The 52 Super Series fleet set to line up in Menorca Sailing Week
Knock on effects of travel restrictions mean that 52 Super Series leaders and winners of the Puerto Portals 52 Super Series Sailing Week, Takasghi Okura's Sled team will have a number of crew line-up changes to contend with when they seek to win their second regatta in a row at next week's Menorca 52 Super Series Sailing Week.
The five day event has drawn a fleet of 11 TP52s and will welcome Thailand's Whitcraft family team on Vāyu, as they fulfil a long held desire to race on the world's leading grand prix monohull circuit, and also welcomes the return of Jean Luc Petithugeunin's French crew on Paprec Recyclage which missed the Puerto Portals event last month.
Sled will again, unfortunately, be without their passionate owner driver Mr Okura and this time all of their Japan based sailors as well as super consistent Australian tactician Adam Beashel. Italian America's Cup sailor Francesco Bruni will step in as tactician for the week.
New Zealander Don Cowie, the Sled project manager and mainsheet trimmers explains,
"Francesco is pretty useful and knows the boats and the fleet but it is going to be busy. We were delighted to win in Portals but we were kinda lucky it finished when it did, five or six boats could have won. But we sailed well, the boat is going well. We were a bit rusty at times because bear in mind a lot of the Europeans and others who had been in Europe had been doing a lot of sailing in other classes. In New Zealand we had done nothing. We were a bit ropey at times, not least finishing off some of the beats, but I think that is where Francesco will be good, he has been doing a lot of sailing and will keep us sharp. But it is impressive how close the teams are now. There no flat spots in teams' performances.
Everybody is on the same page and has the same kind of speeds."
On the final day in Puerto Portals before racing was cancelled due to a lack of breeze, Quantum Racing were poised in second place on the leader-board. Doug DeVos' team – settling in a new afterguard - had one less than stellar day which they were coming back strong from. They are not the finished article yet but will be among the favourites next week when the circuit returns to Mahon for the fourth time, a venue where Quantum Racing won in 2016 and have always finished on the podium.
"We made some mistakes as a new afterguard, that is part of building the new team. We had that one bad day. We need to keep learning. Puerto Portals with the invitational boats was a very cool event. It was a pity we did not count the scores on the Invitational Day as we would have won. It was a great week and good to see all the owners engaged and hopefully then a bright future ahead for the TP52s."
Says Michele Ivaldi, navigator on Quantum Racing.
"I am looking forwards to Menorca, we all love a challenge and in Menorca there are no rules. It is very much a 'heads out the boat and react to what you see venue. And it is not easy to read the wind and the water there. We don't sail there often. It is always tricky. It is in the middle of the sea and so exposed to the Mistral if it comes and if it does it comes with anger and with 3-4m waves. It can be really challenging. And if it is a normal day then being a small island then the sea breeze is not well defined. So it is a very, very open course with a pretty tough wind pattern to read. And I am very happy we have Lucas Calabrese (new strategist since Portals) in the afterguard, he is very open minded and has demonstrated to be cultivated, mature and well exposed to the big boat. And we can send him up the rig to see the breeze!"
The Plattner family's South African flagged Phoenix which finished third in Puerto Portals last months sees the return of Ed Baird as tactician to the team which he know well. Baird is looking forwards to being back in the heat of battle on the 52 Super Series,
"I am just looking to maintain the momentum. The boat seems to be going well other than a couple of penalties in Portals, speedwise it is a happy boat. So hopefully I don't mess up and I am just looking forwards to being back on the water with this great group."
Says Baird who has been racing regularly with Doug and Dalton DeVos on his TP52 the USA on the flourishing Great Lakes 52 circuit.
Three different teams have won over the years in Menorca, Quantum Racing, Azzurra and in 2019 Platoon. Last month Harm Müller Spreer's team showed flashes of their double world champions pedigree but were among the crews which landed too many penalties to realistically have harboured a hope of finishing on the podium.
Platoon's trimmer Ross Halcrow explains,
"Our top mark approaches in Mallorca were not good enough with effectively four penalties, so obviously we need to improve on that. But otherwise the boat is going well and we are happy to see that after Portals we are only six points off the circuit lead. And we like Menorca, it is a great venue, open and challenging where anything can happen."
We are family.......
The Thailand based Whitcraft family dipped a collective toe in the water when they raced in the TP52 20th Anniversary Invitational regatta fleet in Mallorca last month. They take the next step now as they join the 52 Super Series fleet for the two final regattas of the season with the boat which they had just taken on a few weeks before the Puerto Portals event.
The former Team Vision Future which was built as Sled is now named Vāyu after a primary Hindu deity of the wind.
The boat is co-owned by Tom and Kevin Whitcraft, who have successfully raced their TP52 (built as Desafio 2008) in Asia since 2015. Five family members actively race on the boat, Tom does the pit, Kevin trims, sons Dylan trims and Don steers and Malee is on backstay. Pom Green looks after the boat and this week will see two key changes to the line up that raced at the Invitational event, Francesco Mongelli sails as navigator with Manu Weiller as tactician.
"We are still getting used to the boat and it was all quite new in Portals." Says Pom Green, "We were kind of just gauging how far we had to go to race competitively in the 52 Super Series fleet and now it really will be 'suck it and see'. We have been tuning the rig a bit more and have been understanding the different modes to sail a bit better. But with Manu and Francesco we are just looking for a bit more consistency to get our helmsman working with better information."
"The Vāyu team certainly adds a new element to the already rich mix of teams in the 52 Super Series. We are used to father and son or daughter helming combinations, but one son helming, the other like his father trimming and mother in control of the backstays is a line up I am sure to be admired by the fleet."
enthuses Rob Weiland
Jean-Luc Petithuguenin's Paprec Recyclage joined the 52 Super Series 10 years ago in 2012. They started out with and retain a strong amateur element on board the French boat and there are certain elements common to the philosophies of the Whitcraft family and those of Petithuguenin and his crew.
Their teams are both selected with an eye to more than just winning, or achieving very top performance. The Whitcrafts share the enjoyment of progressing to the highest level as a family, Jean Luc enjoys bringing on young French talent and allowing them the opportunity to race grand prix big boats to a high level. French 2020 Olympian Kevin Pepponet, 30, who was 470 world champion in 2018, sails on Paprec trimming the mainsail.
"We raced at Copa del Rey in early August and were not as quick as we wanted to be so we have some work to do. But it has been hard for us to get time together as a team this year and so we are missing some training time. We are just hoping we have some good racing and are in the mix. We have a great team spirit and are looking forwards to it."
Comments Stéphane Neve, the project manager.
" Both these teams of course know they have chosen a difficult class and series, racing against mainly professional teams, if a podium place is seen as the ultimate goal. But this class and this series are very much about owner drivers who are keen to measure themselves against the best. In that sense the ambitions of most of all the teams do not differ that much. As class manager I applaud variation and hope it creates appetite for other to join."
The official practice race is Monday and racing runs Tuesday to Saturday.