Strong start for Ainslie
Soaking up the party atmosphere and enjoying the activities and entertainments on shore ahead of the main event when the eleven Extreme 40s took to the water for the opening salvo of the stadium racing: “Today was really impressive, seeing all these people here in this Stadium racing format that really brings the competition to the public,” said Antón Paz, Spain’s Olympic gold medalist sailing with Team Extreme, skippered by Roland Gaebler. “It puts more pressure on us while we race, but at the same time it’s really encouraging to hear the applause from the crowds when we finish. Sailing against such high level sailors helps everyone to improve their game. When Roland Gaebler started racing the Tornado, I was just ten years old! He is an example to me and it’s great to come back to multihulls after my experience in the Tornado.”
A light sea breeze dominated the opening day of this penultimate round of 2011 bringing tricky and challenging conditions for the teams – some found their groove, others didn’t… It was a day requiring good tactics and a bit of luck: “When conditions are like this it’s all about trying to keep the boat moving and looking for the best piece of wind,” said Ben Ainslie. “The wind is more important than where you are heading, so we try to head for the best wind patches.”
Perhaps Ben Ainslie and his team on Oman Air will be the most satisfied team tonight finishing at the top of the leaderboard. After a frustrating and difficult round in Nice, France just 10 days ago, the Omani team will be bolstered by their performance today in similar light airs: “It was really tough conditions today,” continued Ainslie. “We normally like to have more wind so for everyone it was hard, but we did well and the harbour of Almería is fantastic. The team was great in very difficult conditions. To make this work you need to plan ahead, to have good communication and the guys I am sailing with on Oman Air are fantastic.” The three-time Olympic gold medallist, Ainslie joined the Extreme Sailing Series circuit for three events – Almeria will be his last and he is obviously fired up to do well here before returning to his 2012 Olympic campaign in the Finn class.
The French team of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild – victors in Nice and current leaders of the 2011 Overall Championship points table – put in a good solid performance, finishing inside the top three in all but one of the races today. Pierre Pennec’s crew seemed more assured and less pressured than they were in Trapani and Nice. Another strong performance today came from the Kiwi team of Emirates Team New Zealand. “Today was just about avoiding the big mistake really and to come out of the day without losing too many points on the overall leaders,” said Adam Beashel. “We kept it quite simple as much as we could.” Beashel replaces Dean Barker as helmsman for the third time here in Almeria, and today’s results showed that Beashel is finding his form in this competitive Extreme 40 class, lying third on the leaderboard after day one.
Ian Williams and his Team GAC Pindar crew scored a win in the fourth and final race today and made good work of the light airs, using their gennaker to maximum effect even on the upwind legs, ending the day in fourth. The Austrian Olympic duo of Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher came out with guns blazing, scoring two consecutive second places and they looked to be strong, as they were in Nice in the early stages. But they ran out of time to complete the penultimate race, which ultimately cost them a few places in the standings.
Max Sirena’s team on Luna Rossa were mid-fleet or thereabouts for most of the afternoon but the Italians won’t be too concerned at this early stage – they know there is a long way to go and a lot of points to play for still. The other Italian team skippered by Alberto Barovier’s Niceforyou could have ended the day much higher in the standings if it hadn’t been for a last place in the final race, and once again, Leigh McMillan’s team on The Wave, Muscat struggled in the light airs. The Swiss team of Alinghi also didn’t to find their form today, while the new multi-national team headed up by Alex Schneiter enjoyed their first foray in the class scoring a 7th place in two of the races: “What a day!” enthused Schneiter. “We’ve been a little bit shy at the beginning to try to get into the rhythm. We don’t have any sporting ambition here, we just want to learn as fast as possible, have a lot of fun and get as close as possible with those top sailors! It’s not everyday that you can race against such a bunch of sailors.”
Extreme Sailing Series Almeria, standings after four races
Position / Team / Points
1st Oman Air (OMA), Ben Ainslie / Kinley Fowler / David Carr / Nasser Al Mashari 39 points
2nd Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA), Pierre Pennec / Christophe Espagnon / Thierry Fouchier / Hervé Cunningham 31 points
3rd Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL), Adam Beashel / Ray Davies / Jeremy Lomas / Derek Seward 30 points
4th Team GAC Pindar (GBR), Ian Williams / Mischa Heemrskerk / Andrew Walsh / Brad Webb 30 points
5th Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT), Roman Hagara / Hans Peter Steinacher / Matt Adams / Craig Monk 28 points
6th Luna Rossa (ITA), Max Sirena / Paul Campbell-James / Alister Richardson / Manuel Modena 26 points
7th Niceforyou (ITA), Alberto Barovier / Stefano Rizzi / Daniele De Luca / Simone de Mari 20 points
8th The Wave, Muscat (OMA), Leigh McMillan / Kyle Langford / Nick Hutton / Khamis Al Anbouri 18 points
9th Alinghi (SUI), Tanguy Cariou / Yann Guichard / Nils Frei / Yves Detrey 14 points
10th Team TILT (SUI), Alex Schneiter / Boet Brinkgreve / Charles Favre / Nicolas Heintz 14 points
11th Team Extreme (EUR), Roland Gaebler / Nahid Gaebler / Antón Paz / Tom Buggy 13 points