Gaastra PalamVela, the warm up regatta for the Mediterranean season that took place last weekend on the Bay of Palma, proved the perfect dress-rehearsal for the 2016 52 Super Series, which starts in just over one week’s time in Scarlino, Italy.
Quantum Racing laid down a marker for the now imminent five-regatta season by winning the very evenly matched record entry, nine boat fleet in Palma. With Terry Hutchinson back cracking the whip as tactician and Ed Baird set to steer three events this season, the team that won the 52 Super Series in 2013 and 2014 and two regattas last season – the Copa del Rey and Cascais Cup – have set the benchmark extremely high.
But who are the teams most likely to challenge Quantum Racing for the 2016 52 Super Series title?
Niklas and Catherine Zennström’s 2013 world championship team returns from something of an enforced sabbatical during 2015; ready to write a new chapter in Rán Racing history. Last year they raced only Valencia, which they won, and the World Championships, which were much less successful. In Palma last weekend they showed some flashes of brilliance but are still playing catch up for time lost last season and from missing out on March’s training week in Valencia.
Their line-up has been augmented by Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup and TP52 MedCup winner Tony Rae on runners and the return of Kiwi trimmer Jon Gunderson. Morgan Larson and Adam Beashel remain as tactician and strategist respectively, working with the ever dependable navigator – Steve Hayles. Whilst previously they have campaigned in the MiniMaxi and the Maxi72’s, now their programme includes only the TP52 Class.
Their boat has had similar winter work as the other Vrolijk designs – moving the rudder forwards and re-profiling the keel. They have also changed the focus slightly of their sail programme, especially looking at slightly improving their upwind top speed. The quest for these small advantages are, of course, all about holding a faster, higher lane off the start line and up the crucial first windward leg.
The other notable change has required some very tough physical preparation. Rán Racing will sail with fourteen crew and that has meant weight loss all-round. Project manager and mainsail trimmer Tim Powell notes that he has had to reach his target of a seven kilograms loss.
“That has meant a lot of time on the bike and some running and being very careful in what we eat. We are all getting back to the weights we were as teenagers! But in truth we all feel stronger and the better for it.
We feel good about our boat preparations. What we need to work on is finessing the little but important things. Acceleration, especially off the start line, is vital but it requires time on the water and in Palma last weekend it showed we have a steep learning curve there. I still think we need improvement all round. It is the little changes that make the differences. But the boat feels better for the changes we made, but you really only know on the race course.
Having the input from Tony Rae is excellent. I don’t think we ever were too insular or inward looking as a group, but for sure this feels like a new chapter for us and having new influences and ideas is very positive.”
Of their prospects up against Quantum Racing, Rán Racing’s Powell notes:
“Quantum Racing will be a tough act to better. Terry Hutchinson is a good tactician but also he knows the fleet so well and how to play it. Realistically we should be on the podium at the end of the season but we know that if we sail to our very best potential we can win regattas.
I am 100% sure that the 52 Super Series is the pinnacle of grand prix monohull racing in the world at the moment. For me there is just no doubt of that. The boats are, so evenly matched and well sailed now. The 52 Super Series is absolutely everything it set out to be.”
Azzurra won Gaastra PalmaVela last year and went on to win the season, and the world championships. Last weekend they finished second to Quantum Racing but skipper Guillermo Parada is content they are as well prepared as they were in 2015 and are ready to make a smoother transition from training mode to 52 Super Series race mode. After their triumph in the Palma warm up they only made fourth in Valencia weeks later, because – Parada attests – they had not done enough sailing with their new race sails. This time the race sails are tested but were not yet used at Palma Vela. So the 2015 champion skipper-helm is content they have more speed to come.
“Now we know exactly what we have to do to be competitive in Scarlino so we are happy with what we learned from PalmaVela. We learned quite a bit.
We have refined our sail inventory and will come to Scarlino with some fresh sails, and the way we approach the racing also. Especially in terms of equipment I am confident we are going to be much faster in Scarlino. We did not use the new inventory in PalmaVela and we are confident it will be a step forward from what we used in Palma.
I think we are in good shape. We know each other so well, we have been together for so long and we have done the homework we wanted to do.
We are not satisfied with not winning PalmaVela because that is always what you want, but that was not the objective. Last year we got to Valencia and found ourselves with problems because the changes we did from the PalmaVela inventory to Valencia inventory were not good. Now we learned and so we have tested all the best stuff and the performance analysis is good.
The reality though is that Quantum were quicker and sailed better.”
Azzurra’s coach Marco Capitani originates from near Scarlino and so Parada is happy they have good intelligence on this Tuscan venue which is new to the TP52s.
“We can expect medium breezes, 15-18kts and waves. That is the conditions we are expecting. But the reality is we don’t know and will have to adapt during the training days. But it will be a new venue for everyone and so it will be interesting to see how different teams adapt to the new place. We are expecting waves and medium breezes.”
The Azzurra crew is exactly the same as that which won the 2015 52 Super Series title. Both owners Pablo and Alberto Roemmers will sail on Azzurra.
The double champions are relying very on much the same successful formula as that which served them well in 2015.
Twelve boats will line up to compete at the first 52 Super Series regatta of the season, starting Tuesday 24th May. Follow the series live on website and look out for the new 52 Super Series app which launches very soon.
by 52 Super Series