All to play for in Barcelona
Winner of the America’s Cup as both coach and as helm, Ed Baird says that the Audi MedCup leading Quantum Racing team, which he skippers, will go on to Barcelona’s Conde de Godó - Barcelona Trophy’s Audi MedCup race track this week as if they had no lead at all, to try and focus primarily on getting good results and to sailing their own regatta as much as possible. Meantime the multiple match race world champion Baird will be keeping combative, close quarters boat against boat skills on ice, perhaps reserved for later in the week.
As the world's leading regatta circuit reaches its climax the lead of Quantum Racing is a mere 3.5pts over Audi Azzurra Sailing Team (ITA).
But with only 18 points separating the top four teams - Quantum Racing, Audi Azzurra Sailing Team, Container and Bribon - on the overall standings, the reality is that any one of these four teams harbour realistic hopes of winning the 2011 Audi MedCup Circuit title.
“We've had a good season so far and it´s exciting that it has come to the last event this year," says Baird says on the eve of Monday’s Conde de Godó - Barcelona Trophy’s TP52 Practice Race. " We don´t look at our positions as though we have a lead, it´s virtually tied. Any race can erase the couple points that we have. We need to go out and have a good regatta, keep an eye on what's been happening later in the week and see what we have to do from there. Light air increases the stress because boats get a little bit further away from each other upwind and downwind and it´s quite difficult to quickly change what you are doing and run to chase somebody down at the other side of the course. You have to be more thoughtful and be patient, It´s going to be that kind of venue. We always make some adjustments, we have some new inventory in sails in order to give ourselves any opportunity that we can, it´s all a part of the season´s management. We are following the same plan that we did before and we are trying our best."
In fact the pre-regatta strategy of Quantum Racing differs little from those of their main rivals, but as sure as the final races of the season roll in, so the screw will tighten and winning those private duels and matches becomes vital.
Second-placed Audi Azzurra Sailing Team are not light on match racing talent. Tactician Francesco Bruni until recently topped this season’s World Match Racing rankings and has two America’s Cup campaigns to his credit: "We know well that this week can't be a match race between us and Quantum Racing, because there are some other teams like Container or Bribón who are still close. They are all within 15 points of us. If you have two bad races, they'll be ahead of you, and I'm sure Quantum is thinking like this as well. This is the beginning of the week, and at this point we only have to think about racing well and watch our points. Once we get to the middle of the week if I´m asked again about our strategy, I'm sure I'll have a complete different answer. Our long term forecast says we´ll have light conditions here this week, mainly sea breeze and honestly, I think that this makes the boat sail in a very similar way. We've taken a few steps forward lately in terms of speed, we only have to sail well, trying to choose the right side, with concentration and not thinking too much about points, at least not at the beginning. The decisions that you make tactically are going to be very important in these light conditions, which suit Bribón well, they have proved that in previous events. Aside from them, most teams are very similar”.
Beyond match racing, Container’s skipper-helm Markus Wieser and trimmer Matti Paschen arrived in Barcelona buoyed by just having won the Dragon Gold Cup for the first time, while Bribon prepare for their swansong regatta on owner’s Jose Cusi’s home waters, unbeaten for their last two regattas, winners of the Copa del Rey and last month’s Region of Murcia-Cartagena Trophy Regatta.
Gonzalo Araújo, skipper-helm on Bribón commented: “This the last event of the season and as we all know it's special for us, because it's the last event of a project that has been living for a lot of years. Focusing on the circuit, this is one event more for us, we have to keep going on the same path that we´ve been following in the last events, doing things correctly and trying to get a good result at the end. If we can actually get a win that's great, if not, we have to try to be up there, because we still have podium chances. We'll try our best to be as high as we can in the general standing when the circuit comes to its end. Consistency has always been the key here. At the beginning of the season we had some problems and we've improved a lot in the last events. This race course is not especially complicated in terms of currents or wind, so it will be important to take care of that consistency that I talked about before when it comes down to the start, the way you handle the boat and its speed."
Those top teams field largely unchanged crew line ups but, in their bid to make their final regatta of the season their best, others have changed key roles.
Synergy Russian Sailing Team’s management have brought 1988 Olympic gold medallist Thierry Peponnet out of the coach boat in to the role of tactician to work with new Swedish navigator Johan Barne. Barne was America’s Cup navigator with Victory Challenge, but is an accomplished match race crew as well as a Soling Olympic crew who finished fifth in 1992 on these same waters.
Peponnet commented: “We feel we should be getting better and better and the goal is to be on the podium. We are looking at that as a target for a long time now, and we have been close since winning the first race of the season in Cascais. I am pretty sure we can do it. There is no pressure but we just have to sail well and be much more concentrated. Often we have started the event well in a very good position, winning the first races Cascais and last month in Cartagena but then in the middle of the championship dropping in the rankings. It is difficult to say why but maybe losing that edge of concentration and motivation. So everyone is very motivated. We had a clear call from the owner that he wanted some changes and is expecting some results here. We have changed the navigator to Johan Barne to also be closer to the weight limit, but also to be able to get more strategic input. Johan has done a lot of Soling sailing and was originally the crew of Magnus Holmberg, he did a lot of match racing with Magnus and was navigator for the Swiss team on the America’s Cup Victory as well, so we are hoping to find a good way to work together quickly.”
On Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán Morgan Larson steps on board as tactician replacing Gavin Brady, while Tony Langley’s Gladiator returns to the Audi MedCup Circuit with Tomasso Chieffi as tactician.
The Soto 40 fleet has mustered a season maximum of six boats with a host of potential owners visiting Barcelona to sail, several lined up to order boats for next season.
Pedro Mendonca’s Portuguese Bigamist crew raced in their native Cascais, but return to Barcelona to race. They compete with the former XXII, but the team which is skippered by Afonso Domingos have chosen not to carry forward XXII’s points, but instead starting afresh. This is understood to be because of their investment in five new sails which maximises their potential to win here, but exceeds the sail button allowance for XXII.