Key West Promises a Flying Start to 2017 52 SUPER SERIES
(Sunday 15th January, Key West) – As the 52 SUPER SERIES returns to Florida for the first time since 2014, the eleven-boat fleet looks set to enjoy a sparkling curtain raiser to a demanding six-regatta season.
It may be the third time the world’s leading grand prix monohull circuit has raced at the popular Quantum Key West Race Week, but this is the first year that the points for the 52 SUPER SERIES are aggregated across all of the regattas, from January and March in Florida, right through to late September when the class returns to Mahón, Menorca for the last regatta of 2017.
In 2013 and 2014, the class raced in the USA and Europe for the Atlantic Cup. The 52 SUPER SERIES championship itself was only contested across the European regattas.
But, reflecting the circuit’s position as an increasingly global entity, which includes four US-flagged boats, this year’s circuit places an equal value on the American events.
Key West’s reputation is for sunshine and solid breezes and the first two of the five racing days are forecast to enjoy brisk E’ly breezes of 15-18kts, easing slightly to mean windspeeds around 12 for Wednesday and Thursday, finishing off with a light, shifty Friday finale.
Terry Hutchinson, tactician of the 2016 52 SUPER SERIES championship title holders, is fired up and ready to go racing.
“We have had a great warm up here and it looks like it will be an absolutely fantastic five days of racing. The first couple of days will be the best probably, then the next three days will be trickier. It will be interesting to see what the average score here is. But it is a long regatta. You have to hang tough in the early part of it and get to Thursday and Friday being in shape to compete.”
Most of the fleet have fully utilised the last few days to test and train on the Key West race area, making the most of the favourable wind and sea conditions. When the season started last year in May in Scarlino, Tuscany, most of the crews had already put in several weeks of race training and testing but, with much less preparation time this season, how well the teams get off the start line Monday afternoon for Races 1 and 2 of the new season can be down to what they have achieved over the last week.
Champions Quantum Racing and Azzurra, the winners of the last regatta of 2016, have shown well in informal line ups, but so too the new Interlodge of Austin and Gwen Fragomen – which makes her racing debut Monday – has shown speeds commensurate with being the newest design iteration from Botin Partners, who are responsible for both of last season’s top two boats. Tony Langley’s Gladiator has Ed Baird as tactician, and started well in today’s practice race showing good speed in training, now flying Quantum sails.
Of his new challenge with Gladiator, Baird, who has won the 52 SUPER SERIES title three times with Quantum Racing, explained:
“Expectations are to find out where we are. I’m the new guy, I’ve got to fit in and see where I can help the most and learn the personality of the boat and how Tony likes to do things. It’s going to be a challenge this week to get all that right. But it’s exciting to start with new groups and see where we can get to. On race day, and especially in the 52s, where every single race counts for the season, we have to just be aware that bravado is not always the best tool.”
That said, it may be that many can carry on the same impetus, resuming where they left off last season. After a slow start to their 2016 season, Takashi Okura’s Sled were one of the most improved teams taking third in Cascais in October behind Azzurra and Quantum Racing. With Hamish Pepper calling tactics they were comfortable early leaders in today’s practice race.
“Today was good. We led to the top mark, Quantum Racing were just behind us and Gladiator but they pulled out and so we had a very comfortable lead. It was good that the boat is starting to perform and it is just Mr Okura’s (owner-driver) second day here. For sure it is a good way to get into this regatta, but there are so many good teams. Quantum, Azzurra, Rán, and Interlodge are going very quick.”
At this first regatta of the sixth season of the 52 SUPER SERIES, the goal is as much about trying to score consistently well – to keep the daily average as low as possible – as it is about trying to take first blood. That means careful risk management, clean starting and boat handling and good speed across the wind range. High points scores gained in these first few days of the new season have an awkward habit of hurting when the overall points are tallied on the last day of racing in September. The battle for the podium places will be more open than ever this season, but so too will the racing for third to sixth – positions that were decided by only 10 points; and fourth to sixth by six points in 2016 after nearly 50 races.
Quantum Key West Race Week
Alegre (Andy Soriano GBR/USA)
Azzurra (Roemmers family, ITA/ARG)
Bronenosec (Vladimir Liubomirov, RUS)
Gladiator (Tony Langley, GBR)
Interlodge (Austin and Gwen Fragomen, USA)
Paprec Recyclage (Jean-Luc Petithuguenin, FRA)
Platoon (Harm Müller-Spreer, GER)
Provezza (Ergin Imre, TUR)
Quantum Racing (Doug DeVos, USA)
Rán Racing (Niklas and Catherine Zennström, SWE)
Sled (Takashi Okura, USA)
Terry Hutchinson (USA), tactician Quantum Racing (USA):
“We have a new strategist in Bora, and Doug is steering the boat, and so there is some stuff to work on with the afterguard. We are always working hard to get better. We have had a great warm up here and it looks like it will be an absolutely fantastic five days of racing.
