Tentative early lead for Zoulou at the GC32 Riva Cup
Lake Garda was playing awkward for today's opening rounds of the GC32 Riva Cup, first event of the 2022 GC32 Racing Tour. To the south of Riva del Garda, the racing was delayed only slightly but this allowed the lake's southerly Ora wind to build to 16-18 knots. Reaching starts in this amount of wind enabled the nimble one design foiling catamarans to set off across the start line and converge on the reaching mark at 30 knots speeds. With the backdrop of the towering Italian Alps, this represents one of the most exciting, inspiring sights in all of yacht racing.
In the headlines today for both the right and wrong reasons is Christian Zuerrer's Black Star Sailing Team. With Kiwi match racer Chris Steele on the helm and Zuerrer on main sheet, the Swiss team got off to an uncharacteristic poor start that left them sixth at reaching mark. But, bearing away rather than gybing here, immediately elevated them to third as a left shift came through and then up to second at the leeward gate. Here Alinghi Red Bull Racing – SUI15 was slow and hampered even more tacking immediately after the mark. This enabled Black Star to roll them, sailing around their outside. From there Steele, Zuerrer and the crew headed on to the favoured 'rock' side of the course (out to the right) and then impressively extended away to score the first GC32 bullet of the season.
"Going to the rock side is where we won the race. Lucky us! It was a good first race," said Zuerrer.
Sadly in this race, Alinghi Red Bull Racing SUI-15 was unable to start as they had to resolve a broken leech line in their mainsail. However they effected a repair ready for the second race. Conditions were still brisk for this as they experienced their first reaching start in a race: "It was exciting and I feel good with the speed," said helmsman Maxime Bachelin. "It was very nice, but we need to work on the stability of the boat."
In the second race, the seven GC32s were closing on the leeward gate when Black Star Sailing Team suffered a capsize. "It was to avoid a collision with Rockwool and Alinghi pushed us up a little bit and then we went over," explained Christian Zuerrer. Fortunately they capsized laterally and no one was hurt in the incident, but as it occurred just short of the leeward gate, the race was abandoned. After a delay, when it was restarted they sadly missed out on making the start and were scored DNS.
Surprisingly, given the participation of the powerful SailGP crew on Team Rockwool Racing team from Denmark and the two boats fielded by the America's Cup challenger Alinghi Red Bull Racing, when the second race was successfully held leader going into the downwind mark were two 'amateur' owner-driver teams – Erik Maris' Zoulou and Jason Carroll's Argo. Zoulou was able to build on their lead over the rest of the race, despite the advances of past GC32 Racing Tour winners and GC32 Worlds champions led by Arnaud Psarofaghis on Alinghi Red Bull Racing SUI-8.
With the rain arriving and then departing to leave behind no wind, the race committee was forced to draw racing to a close for the day. After two races it is not one of the pro-teams leading, but Zoulou. Was Erik Maris surprised to be beating them? "Surprised??? We kick their butt all the time!" he quipped. "Seriously we are very happy, very proud to be ahead of these guys. Being able to do that is what makes this fleet so special and is why we keep coming back to the GC32 Racing Tour - the level, the quality of the competition."
Maris attributed this very preliminary success at this event to the training that many of the GC32 teams, including his French team, put in in Lagos, Portugal over the spring.
After racing, the One Ocean Foundation announced their partnership with Rockwool and Team Rockwool Racing, which will see the Danish athletes connect sport, business and science this season to raise awareness around the importance of a healthy ocean and accelerate solutions to protect and restore it.
President of the One Ocean Foundation Riccardo Bonadeo commented: "We are especially pleased with this new partnership with the Rockwool SailGP team since our DNA also comes from a yacht racing background. No other partnership fits so perfectly with us."
Given the loss of races today, the aim tomorrow is to have a first start at 0900 in Garda's northerly Pelèr wind and to try for three races, then to attempt a further four in the southerly Ora in the afternoon. It will be a full day.