After yesterdays practice race, the event gets underway today. Matthew Sheahan reports
From controversy ashore, to tight racing around the course, if yesterday’s practice race was anything to go by the competition this season will be more intense than ever. With a tweaked and refined fleet of boats and crew lists that read like a who’s who of professional yachting, there is little doubt once again that this series represents the highest level of grand prix racing.
After yesterday’s practice race, last year’s winners Emirates Team New Zealand kick off the season were left in no doubt that this year the bulk of the fleet will be challenging their former dominance from the outset. Among the boats that the Kiwis will be watching closely is Team Origin who have the only new boat in the fleet and one that has already caused a stir with her controversial wings that are fitted to the trailing end of her keel bulb. Although other designers are said to have considered this as an option, no one else has fitted wings this season and all eyes will be on the Brits to see if her upwind performance delivers the goods. Early indications from yesterday’s practice race suggest that they will.
There is controversy here too over the measurement of some mainsails where sail designers have taken an innovative approach to the manner in which the headboard is measured allowing them to exploit a loophole in the rule that can provide additional sail area in the head of the sail.
Elsewhere the focus will be on some of the sailors and teams that have joined the fray. Among them four time Olympic medallist Robert Scheidt who will be helming Luna Rossa for the series. This is the Italian team’s first involvement in the Audi Medcup after spending last season at the helm of their STP65. Yesterday was Scheidt’s first race at the helm of a TP52 and by his own admission, the learning curve was steep.
For the organisers, this season sees the event go live online with video, animation and commentary for all the races, all of which is available free. This coupled with a forecast through the week for increasing breeze will mean that the opening regatta of this intense grand prix series is one not to miss.
In the meantime, here’s some on board footage shot during the start of the practice race from my berth on the weather rail aboard Luna Rossa. It’s not often that you get to watch how two of the world’s top Olympic sailors fight for their rights on the start line.
Today I’ll be joining Team Origin for their first day’s racing in their brand new boat and will report back later in the day.