Scarlino, Tuscany beckons for red hot 52 Super Series fleet
Scarlino, Tuscany beckons for red hot 52 Super Series fleet
For the second event of the five regatta season the 2023 52 Super Series resumes competition next week in Tuscany as the beautiful, modern, purpose-built Marina di Scarlino hosts the 52 Super Series Scarlino Sailing Week.
In September last year the Gulf of Follonica delivered some of the most spectacular action of the year with lumpy seas and strong winds through the main part of the week as Doug DeVos' US flagged Quantum Racing lifted the Royal Cup for the regatta win in style with Takashi Okura's Sled second and Harm Müller Spreer's Platoon third with Vasco Vascotto debuting with the German team.
But, as teams who raced in May 2017 when the circuit first visited Scarlino, will recall, around this time of year – the transition period from spring to summer - lighter winds do tend to prevail on what tends to be a challenging, open racing arena.
Chapeau Provezza, andare Alegre!
The first event of the season in Saint Tropez in early May once more proved how closely matched the class has grown in recent years. Six of the eleven teams won races while Ergin Imre's Provezza crew proved the most consistent, triumphing overall by showing excellent all-round speed in the mainly light sea breeze conditions, starting well and sailing clean.
But, at the same time, also consider that only the top two teams – Provezza and Quantum Racing powered by American Magic – did not score at least one 10th or 11th. Increasingly in this fleet it is proving doubly hard to convert the so called 'shockers' to something useful.
There was definitely a certain ring rustiness evident in Saint Tropez, most obviously off the start line. That applies to the settled afterguards but for those groups who had new crew in key roles at the back of the boat, it was apparent that it was all the more difficult to deliver good starts from Race 1 onwards.
Turkish flagged Provezza come to Tuscany with a six points lead on the overall standings but after eight races so far only 11 points separate the top seven boats. Tony Langley's Gladiator now with Guillermo Parada steering are tied on points with second placed Quantum Racing powered by American Magic. And while there is every chance that any one of these three teams could win in Scarlino, equally there are probably four or five more teams who might strike gold.
Among them is Andy Soriano's Alegre team. They brought in Aussie Olympic gold medallist Will Ryan in Scarlino last year and have Italian navigator Francesco Mongelli enhancing the mood on board as well as bringing huge experience of the class and the different venues. After keel mods last year they are widely recognised as a fast boat with all the components in place to win a regatta. A poor final day cost them in Saint Tropez but Mongelli believes in the team and that the regatta win will come in time.
"To be honest as a team we are getting better all the time we are growing together, we are tight and enjoy spending time in each other's company and there is a lot of new passion, we sail together on the race course and go cycling together. We have a very good feeling together and Scarlino is a place we like to go together."
And, along with many others, he loves the challenges on the water in Tuscany as much as he appreciates the world renowned, excellent local cuisine.
"The Follonica Gulf can be a super complicated place to sail and we love that. It depends if it is a sea breeze day which I think we might expect as there is an expanded high pressure over the area, then we will see sea breeze and that is not so hard, but anything else is complicated, hard to predict and it is a beautiful place to race."
"And I really appreciate the food, most of all because you can sit down to eat and everything on your plate is very local and tastes amazing."
Sled were runners-up in 2022 and arrive in Italy with their lessons from Saint Tropez foremost in their minds. This season they have an afterguard reshuffle with Murray Jones sailing as tactician now complemented by Italy's Michele Ivaldi as strategist also supporting compatriot Andrea Visintini as long time navigator.
"It seems lately we have always sailed in Scarlino in big land breezes. It is such a great place to sail. The land breezes are shifty and complicated. This early in the season we might be in land breezes but it is a great place to race. It is an open race course and now with eleven boats racing you have to be clever. It is a whole different game now, and the big thing is always being able to turn a sixth at the top mark to a fourth or a third."
Says Sled's coach Rod Davis who spent six summers with Prada Luna Rossa at nearby Punta Ala.
"Confidence in the venue is a huge deal, having the confidence to stick to your choices, to stick to the normal and that keeps you from getting flustered. Once the confidence goes it is really, really hard to get back."
Of the prospects for Sled in Scarlino this time he summarises,
" We did not get off the starting line well in the first half of the regatta in Saint Tropez and we worked hard on that and are still working hard at it. Our pace is good, tactically and fleet management we are good. We screwed up badly at one mark in Saint Tropez and that cost us, but life goes like that sometimes. If we can start better I think we can do well. And in terms of the season we are only five points off the lead, so that's OK at this early stage."
Starting to improve
Starting was the most obvious weakness in Saint Tropez for the new look Quantum Racing powered by American Magic. Finishing second in France at their first regatta with new young American picks Harry Melges IV steering and Victor Diaz de Leon as strategist/navigator might represent something of a warning shot to other teams of what is to come when they have the starts totally dialled. Factor in the experience, hunger and reliability of John Kostecki as tactician, racing at a venue where he won the Rolex TP52 Worlds at his first event in Europe with Platoon in May 2017, and there is every chance the Scarlino winners of last year might repeat that success.
"This fleet is tighter than ever. You have a lot of good boats. The Vroljik boats (Provezza and Platoon) have made a gain with their new keels and are very fast upwind and maybe have lost a little downwind but not much. Alegre is going very well and are fast in a straight line. And I expect Phoenix to come back strong. They are a good team and so I think we all have our work cut out to score good, counting races each time. I feel good about our team. I think the boat is going well, especially upwind, and now I think if we can get off the start line cleanly and can do what we want to do in the first two minutes of the races we can do well. If we don't....well life is tough in this fleet."
Highlights Quantum Racing powered by American Magic's championships winning coach James Lyne.
Racing starts on Tuesday 30th May after the official practice day Monday. Eleven boats will compete a again and there will be live commentary every day with 3-D tracking on the website, app and social media channels.
2023 season standings after Saint Tropez
1- PROVEZZA (TUR), Ergin Imre, 34
2- QUANTUM RACING POWERED BY AMERICAN MAGIC (USA), Doug DeVos, 40
3- GLADIATOR (GBR), Tony Langley, 40
4- ALEGRE (GBR), Andy Soriano, 43
5- INTERLODGE (USA), Austin y Gwen Fragomen, 45
6- SLED (USA), Takashi Okura, 45
7- PLATOON (GER), Harm Müller Spreer, 45
8- PAPREC (FRA), Jean Luc Petithuguenin, 56
9- PHOENIX (RSA), Hasso y Tina Plattner, 57
10- VAYU (THA), Familia Whitcraft, 58
11- ALPHA+ (HKG), Shawn y Tina Kang, 65