52 Super Series, tenth anniversary title is wide open
There were just five points separating first place from fourth and only two points from championship winners Sled from third placed Platoon at the end of the 2021 52 Super Series season last November in Palma.
As the 2022 season starts in Baiona, Galicia on Monday there seems every chance that the final leaderboard will be every bit as close as last season when the 10th anniversary title trophy is handed out at the glitzy 52 Super Series prizegiving in late October in Barcelona.
Ten years after the 52 Super Series started out with five boats at Barcelona's showcase Trofeo Conde de Godó regatta there is no standout favourite for next week's ABANCA 52 Super Series Baiona Sailing Week. No team has an obvious advantage in any wind or sea conditions. And so when the nine boat fleet starts racing for points on Tuesday more than half of the fleet will harbour absolutely realistic hopes of winning the curtain raising regatta and indeed winning the five regatta season.
This season seems to have more of an owner-driver focus than ever before. The defending champions welcome back Mr Takashi Okura to the helm of Sled after he was unable to travel overseas last season. Similarly on Quantum Racing ebullient American owner-driver Doug DeVos will steer at least four of the five events this year. Both have been honing their skills on native home waters and so should not come into the hot seat 'cold'. Mr Okura has been just been racing at a three day 40 footer regatta at home in Japan whilst Doug DeVos is very active with the Great Lakes 52 fleet.
In the quest to make the best start to the season and 'hit the ground running' five teams tuned and trained in Valencia in the early spring, Alegre, Platoon, Quantum Racing, Gladiator and Provezza.
Among the key changes to hardware and personnel three teams have fitted new keel fins, Alegre, Phoenix and Quantum Racing. Platoon and Interlodge have moved to Doyle Sails. Interlodge have multiple 52 Super Series champion and America's Cup winner Ed Baird as tactician. Provezza have recruited Cole Parada who was a lynchpin of the circuit and world championship Azzurra programme as well as bringing in Skip Baxter as mainsail trimmer. Gladiator have this season gone to Quantum Sails and have circuit winning Ian Moore as navigator, working alongside Laser Olympic gold medallist Paul Goodison, also augmenting their speed team with trimmers Simon Fry and Andrew Estcourt. They will have Spanish double Olympic medallist and six times round the world racer Xabi Fernandez – who grew up on the north coast of Spain - on runners.
The champions Sled are putting their faith in an unchanged line up – six times Amerrica's Cup winner Murray Jones and Luna Rossa's Francesco Bruni proving a winning partnership in Palma last November. They started training early in Baiona and are looking to retain the speed and consistency which proved key to them becoming the first team other than Quantum Racing and Azzurra to win the season championship.
"The good thing is a new venue for us all and so that should even things out a little. Our guys have been doing some racing and should be ready to go. We did not change much, we didn't go for new sail designs or a new keel. Murray Jones is such a rig guru and we are always updating the rig tune and set up of the boat, we have a few new ideas from boats back in Auckland, so we will apply that. We looked at the idea of the new fin but didn't think it justified it for half a second a mile. We want to go out there and do the best we can, sail smart and sail fast which is what worked before."
Summarises Don Cowie, mainsheet trimmer and project manager of the Sled.
Second last year by a single point Quantum Racing have the new keel fin and will have less changes at the back of the boat – with Doug DeVos in and out – than some previous years.
"I think we already saw in Valencia that the new keel met our expectations and from there we saw we are in pretty good shape."
Says Quantum Racing's President and project manager Ed Reynolds who has done every event over the ten years of the 52 SUPER SERIES and all the MedCup regattas back to 2006.
"What I especially love about the 52 SUPER SERIES is that it is a series of 50+ races with no discards. Every race counts. So you can't have an obsession about winning races and regattas. They are nice along the way, sure, but winning the series is about sheer consistency. It is about winning back a place here and there if you are deep, but mostly about being in the top three, top four all the time. And we are good at that. We have all the data to know the boat is fast and how we perform. Now we have to work hard as a team to deliver that consistency, day in day out."
He smiles wryly,
"It's as simple as that..."
Harm Müller Spreer's Platoon have been on the podium every year for the last four racing seasons, finishing second three times in a row. But the double world champions have yet to win the overall championship. Small errors and, especially, penalties – it could be argued – account for the three points that cost them the title last year.
Ross Halcrow, Platoon's America's Cup winning trimmer acknowledges,
"We need to build up a good momentum from the off and learn from the mistakes of last season and move forwards. We have prepared well and I think we can achieve it this season. We are really looking forwards to Baiona. It is a whole new challenge. It looks good, relatively flat water. But we are prepared for anything this season and had good training in Valencia. We had two good days racing there. We feel strong in the light airs but are just ready to go."
And can this be Platoon's season? Halcrow replies:
"I think so. We are happy with everything, the package, the tools, the personnel, we have it all. Now it is up to us...."
But while these podium winners in 2021 might hope to repeat or better that performance of last year, so too the Plattner family's South African flagged Phoenix narrowly missed out last year – a kite blow out in the closing stages of the last event of the season compromised their challenge. They have Australia's super hot Tom Slingsby on tactics again this season. But so too Andy Soriano's Alegre and Ergin Imré's Provezza have the potential and talent to win in Galicia which would be the perfect springboard to an end of season podium.
Abanca 52 Super Series Baiona Sailing Week.
ALEGRE (GBR) Andy Soriano
GLADIATOR (GBR) Tony Langley
INTERLODGE (USA) Austin & Gwen Fragomen
PHOENIX (RSA) Hasso & Tina Plattner
PLATOON (GER) Harm Müller Spreer
PROVEZZA (TUR) Ergin Imre
QUANTUM RACING (USA) Doug DeVos
SLED (USA) Takashi Okura
VAYU (THAI) Whitworth family