The first couple of days will be the best probably, then the next three days will be trickier. It will be interesting to see what the average score here is. But it is a long regatta. You have to hang tough in the early part of it and get to Thursday and Friday being in shape to compete.
We have Bora here and the priority here is to get him up to speed how we race the boat because he will steer the boat in Miami and when Doug is absent. He is in the fire hose stage of learning a TP52, so every day is full on. One of priorities is to race the boat well but to upskill him and get him trained. The cool thing here is it gives him an opportunity to see how the boat is raced, but he is the strategist, his job is big picture, the open course, to keep us in the pressure. He is handling the macros and I am handling the micros. He is doing the same job as Ed Baird. But there is a lot of learning for him, for myself and Doug in our relative roles. That is one objective.
So, we want to be successful on the race course in the way we race the boat, but that comes in a couple of different ways. We want to be consistent.
We have the new E6 razor rigging for a bit better windage. We have worked hard on the sails and had a good three day session in Palm Beach in December.
It is great having the four boats. The addition of Gladiator and Interlodge is a real positive. There are some great sailors on both these boats and it is a great opportunity for us all. 2016 was as much about the partnership with Platoon in how our boat speed developed. Hopefully we helped them but for sure it was a big step forwards for us. Now there are more people at the table for the briefings and debriefings.
Andy Horton (USA), tactician Interlodge (USA):
“It’s also hard for us to find it because we’re new at it. Every one of these guys have had their boats for two years. We’re like: ’18 knots, first time with the J3 – where does the lead go?’ Every start, every tuning run, two minutes into it we get it and we’re off. I call it a magic moment. I say, take a look around, remember these settings because we’ve got to be able to reproduce it. If we’re able to find our settings quickly, we’ll have a good week. The boat feels good for sure.”
We just watched the practice race. It’s pretty shifty, and that’s the big thing, being able to have a good start but get on the shift, knowing your average wind direction, sailing against that and knowing what’s going to happen next. A lot of times you’ll get the clearing spots from the north and the humid air from the Gulf Stream from the south and they battle. When you see those low puffy clouds coming, it’s going to be pretty much a right shift. If you see some clearing from the left it could increase and be a lefty. And also thinking it’s going to be lighter if you get too much under the clouds. Then you also have the current, which has been running pretty hard to the west. It’s kind of opposite of the Gulf Stream but basically it just floods and ebbs [on the tide cycle]. It’s runs pretty hard, we’ve seen over a knot of current. When it goes slack and it’s supposed to be flooding it’s just two tenths or three tenths and then when it’s supposed to be ebbing it’s a knot. So a lot of the races are dominated by that.”
Morgan Larson (USA), tactician Bronenosec (RUS):
“Today it was evident that as it gets windier, being a little more conservative in your maneuvering [is smart]. All the teams are good, but it’s the first event of the season and things are a little rough and I think it’ll be easy to make a boat handling error. This is a tough field if you’re not aggressive and really going for it, you’re not going to have a chance to podium. And I think that’s the goal for most of the teams, stay in the top three at each event and have a shot at the end. Quantum was a level above everybody last year and I’m sure a lot of teams have worked hard to bridge that gap. They’re still strong. But I think you’re going to see some mixed results. It’s a competitive field.”
Hamish Pepper (NZL), tactician Sled (USA):
“We have not done any sailing at all since Cascais but the boat builders and shore team have done a great job. We have made some changes to the rig, stiffening it. We have a new rudder and made some changes underwater. We were not going particularly well in the first part of the season last year and we made a few changes and got better for the latter part. The Quantum boats have done a lot of work and are going fast. This is just day four for us and we are slowly getting things back, getting things lined up. Today was good. We led to the top mark, Quantum Racing were just behind us and Gladiator but they pulled out and so we had a very comfortable lead. It was good that the boat is starting to perform and it is just Mr Okura’s (owner-driver) second day here. For sure it is a good way to get into this regatta, but there are so many good teams. Quantum, Azzurra, Rán, Interlodge are going very quick.”
The Quantum Key West Race Week will take place from 16-20 January, with races starting at 11:00 every day. Track the boats via state-of-the-art Virtual Eye at www.52SUPERSERIES.com/LIVE or via the app.
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