Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fifteen TP52s ready for the Rolex Global Championship

[Source: Rolex TP 52 Global Championship] There is nothing like the promise of the Mistral to get the docks buzzing in Porto Cervo. And the crews of the fifteen TP52s gathered for the second ever Rolex TP52 Global Championship, this year organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, are as keen for wind as any other class. With the forecast for a light start to be followed by strong winds during the middle of the week, the eleven-race programme (nine windward/leeward and two coastal courses) looks a tasty prospect. With no discards allowed, being good in a range conditions may well prove to be the key. Time and time again fleets such as this one prove there is no substitute for consistency if you want to take home the trophy.

The fifteen boats represent eleven countries: Matua Madrileña (Chile), Patches (Ireland), Anonimo Q8 (Italy), Mean Machine (Monaco), Fram XVI (Norway), DSK Comifin (Portugal), Valars and Rusal Synergy (Russia), CAM and Siemens (Spain), Artemis (Sweden), Cristabella and Stay Calm (United Kingdom) together with Glory and Windquest (USA).

Form boat is without doubt Torbjorn Tornqvist's Artemis (SWE). In his first season in the TP52, Tornqvist and his all-pro crew - that reads like a who's who of the grand prix racing scene - have proven they are a class act with an approach to admire and to which to aspire. Artemis was overall winner of the 2007 MedCup series by a mere eight points after 32 windward/leeward and six coastal races over five events. Most promisingly though, they won the last event of the circuit in Hyères. For Tornqvist and the apparent A-Team of the TP52 world, it would seem that a plan is coming together rather nicely, as he explains, “when we set up the programme for the season, this [the Rolex TP52 Global Championship] was the main goal. It is the first time we entered the [TP52] racing and even though Russell [Coutts] had sailed in the circuit before and has a lot of expertise, we did not dare put the target too high too early. We thought we would be ready for this event, which remains the main event and we know we have a good chance.”

With the best part of an America's Cup team onboard, of which Tornqvist readily admits to being the weakest link, Artemis would look odds-on favourite for this regatta. Not so, says the unassuming Swede who points to other yachts on the dock that have the quality to do well. Over the season there have been five different event winners and half of the fleet here won one or more races. Class President, Tom Pollack, who has been involved in the TP52 since the beginning six years ago, backs up Tornquist asserting that everyone has a chance, “there are fifteen boats from eleven countries and three continents, arguably the most competitive grand prix championship ever. We have all the right boats and all the right sailors. All bets are off. You would be a fool to single out one boat above the rest. They are all capable of winning and have shown this through the year.”

Start of the practice race of the Rolex TP52 Global Championship. Porto Cervo, 23 September 2007. Photo copyright Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

Pollack also believes the prospect of varied conditions will play a part, “we have a buffet of weather conditions and that's going to test the seaworthiness of the boats, the crews and the skippers and it will take a lot to win the championship. The guys will be thinking its not just a question of winning the week, you've got to survive it. With a Mistral forecast, no upper wind limit for racing and no discard, there is plenty to think about.”

As with most championships at this level, minimizing the mistakes will be key, as Tornqvist comments, “most important is to avoid bad things and try to be consistent. There are boats that do well and they are simply very consistent. If you stay in the top 3…4…5 you will do well. You don't have to win any race and you can still win the regatta…. (but) if you finish the race in the bottom it is tough to recover from that. There's a lot of points to get back and it is tough to do that, so you've got to avoid that. That is the secret.”

Tornqvist is certainly reassured to have the three time America's Cup winner, Olympic Gold medallist and multiple World Champion Russell Coutts at his side along with a group of other highly talented individuals, and openly recognizes the part they have to play in making his campaign successful, “I am very active in my professional life and any time I spend on yachting is in the TP52. Obviously to sail with such a crew is a privilege for any yachtsman and I cannot ask for anything better. It is a fantastic experience to get a little bit on the inside of sailing at this level, so I consider myself very privileged in this. I get to know how to steer better and better everyday, and, I feel a lot more confident than I did a year ago, particularly in starting sequence, and, in tacking and gybing where before we always seemed to lose out to other boats and now we seem to gain.”

Another competitor with pedigree in the class is Peter de Ridder and Mean Machine. Like Tornquist, de Ridder is an owner helming his own boat in a championship where the only restriction on helms is that they must be Category 1 under the ISAF Classification system; in other words they must be an amateur. The Mean Machine crew also rolls of the tongue with its share of Cup stars and ocean race winners such as Ray Davies, Dirk de Ridder, Tony Rae and Stu Bettany. Mean Machine won the 2006 MedCup series and also won the first regatta of this year's series in Portimão.

Defending Rolex TP52 Global Championship is Eamon Conneely and Patches from Ireland. The Patches in Porto Cervo is new this year and has proved itself increasingly competitive over the summer finishing third overall and winning its share of races. As in Miami in 2006, double Etchell's World Champion and two-time Olympian, Stuart Childerley, is helming Patches. Double Olympic silver medallist, Ian Walker is once again the tactician, this time supported in the afterguard by navigator Ian Moore and, Tour de France a Voile winner, Tim Powell as strategist.

Start of the practice race of the Rolex TP52 Global Championship. Porto Cervo, 23 September 2007. Photo copyright Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

Conneely would have preferred a longer break before this event, but is really looking forward to the week ahead, “we're in pretty good shape. We were doing better as the season went on. We got off to a slow start, but progressively got better and ended up in third, and were quite pleased with that.” Even armed with a new boat launched at the beginning of the season, Conneely is taking nothing for granted, “ we know we really need to up our game this week to win. The boat is a lot better (than 2006), very enjoyable to sail and very fast downwind, but there are a lot of new boats this year and a lot more competition. We have many of the same crew as 2006, Stuart Childerley is driving and we have all the big guns, Ian Walker, Simon Fry, Guy Barron….it's going to be pretty exciting with a lot of different breeze.”

Above all others here, Conneely knows the importance of hanging in there when the going gets tough. During the long offshore race in 2006, Patches broke its deck at the forward end of the cockpit on the port side. The core fully split and according to Ian Walker “you could put your hand in there when you were sailing along." For Conneely, it is memorable looking back, but at the time it was pretty stressful. It took a lot to get the boat repaired and win the last race of the championship to finish first by one point.

By all accounts, for any of the owners and crew here this week a one-point margin of victory is probably all they would hope for. After all, it is all you need.



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