Extreme Sailing Series involvement by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and the Financial Group he presides over, is continuing for the third consecutive year by entering a one design in the colours of the Edmond de Rothschild Group. Ranking among the major protagonists in this now global circuit, the men of Gitana Team will this year be the only competitors to race under a French flag in this most promising of international line-ups.
Indeed the list of candidates for the event perfectly reflects the series’ new ambitions with no fewer than nine stages across the world, with the Grands Prix now spanning five days rather than the usual four days of racing last year. For Pierre Pennec, the new helmsman and skipper of the Gitana one design, and his three crew, the 2011 season promises to be intense.
The 2011 crew: nomination of a new helmsman but a virtually identical crew configuration
Pierre Pennec has been designated the new skipper-helmsman of the Gitana craft. This is a logical and well-deserved progression for this fine racer, who has played a role in the project since its creation. Selected as the French candidate in the Tornado class for the Olympic Games in Sydney (2000) alongside Yann Guichard, as well as being a talented helmsman and a sought-after tactician on craft as varied as they are demanding (60 foot Orma, D35, etc.), Pierre has taken up the post of tactician-mainsail trimmer aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group over the past two seasons. A native of La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast, this 33 year old knows this boat like the back of his hand. He is also familiar with the particularity of the Extreme 40 races and will naturally be able to rely on a solid crew in his bid to win a title which has eluded them at the very last hurdle in the past two years.
Hervé Cunningham has been on the sailing team since the early days and is back on the blue one design for another season. Bowman on the boat, Hervé will bring to bear all his expertise and experience gained from his numerous competitions (Volvo Ocean Race, America’s Cup, RC 44…). He will also bring along his Match Racing expertise in the team’s battle against their adversaries, some of whom are particularly well-versed in this type of sailing. This talent is something he shares with Thierry Fouchier. The latter 43 year old from Marseille is none other than the reigning America’s Cup champion (he was a member of the crew aboard the American trimaran BMW Oracle) and today he is the only Frenchman to boast these prestigious accolades on his CV. Methodical and strict, Fouch, as he is known by his crew, will once again be taking care of the headsail trimming this year, a position he’ll share with Hervé.
This trio, which has already shown great potential by notably finishing second in the 2010 championship, will be completed by Christophe Espagnon. A newcomer aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group, Christophe is far from being a novice in the series and even less so in the universe of competitive sailing. A member of the crew aboard Franck Cammas’ one design last season, this native of La Rochelle comes from an Olympic background like Pierre Pennec. Selected to sail for France in the Tornado class of the Olympic Games in Beijing, this 35 year old sailor also honed his weapons in the very tough Figaro class during the Solitaire 2009. His versatility will be a precious asset in his position as mainsail trimmer aboard.
'The composition of our crew is an original one in the sense that the four of us have never all raced together in competition. However, we’re not starting out from nothing either, far from it. Thierry, Hervé and I were aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group last year. We created some automatic reflexes there, as well as a certain complicity. Christophe knows the circuit very well. These three sailors are great professionals who all have experience of top level competition. They’re physical, which is essential in the Extreme 40 class if you’re to keep up with the pace of one race after another, as well as being very calm with quick reactions. This is just as vital for me given the intensity of the races and the repeated contact phases with our rivals. Personally I’m extremely proud and happy that the Gitana Team offered me the chance to helm its catamaran. It’s an incredible opportunity whose range is extensive, and I’m very lucky to be able to gather together a crew of this calibre to work alongside me. The fact that I fulfilled the role of trimmer-tactician in 2009 and 2010 will I hope be a real asset as this experience has given me a good perception of what happens during manœuvres. I also have a very precise idea of the info my crew expect during the races' explained Pierre Pennec.
For the four men from Gitana Team, together with a shore crew still made up of Cyril Ducrot and Marie Dixneuf, the time for resuming their mission is fast approaching. Indeed they’ll be ready to get down to work in Oman at the end of January, where they’ll be involved in a joint training session with a few of their future rivals. In fact it’s in the Middle East that the first event of the season will kick off on 20th February.
The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group
Pierre Pennec - Helmsman, skipper
Christophe Espagnon – Mainsail trimmer, tactics
Thierry Fouchier – Headsail trimmer
Hervé Cunningham - Bowman
The 2011 schedule: opening up internationally
Launched in 2007, on the initiative of OCThirdPole (formerly OC Events), the Extreme 40 circuit has since enjoyed a compelling rise in popularity and is this year shouldering a considerably more expansive international status, as much through its schedule as its list of competitors.
22 days of racing in 2010 compared with 47 scheduled in 2011, which equates to 130 races being contested in 2010 compared with 282 scheduled this year… The figures speak for themselves! For its fifth edition, the Extreme Sailing Series is increasing in scale and now boasts a global programme of nine stages. The ten crews who have registered to date will begin the 2011 season in Oman at the end of February and it isn’t until mid-December in Singapore, at the end of the ninth and final Grand Prix of the year, that the new victor to succeed Paul Campbell-James on the championship’s winners’ list will be revealed. During that time, the 40 foot one designs will have raced in China, Turkey and the United States, not to mention all the European elements of the championship with the more traditional destinations such as Cowes, Trapani and Almeria, as well as Nice, which will be playing host to the event for the very first time.
'The programme this year is synonymous with the great recognition for the value of the circuit and the organisation put in place over the past four years. The reality is that the events promise to be even more physical. The Extreme 40s are demanding boats and this characteristic is further strengthened by the race format. To switch from four to five days of races per Grand Prix will have consequences and we’ll unquestionably have to take care of our physical fitness to ensure we arrive at the race sites in good shape. As regards the line-up, the arrival of teams like Team New Zealand or Artemis, who will be bringing their Cup culture with them, is bound to be very interesting. The general level is likely to go up a notch from the outset of racing so consistency is going to be more important than ever' explained Thierry Fouchier.
Act 1: from 20-24 February, Muscat, OMAN
Act 2: 13-17 April, CHINA
Act 3: 25-29 May, Istanbul, TURKEY
Act 4: 30 June – 4 July, Boston, USA
Act 5: 6-12 August, Cowes, UK
Act 6: 14-18 September, Trapani, ITALY
Act 7: 28 September – 2 October, Nice, FRANCE
Act 8: 12-16 October, Almeria, SPAIN
Act 9: 7-11 December Singapore
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