Audi Medcup sets up camp in Marseille for the second round. Matthew Sheahan reports from onboard Mean Machine

Fourteen boats make up the fleet at the second event in the Audi Medcup season, among them Larry Ellison’s new TP52 making her first appearance on the circuit with her owner at the helm and Russell Coutts calling the shots.

Monday was a practice race, although you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and the real deal. Indeed, many of the teams had spent several days practicing for the practice race. When it came to the superstition based tradition of not finishing such a race that doesn’t count for points, forget it.

‘Crush ’em whenever you can,’ was the view of one of the leading tacticians as his team crossed the line.

Fleet numbers might be down on last year, but the standard of competition has risen. The America’s Cup influx has been partly responsible for the performance hike throughout the fleet, but the natural development cycle of these grand prix machines has also upped the ante.

“Last year I think there were four or five boats that were in contention for the top slots,” said Mean Machine’s owner/driver Peter de Ridder. “This season it’s six or seven and no one is going to get a clear run at the season.”

Having won the opening event in Alicante, de Ridder’s Mean Machine will continue to attract plenty of attention, especially following a half a boat length win in the practice race, snatching the lead from Platoon in the last few hundred metres to the line.

Widely considered as the most innovative new boat among the fleet this season, Mean Machine is one of the most talked about boats on the dock, not least for their blistering 3-4 second spinnaker hoists as demonstrated in the video clip below. As you watch it go up remember, that’s a 250m2 kite travelling 20m!

Elsewhere, the competition remains as tight as the Alicante event suggested it would be.

Here’s the official video clip and news release:

After winning the opening regatta of the Audi MedCup Circuit two weeks ago in Alicante, today’s warm-up contest, raced in 8-10 knots of Southerly breeze amidst a spectacular Mediterranean amphitheatre bound to the east by L’Ile Maire and the Montagne de Marseille Veire, signaled a clear warning that De Ridder’s team will be the crew to beat here.

Platoon powered by Team Germany, skippered by three times Olympic gold medallist Jochen Schuemann proved that their hard work in Valencia, tuning their new Rolf Vroijk designed boat and a hard week of crew training after Alicante, may reveal a dividend this week. They were quickest off the start line and made the best tactical call to lead the race all the way until the last 400 metres, but showed very good speed, especially downwind.

The maiden race outing for USA 17 saw Larry Ellison (USA) enjoy his first sail on the Reichel Pugh TP52. With Russell Coutts (NZL) and James Spit hill (AUS) orchestrating the tactical decisions at the back of the boat, USA 17 was seventh at the first windward mark, four seconds behind sister-ship Artemis, and finished ninth.
While it was a gentle introduction for Ellison, Coutts and Co to their new boat and the rest of the 14 boat fleet, local forecasters and team navigators are predicting at least 20 knots of Mistral breeze for tomorrow’s opening races.

“Twenty knots would be just fine for us. There is less chance for the tactician to get it wrong when the breeze is up.” grins Ray Davies (NZL), Mean Machine’s tactician, “But really, we are a good team and the crew work is generally very good, so we are happy in the breeze. We had a new mainsail on today which we were testing for when the wind is a little more down the range, but otherwise have not really done anything much to the boat. It is not quite as busy on the start lines with a couple less boats and the start line was a little longer today. We will be out for a clean start tomorrow and to really let the boat do the work. There is nothing specific contributing to our speed, but we have good sails and good trimmers and generally a nice rig set up which is easy to tune. I don’t think there is anything in the hulls particularly because it is the same shape as others.”

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