Ran defies superstition
Niklas Zennström’s Rán Racing won the official practice race for the Barclays 52 Super Series as the nine boat fleet completed their final warm up and preparations leading up to the very first races of the new season in Europe at Rolex Capri Sailing Week.
Tuesday sees race points on offer for the first time and they will be hard earned, according to the majority of 52 crews who spoke when they came ashore in the beautiful island’s Marina Grande. Any one of the fully primed, immaculately set up teams could be lifting the top trophy come next Saturday’s prizegiving.
So much may be said about the superstitions attached to winning a regatta practice race, but on Rán Racing today when Zennström’s team rounded the final top mark with a decent lead, the debate still took place.
Indeed it had an added pique since the crew were only too aware that they crossed and won the US 52 Super Series practice race in Miami in March – where they won their 52 World Championship title a year early – and then went on to produce a below par result which navigator Steve Hayles now recalls: “I am not sure we have had a worse regatta as a team.” But they finished first anyway today, Hayles said later: “There is always that superstition but we went through the line. A win is a win is a win. It does not matter if you put points on the board or not. A win is a win.”
The practice race, contested under a regime of rain clouds and some light spots of drizzle, underlined that Capri will be a difficult venue which will yield predominantly light winds. Hayles adds his voice to the belief that any one of the nine boats here could win this season opener: “There is no A and B fleet now any more. Everybody is capable of winning races, everybody is capable of winning regattas. I always believe Quantum Racing is catchable. Nobody watching from inside or outside the fleet would fool themselves, they [Quantum Racing] are the consistent boat, not dominant, consistent. And it is trying to achieve that level of consistency, that is what we need to work on. We saw it today and they were in the middle of it most of the time and we won.
"Everybody will take races here. I think it is going to be a very interesting regatta. And from their regard, a regatta which blows 15 knots and it is very similar suits them, I think a regatta like this will be a real test. And 100%, no question, anyone can win here.”
The forecast is for very light breezes over the first few days. The most local of experts is Francesco De Angelis, tactician on Michele Gali’s B2 (ex-CAM), who grew up racing on the bay from his native Naples. A full diet of windward-leeward races is planned Tuesday and Wednesday with a coastal race scheduled Thursday.
“It is not an easy venue,” says De Angelis who won the Louis Vuitton Cup with Prada in 2000. “ I hope this weird pattern clears south and we go into the traditional pattern, W’ly or SE’ly but at the moment it is rain driven and it is flukey. It should change from tomorrow but it is not looking like will race in an established weather pattern.
“I grew up in Naples. We didn’t race here much because here it is usually where the big boats come and race offshore, the smaller boats stay off Naples.
“I did not start racing here until quite late, I was 15 or 16, but from Naples you can race and train all year round. It is never cold and have different conditions, some times waves and sometimes flat, sometimes waves, not too shifty. I think you learn to sail fast. Locals never have an advantage. It works the other way. But we are here to learn so there is no pressure. The owner wants to come here to learn. It is a good way to improve as a helmsman and for us. And it is such an enjoyable fleet to race against, for sure you will learn. As long as you are in the mix. It is such a fantastic fleet, very encouraging to see such a good number of 52s, such a nice atmosphere. If we keep building numbers, just another few, and it would be just a dream!”
Tony Langley’s British-flagged Gladiator popped through to take second place today, the first competitive outing in the TP52s for Olympic gold medallist and America’s Cup winner Tom Slingsby, calling tactics for owner-driver Langley on an older boat, one which has often proven very potent in the light conditions. Slingsby sailed extensively from home in Australia with Marcus Blackmore’s 52 Hooligan but, like many others here, says he is here to keep learning.
The 52s may seem like a world away from the giant foiling AC72 beasts he won the America’s Cup on but Slingsby says: “You look around you in the fleet and all the boats are going quick and the right way, you are just fighting to get your nose out of the bubble and pop clear. If you are in the pack it is tough. But I love this racing, which is so close to one design racing, against the best skippers and tacticians in the world. That is why I come and do this stuff. I am full time with Oracle and we have plenty going on, but I do this stuff because I am always learning, you watch the good guys and see what they do. You are always learning and you can never ever be good enough.”
Defending circuit champion Quantum Racing made a nice recovery today, crossing in third.
Tactician Terry Hutchinson will be living by his key principles for Capri, to keep an open mind, do the basics very well and don’t sweat the small stuff: “Every time I have been here it has been very, very light and very very tricky. So you have to stay very loose.”
Asserts Hutchinson: “ Do the obvious things well. Start at the favoured end of the start line, cross the fleet when you can and don’t sweat the small stuff. Just like the practice race today, we sailed a pretty nice first beat and the breeze went against us, and so you get to the top mark and you press the ‘reset’ button and we worked from there. We had a great leeward mark rounding and go up to third. So it is about keeping an open mind.”
Practice race results
1. Rán Racing SWE (Niklas Zennström, SWE)
2. Gladiator GBR (Tony Langley, GBR)
3. Quantum Racing USA (Doug DeVos USA)
4. Vesper USA (Jim Schwartz USA)
5. Provezza TUR (Ergin Imre, TUR)
6. Azzurra ITA (Alberto Roemmers, ARG)
7. B2 ITA (Michele Galli, ITA)
8. Phoenix BRA (Eduardo de Souza Ramos BRA)
DNS Paprec Recyclage (Jean Luc Petithuguenin FRA)