Final 2012 battle for the 52 Super Series and Soto 40s
Racing gets underway tomorrow in Valencia for the grand finale of the 52 Super Series and Soto 40 2012 championships. The line-up in the
Marina Real Juan Carlos I de Valencia, the marina which famously hosted the 32nd and 33rd America’s Cups (and still looks remarkably unchanged albeit a bit dustier since 2007) features five 52s and eight of the smaller Argentinean designed and built one designs competing for the Audi Valencia Cup.
Today the practice race for both classes was just about held with muggy hazy conditions only allowing a smallest of sea breezes to fill in during the mid-afternoon.
Among the 52s, the Ed Baird-skippered Quantum Racing won today’s practice race from Audi Azzurra Sailing Team which chasing them all the way round the course. The Franco-German Audi All4One claimed third.
With the 52 Super Series 2012 title at stake, a match race is expected to take place this week between the two top boats, with the US team on Quantum Racing leading the Italian-Argentinean line-up on Azzurra by just six points and the Niklas Zennström-steered Rán holding third overall in the championship, ten points adrift of second, after this seasons' 22 races over three events (Copa del Rey isn’t included in the scoring as it was raced under IRC).
Quantum Racing's helmsman skipper Ed Baird said that their confidence level was “the same as any time that you go racing. It is always exciting to see how everybody is going and what the conditions will be. We have a new venue that many of us have spent a lot of time in but it has been a long time since we spent any time here.”
On these waters Baird was on the helm of the Alinghi version 5 boat that won the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007. “It is fantastic to see all the bases and the space again and to see the boats in the marina, superyachts in the superyacht dock,” he said. The 52s and Soto 40s are mooring in the shadow of the futuristic Veles e Ventes building (now sadly empty) close to the one time Alinghi base.
“The five boats that are racing this week - each one has won races during the year,” observes Baird.
The forecast is looking very light throughout the week, with the wind edging into double figures tomorrow only. In theory this might not favour the two leaders whose boats both are slightly fatter in the bow. “The boats that have the finer bow sections and are a little tippier like it when it is light,” observes Baird. This could favour the British teams. “Sometimes there is a little edge to boats like Rán and Gladiator which are a different design and they are intended to do different things.”
And of the Italian-Argentinian team's perspective on Audi Azzurra, Francesco Bruni believes that we might see a return of match racing on these waters this week: “We were expecting a good fight and there is a good fight. It is going to be very interesting because I think that on the starting line we will be very close to each other with a lot of action on the race course. Rán may benefit from that, but there is no other way of doing it. We have to see what happens in the first couple of races and hopefully we will be even closer than now.”
Bruni is of the opinion that Quantum Racing might have the tiniest of edges upwind that Azzurra has downwind “but we are talking about centimetres.” The wind strength he feels doesn’t make much difference. “It will come to the first cross, who is ahead then will have the power to choose things. That won’t necessarily happen at the start, it could happen like today, 15 minutes after the start we had our first cross and unfortunately they were ahead.”
The championship is similarly close in the Soto 40s with overall European championship leader, Agustín Zulueta’s Iberdrola Team, winner of the Sardinia Cup, trying to maintain its 18 point advantage over Andy Soriano's Alegre, winner of the Copa del Rey Audi Mapfre.
“As we were doing in the past with the MedCup this event is like a medal race – it counts double, so even if there are 18 points between Iberdrola and Alegre it is going to be very very interesting. You can lose those points vey very quickly,” warns Nacho Postigo, the European Soto 40 Class Manager.
Also gunning for victory will be the Portuguese boat Bigamist, winner of the Soto 40’s last event in Sotogrande, close to Gibraltar.
For the owner-driver title there is certain to be a dust-up between Alegre and Ngoni with British owner Tony Buchingham having arrived with enough time to put in some training and with a new tactician in place of Kevin Sproul, in the form of the silver fox himself, America’s Cup legend Brad Butterworth, who served in the afterguard of the same winning Alinghi team on these waters five years ago as Ed Baird.
“It will be interesting to see how that is going to affect them,” says Postigo. “For sure the new guy on board has some local knowledge! And Tony has done the practice so that will be an interesting battle on top of the overall positions.”
Then there are Luis Martín Cabiedes´ Noticia IV, German Stefan Jenztsch’s Black Pearl, and one brand new team, testing out the Soto 40 class with a view to joining the circuit full time in 2013. The Finnish team Opportunity 4 FIN has successfully raced an Audi-branded X-35 in Finland and have Samuli Leisti helming here in Valencia.
“They are here to evaluate joining the class next year,” says Postigo. “They are inviting their sponsors down from Finland over the weekend, sending us guests and analysing the whole thing. It will be their trial week to see how it goes. I have been sailing with them today trying to make them realise that they shouldn’t have very high expectations when it is the last race of the season and everyone has been racing their boats for one ro two years, so they had better keep it quiet and keel it calm and go learning.”
Racing proper kicks off tomorrow for both classes.
Practice race results
1. Quantum Racing, 16:07:45
2. Azzurra 16:08:28
3. Audi All for One 16:08:46
4. 4. Ran 16:08:57
5. Gladiator 16:09:30
1 Bigamist 16:18:12
2 Iberdrola 16:18:32
3 Alegre 16:18:56
4 Ngoni 16:19:25
5 Black Pearl 16: 19:32
6 Noticia 4 16:20:25
7 XXII 16 21 05