Pressure from the First Gun to the Last in the 2020 52 Super Series
Wednesday, February 26, 2020 11:51 AM
(Wednesday 26th February, Cape Town) – As the ninth successive year of racing on the 52 Super Series opens Monday, racers on the world’s leading grand prix monohull circuit are relishing a whole new set of challenges as two regattas on Cape Town’s Table Bay raise the curtain on what promises to be a most exciting and close-fought six-event season.
The first ever visit to Cape Town by the circuit, and indeed the class, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, will test the ten different teams from eight nations that are set to compete on inshore racing waters relatively unknown to the majority of crews.
While there are high hopes that the Cape Doctor – the world famous strong, dry south easterly wind – will pay a prolonged visit to the Odzala Discovery Camps 52 Super Series V&A Waterfront – Cape Town regatta; and although most crews have optimised for middle to upper wind speeds, the truth is that anything could happen at this first regatta of the season.
Just as there are dozens of variables that need to be taken into account when predicting the possible podium finishers in Cape Town, so too there is no outstanding favourite for the 2020 season title.
One such predictive variable is the maintenance of a consistent crew line up from year to year. In this respect, both Doug DeVos’s Quantum Racing and the Roemmers family’s Azzurra – the defending 2019 champions – have important line up changes, whilst, for example, Harm Müller-Spreer’s world champions on Platoon have the same afterguard that guided them to finish second overall for the last two seasons. On balance, maybe the challenge to integrate new Italian tactician Michele Paoletti into the hotseat as tactician on Azzurra will be slightly greater than that facing 2018 champions Quantum Racing who see the return to their afterguard of Michele Ivaldi.
Italy’s 2000 Olympian Paoletti, 44, is well known to the Azzurra crew, recently sailing on the Italian-flagged Maxi72, Cannonball, with many of the core Azzurra crew. He has already integrated seamlessly into the tactician’s berth previously held by Santiago Lange, and for eight years before that by Vasco Vascotto, but the sailor who raced an America’s Cup challenge at Mascalzone Latino with Trieste contemporary, Vascotto, does not really have any recent experience in the 52 Super Series. That does not phase the laid back Paoletti:
“It is a big challenge for me; a big honour to race in the colours of Azzurra, but I know the guys well, they have put their faith in me and I will do my best. They are friends, but also a super good team. The spirit of the boat really mixes the Argentinian and Italian outlooks and I think I fit in well and that is important. Other tacticians may be medalists and have won everything, but I know I have great support among one of the strongest teams on the circuit and it is now down to making good decisions. I don’t mind the pressure at all, and will just focus on racing as I know how,” says Paoletti who trained with the Azzurra team for a week in Valencia before Christmas, prior to the build up period in South Africa.
In contrast, Michele Ivaldi has sailed and won with the Quantum Racing team before. He is also one of the most experienced navigator-strategists in the fleet, stepping into the navigator’s role on Quantum Racing vacated by Juan Vila. Ivaldi’s skillset as a strategist is seen as a strong asset as he returns to a team that features Cameron Appleton as tactician and Ed Baird as skipper-helm.
Owner Doug DeVos is scheduled to race at two regattas this season, the Rolex TP52 World Championship in Cape Town and at the Audi 52 Super Series Porto Cervo & TP52 20th Anniversary Invitational in June.
“It is an interesting dynamic we have, and when Doug steers then we will see Ed focusing more on working with him. One thing we for sure have tightened up on this season is the whole issue of risk management. Sometimes, if you are going to score well then, you have to take more risks. Other times it can be knowing when a top three or four result needs to be preserved and the low risk option prevails. The ‘I’m in third and I need to stay third’ view, for example. I think we are good on that now,” explains Ed Reynolds, Quantum Racing’s project director.
“We have high expectations this season and with all our data analysis, we know how the boat can perform, we know we may not be the fastest boat in the fleet in all conditions, but the objective is always to be among the top three fastest across all the conditions and I think we are confident we are there.”
Quantum Racing will have Tom Burnham coaching all through the season.
Runners up Platoon make only one significant change to their line-up, adding extra power in the grinding department as world indoor rowing champion 2m tall Phil Clapp joins the crew.
“We have done some more optimising work to get the weight aft and improve our speeds in the breeze where we think the Botin designs are still better suited. Otherwise we really just try to eliminate the mistakes that cost us last year. We need to get off the start line, sail fast and stay out of trouble. That means, literally, just focusing on each race as it comes, each day as it comes,” says Ross Halcrow, trimmer on Platoon.
“We are really looking forward to being back in Cape Town. JK [tactician, John Kostecki], Cheese [mainsail trimmer, Dirk de Ridder] and I have not been back together in Cape Town since we won the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on Illbruck.”
Just as Illbruck laid the foundations of an overall victory in the 2001-2 Volvo Ocean Race with their leg win into Cape Town 18 years ago, Halcrow and the Platoon team will be hoping regatta wins in Cape Town will be the foundation for finally topping the 52 Super Series season championship points table.
