By comparison to the first ever visit of the 52 Super series to Ibiza earlier this month, the world’s leading pure performance monohull class moves now to what many of the crews might consider the ‘reassuringly familiar’ waters off Palma, Mallorca where nine 52 teams will compete in the highly regarded 32nd Copa del Rey Mapfre regatta next week.
52 Super Series
On the heels of the news that a promising future is being mapped out for the coming years, the fleet for Spain’s ever popular showcase regatta is the biggest yet this season. The fleet is augmented in Palma by the Austrian 52 Aquila (ex Mutua Madrilena) which races on the series for the first time this season and brings the number of nations represented by boats to seven.
Ibiza, with its light winds, proved challenging and some teams left the island frustrated at their inability to get a real handle on the conditions there. And so the return to the regular, reliable sea breeze conditions in high summer Mallorca should restore a measure of confidence to the teams which felt they underperformed in Ibiza.
Series leaders Quantum Racing set the bar high in Ibiza when they added victory in the Royal Cup Marina Ibiza to their win in Barcelona in May. The American flagged team which is skippered by America’s Cup winner Ed Baird, with Terry Hutchinson as tactician, are unbeaten in Europe so far this season and their Olympic gold and America’s Cup winner Jordi Calafat - who won the 52’s Copa del Rey last year as tactician - is back on the home waters he cut his teeth on. But, even so, their continued supremacy is far from guaranteed in Palma.
Defending 52 Super series champions Azzurra had four bad races in Ibiza, ‘only’ making third overall whilst World Champions Rán Racing, winners of the Royal Cup in Palma last year, did not reach their best level of consistency. Both should be back to their best at the Copa del Rey whilst Tony Langley’s British flagged Gladiator had their best ever finish in Ibiza finishing runners up to Quantum Racing and threaten to be in the mix again.
Quantum Racing have won both regattas so far in the Mediterranean, project director Ed Reynolds cautions that he is sure his team is still getting stronger all the time:
'A lot of how we configured the boat and the team was looking to Palma where we like the idea that there will be more boats on the start line than we have seen so far this season on the 52 Super series, so we are looking forward to it. I am very comfortable with our decision makers on board and we were very happy with the changes we made which meant we had a new gear in the lighter airs set up. I know the guys are very excited about the boat speed and the decision making dynamic is still getting better.'
'But in saying that it Palma it is easy to oversimplify what is needed to win. Winning the preferred side is as tricky as anything.' Concludes Reynolds.
The Azzurra crew, lead by skipper-helm Guillermo Parada, are back on waters they know well and should be racing more in the wind range that their boat is optimised for:
Bruno Zirilli, Azzurra's navigator explains: 'In Ibiza we knew that such a light breeze would penalize us more than the other boats and on top of that we found the chop complicated things even further. However, we did the best we could and did find some good solutions to our setup, as evidenced by the victory in the last race, which also gives us a good impetus as we look forward to the Copa del Rey. We all know the race course in Palma well and we like it, conditions are generally better suited to our boat and we have always performed well. We will go on the water each day with the intention of sailing as well as we can, without too many worries.'
Historically, as a crew (Matador) they have won the both the TP52 world championship and the Copa del Rey before here. Representing the iconic Azzurra team colours of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda which first raced in the America’s Cup in Newport RI exactly thirty years ago this month adds a further layer of pride for the Azzurra crew.
World champions Rán Racing underperformed in Ibiza, finishing off the podium:
'We just did not get to grips with the venue very well and our speed was not fantastic.' Confesses Tim Powell, Rán Racing’s project manager. 'We certainly missed an opportunity to get a better result than we did. But Palma is a venue we all know well. I think we learn from our mistakes and while its important not to dwell on the past, on the bad days you focus on what’s happened.'
'But, other than Ibiza, we have made a good progression at each regatta, so many different aspects have improved. We all believe as a group that we have what it takes to be challenging for the top step on the podium at the end of the regatta. That is the goal we set out to achieve together and we all believe we can do it.'
'We will put in some solid practice at the weekend, checking in some new sails and doing more starting practice as with nine or 10 boats the start line is that bit busier. We look to lock into the venue early, looking at the forecasts, for example to discern if we are expecting a ‘normal’ Palma or something more funky.'
Now at the third of their four European regattas this season the 52’s compete as a standalone class at the prestigious 120 boat event. Racing starts on Monday with up to 10 windward-leeward races expected before racing concludes Saturday. On Wednesday the coastal race will give a chance for the 52’s to stretch their legs on a more open, longer race track.