Reflecting the ever increasing level of competition among the 52 SUPER SERIES fleet of TP52s, eight international teams are training over the coming days on the waters off Valencia all trying to ensure that they are in the best competitive shape when the first start gun for the 2019 season sounds in Mahón, Menorca on Tuesday May 21st.
There may still be the best part of two months before the five-regatta 52 SUPER SERIES season starts but the teams are up against a tight time schedule to finalise sail designs. The TP52 crews have not sailed together since mid-September and most have made changes to their configurations – most have new rudders, keel bulbs and some have new keels.
Rig modifications and new sail designs need to be methodically trialled and tested before they are locked-in choices for the early season. And several teams have changed their crew line-ups since the 2018 season and so are taking this chance to sail together in a less competitive environment.
Initially teams have paired up in twos and threes – some have sailed on their own but without doubt there is a spirit of collaboration throughout the fleet – knowing that the fleet is so close and competitive that no one team has enough of an advantage that they would not learn from another.
Indeed perennial, long-time rivals Azzurra and Quantum Racing have agreed to take time to tune against each other. As it stands, weather permitting, the teams will work together to run an informal series of races Monday and Tuesday that all the crews are expected to participate in.
While Azzurra, who finished third on the 2018 leaderboard, stick with their maxim of consistency coming from a settled, unchanged crew, the reigning 52 SUPER SERIES champions Quantum Racing have five sailors joining or re-joining the team following the departure of Terry Hutchinson and other Quantum crew to sail with American Magic, the US America’s Cup team.
Ed Baird returns to steer Quantum Racing as does pervious championship winning navigator Juan Vila. Cameron Appleton will be tactician with Andrew Estcourt on runner and Federico Michetti join as trimmers.
“Our changes are subtle as myself and Juan Vila have sailed with the team a lot before and all of us have sailed together before so the changes are not as big as they maybe seem. And our team will be stable through the season.” Ed Baird explained on the dock in Valencia this morning, “And to be training in March is fantastic. The atmosphere with everyone here is like there is an event starting in three days. This week we have a new inventory of sails to look at, we have changes to the boat and we have the three new faces to integrate. We changed the bulb of the keel, we changed the headstay and stiffened the interior. And of course it is a new boat for me because I did not sail with this boat last year.”
Among the other key personnel changes, on Ergin Imre’s Turkish-flagged Provezza team bring John Cutler on from the coach boat to the helm of the race boat and the very experienced Hamish Pepper joins as tactician. Sled will not have the services of America’s Cup winner Ray Davies this season as his commitments with Emirates Team New Zealand mean he has had to curtail his racing activities. Adam Beashel moves from the strategist’s role to tactician and Australian 470 Olympic champion Will Ryan – four times 470 world champion – comes on to Sled as strategist.
Last year’s runners up, Harm Müller-Spreer’s Platoon has Jules Salter join them as navigator, otherwise their personnel line up is the same as last year – lead by tactician John Kostecki. British boat Gladiator have made some updates to their boat and have double Dragon world champion Andy Beadsworth steering during this training period.
Most of the fleet will race at PalmaVela in Mallorca from 8-12 May, in what has become the de facto pre-season warm up regatta, but with just one week before the boats muster in Menorca, this time there will be no opportunity to make significant changes.
Sled’s mainsail trimmer Don Cowie, says:
“The gap between PalmaVela and Mahón is so small that we have to be sure we have everything firing as it should be at PalmaVela and all the other boats will be there. We have lots to check here with a few mods to our rig and a new bulb and rudder and some new sails to look at.”
Skipper-helm of Azzurra, Guilermo Parada comments:
“With eight boats here we are guaranteed to get good training. We have been looking at some different concepts in some of our sails and this is where we have to make the right choices. From making these choices to delivery is about 40 days and so this is an important time, which can shape our season. And it is good to be able to check in now with everybody and see what they have been doing and we can make the most informed choices.”
John Cutler has been Provezza coach for three years, but admits it is some years since he drove a race boat.
“I am very comfortable with our set up now. Hamish has a lot of experience in the class. We would like to do better than last year and get some good results. I think we would like to get some podiums and if we can do that we should be aiming for a podium overall for the season, but there are probably nine boats with that same goal.”
Many of the sailors in Valencia have paid tribute to Quantum Racing’s popular team manager Mark Koetje, who passed away last weekend after a brave battle with cancer.
Quantum Racing’s Ed Baird said:
“We are all very sad for Mark. We miss him very much. He was such an important part of this team over the years and how well it has done over the years. This is his team. He and Doug DeVos were friends since they were very young and he trusted Mark to manage the team perfectly and he did a great job for us.”