That the Cape Town events are being run is in no small way thanks to the support of the Plattner family who are based there, home port to their Team Phoenix. Both Phoenix 11 and 12 fly the South African flag and will carry high hopes of a home victory.
“Winning is the dream, but realistically if we could get a podium result here, it would be amazing,” smiles South African Tony Norris who manages the Phoenix boats.
Changes to the team’s line up include America’s Cup winner Peter Holmberg joining as tactician and the hugely experienced Andy Horton coming in too.
The Phoenix crews have given themselves every chance of returning their best ever results on home waters, having already put in 25 training days before Christmas, working extensively with drone footage overlaid with real-time data, which is fed between the two race boats and the coach boat.
“Peter [Holmberg] has raced here a fair bit before and Andy is very experienced in the fleet.” Norris adds: “We have been working on downwind sailing and starting as the key areas for our improvements.”
Interest among the local sailing fraternity has been building since the events were announced. With both their race boats in town, the Phoenix programme have taken the chance to take young sailors from the Royal Cape Sailing Academy afloat during training sessions, giving them a first taste of the TP52 grand-prix racers. Eight to ten youngsters have been given initial training.
“There is so much enthusiasm here, and lots of talent. We are just trying to offer as much as we can in the way of opportunities,” Norris explains.
That level of local interest, the Phoenix crew adds, seems set to draw large spectator fleets for both Cape Town events.
“We know that many people have booked time off work and made their plans to be on the water to watch the racing. This kind of racing has not been seen down here before, and everyone seems set to see as much as they can,” Norris concludes.
Among those who, on the strength of their results early season 2019, might be considered podium contenders in Cape Town, Provezza is the only team to have added a third pedestal winch, in line with Platoon, the other Vrolijk design in the fleet.
After losing their rig in Mallorca last year, which summarily halted their very real title challenge, Provezza have upgraded their replacement spare mast and are hoping to be at full strength with their new mast by the second Cape Town event.
But the team that arguably arrives in Cape Town on the heels of a great run of winning form is Porto Cervo winners, Sled. At the last event of last season, they were on fire, winning six times to whitewash the fleet and score their first regatta win on the circuit.
“We had been working on trimming the boat differently and some new set ups, plus had some new sails,” observes Don Cowie of Sled.
Some in the fleet contend that Sled were rather left to sail their own races in Sardinia as the title battles and other duels reached a head, so it will be fascinating to see if Sled can immediately recapture that winning form.
Bronenosec have recruited US double Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee to work with Morgan Larson, while Andy Soriano’s Alegre have changed their afterguard to bring on past 470 world champion Nic Asher as strategist to complement Ado Stead’s work as afterguard.
After missing the 2019 season Jean Luc Petithuegenin’s French team return with Paprec. Team manager Stephane Névé says:
“We are delighted to be back in the 52 Super Series, and to be here in Cape Town. Cedric Pouligny will be our tactician for this event, he has done many Tours de France, raced on many different boats inshore and offshore, and was on Fressa Rossa last season.”
The 2020 season spans six months and six events with, as ever, no discards. The 2019 season was the closest and most competitive yet, the destination of the title not being settled until the last days of the season. Looking at this year’s field and an itinerary that will test speeds and skills in the breezes of Cape Town, followed by four regattas in very well-known, fully-assimilated Mediterranean venues, it is almost certain that it will be the team that deals with the sustained pressure and makes the fewest mistakes that will lift the 2020 title.
The 2020 52 SUPER SERIES is a best of 6 events trophy:
Odzala Discovery Camps 52 SUPER SERIES V&A Waterfront – Cape Town – March 2-6, Cape Town, South Africa
Rolex TP52 World Championship Cape Town 2020 – March 31-4 April, Cape Town, South Africa
Royal Cup 52 SUPER SERIES Scarlino 2020 – May 12-16, Tuscany, Italy
Audi 52 SUPER SERIES Porto Cervo & TP52 20th Anniversary – June 17-21, Sardinia, Italy
52 SUPER SERIES Valencia Sailing Week – July 18-22, Valencia, Spain
Puerto Portals 52 SUPER SERIES Sailing Week – September 15-19, Mallorca, Spain
Alegre – Andy Soriano (USA/GBR), 2018 Botin
Azzurra – Roemmers Family (ARG/ITA), 2018 Botin
Bronenosec – Vladimir Liubomirov (RUS), 2019 Botin
Gladiator – Tony Langley (GBR), 2017 Botin
Paprec Recyclage – Jean-Luc Petithuguenin (FRA), 2015 Judel/Vrolijk
Phoenix 11 – Hasso/Tina Plattner (RSA), 2018 Botin
Phoenix 12 – Hasso/Tina Plattner (RSA), 2014 Botin
Platoon – Harm Müller-Spreer (GER), 2018 Judel/Vrolijk
Provezza – Ergin Imre (TUR), 2018 Judel/Vrolijk
Quantum Racing – Doug DeVos (USA), 2018 Botin
Sled – Takashi Okura (USA), 2018 Botin
Team Vision Future – Jean Jacques Chaubard (FRA), 2015 Botin