager. "We have a job to do there and are confident we can do it. When we look back to Cartagena our feeling is very much not to panic, if there is nothing particularly broken then we don’t have to worry about trying to fix things, but just to focus on trying to the do the things that we know we do well better.
"We have an exceptional team who are used to closing out major titles, like the America’s Cup and World Championships and so I don’t think pressure or confidence will come into it. I think that we have to make sure we are fully optimised for the conditions expected, which might be something like 12-16 knots sea breezes with the choppy seas we saw last year. Those conditions I certainly feel are not a weakness for us.”
Audi Azzurra Sailing Team, skippered by Gullermo Parada, with Vasco Vascotto as strategist and Francesco Bruni as tactician, have proven the most consistent TP52 team over the second half of this season. They have just finished second overall at the Region of Murcia-Cartagena Trophy after July’s Region of Sardinia Trophy off Cagliari where they also finished runner-up. They are the only team to have been on the podium at every regatta this year.
The Audi Azzurra Sailing Team crew, last year as Matador finished third overall, just five points adrift of Quantum Racing who were second, and show every sign of finishing this season on a high. They could press Quantum Racing right to the wire heading into 2011’s Barcelona finale with only 3.5 points separating them from the circuit leaders Quantum Racing.
“We will arrive in Barcelona very highly motivated, with a high morale," says Guillermo Parada the Italian team's skipper. "We know that the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Audi and Roemmers family members will all be there to support us, and that's why we want to finish the season in the best possible way. We expect to have a good week.”
Since winning the Cascais Trophy in Portugal, Quantum Racing have led the overall standings after each of the four regattas held so far this season, but their lead was effectively halved in Murcia last month.
The final regatta of the season, the Conde de Godó - Barcelona Trophy starts in just one week’s time when the battle for the title might even become a three cornered one as the German-flagged team on Udo Schutz’ Container are still only 11.5 points behind the TP52s leaders.
“The title victory in the 2011 Audi MedCup Circuit is far from over," says Markus Wieser skipper-helm of Container. "A good series could easily get back 10 or 15 points of Quantum Racing’s lead. It's all in their hands, for sure, but they also didn't sail so well in the past. We think the hardest competitor to beat will be Bribon again, because they are the fastest boat in light air. Even they might be able to grab the overall trophy. The beat us by 18 points in Cartagena and Quantum Racing by 13.5. So, why not do so again?"
Indeed Bribon, racing in the home water of owner Jose Cusi, is far from out of the title race, 18 points off the circuit leader, in fourth place. Recent winners of the Region of Murcia-Cartagena Trophy, they are considered the form team in light to moderate airs.
The schedule for the regatta differs slightly from the four preceding events, with the official Practice Race on Monday 12 September and racing for the TP52s starting on the Tuesday.
Historically Barcelona’s Garbi sea breeze is slightly less reliable in September, but will usually make an appearance, blowing anywhere between 11 and 16-17 knots from around 200-210 degrees. The gradient breeze is sometime the brisk easterly Levante, which has marked the weather over the last few days in the Catalonian capital.
Different TP52s have won in each regatta this season and it would not be a surprise to find a fifth boat winning the Conde de Godó - Barcelona Trophy. The fleet is due to be at full strength with the return of Tony Langley’s Gladiator.
In the Soto 40s it is not as open. Spain’s Iberdrola Sailing Team start in Barcelona with a lead of 28 points, but they will be racing in a class of six Soto 40s following the arrival of Toni Guiu and Àlex Laplaza's new boat www.cruiser-racer.com, which will make its debut on the team’s home waters.
Britain’s Ngoni became the only team, other than the Iberdrola Sailing Team, to win a regatta this season with their victory in Murcia. Tony Buckingham’s crew have designs on the second place which is presently held by Noticia IV.
“I really think that after our performance in Murcia that it is do-able," said Kevin Sproul, Ngoni’s skipper who will hand the helm back to owner Tony Buckingham for Barcelona. "Our main thing will be to try and put boats between us and Noticias in as many races as we can, and from that point of view a six boat fleet can only be better for us. Certainly in Cagaliari I felt like Noticias was a little quicker in the big breeze at times, but we were certainly fast in Cartagena and go to Barcelona with a lot of confidence. We feel like we have improved at each regatta so look forward to continuing with that.”
Portugal's Bigamist crew return to race in Barcelona, sailing onboard XXII, with Star Olympic sailor Afonso Domingos as skipper-helm along with owner Pedro Mendonça.
Agustín Zulueta, Iberdrola Sailing Team’s Project Manager said: “"We made several mistakes in Cartagena from which we draw some conclusions: first of all our sails have suffered a lot throughout the 30 races that we've done till now, and some need to be replaced. Secondly the level of this fleet has evened out now which means that if we make mistakes they beat us. So it is very clear to us what we have to do in Barcelona.”