Having just finished the Sailing World Cup in Hyères, Franck Cammas and Sophie de Turckheim headed straight to Paris to hop on a flight to Qingdao in China, where they've been able to hook up with the rest of the Groupama sailing team. Fifth in the provisional overall ranking after the first two events, the French crew is rejoining the pride of the multihull series for four days of racing in the city that hosted the Olympic Games in 2008.
For the Groupama skipper and his crew Sophie, there has been a very quick succession of races since the start of the year, ranging from the Nacra 17 to the Extreme 40 to the M34, with racing in Singapore, Oman, Palma and Hyères, not to mention training sessions in Morocco and the National Sailing School in Quiberon, Brittany.
For this event in Qingdao, there will be a crew of five aboard Groupama 40. Tanguy Cariou, the tactician and Thierry Fouchier and Devan Le Bihan, the headsail trimmers will link up with their helmsman Franck, while Sophie assists with the manoeuvres and observation of the race zone. Together they're going to need all the muscle power they can muster to confront the top-level international competition that has been revamped in part.
Indeed two crews have made modifications. Aboard Emirates Team New Zealand, third in the provisional overall ranking, Dean Barker has given up the helm to Peter Burling. For GAC Pindar, which is representing Hamilton Yacht Club, it's David Gilmour, son of the famous Peter, who is taking up the helm, a role previously held by a rather unsuccessful Seve Jarvin. It will be interesting to see if the results improve for the Australian team, which is currently bringing up the rear on the leaderboard.
With regards to the leaders, there haven't been any changes for either the Swiss on Alinghi or on Realstone, respectively second and fourth in the ranking, nor for The Wave Muscat in the top spot.
It now remains to be seen how things pan out for Groupama 40, a familiar name in the middle of the fleet, but not yet performing as well as it could: 'We still need to make progress in the start phases and consistently move up through the ranks. That's why we're here, so we can race against the top players' explains the skipper of Groupama who, like Sir Ben Ainslie, isn't the type to give up.
In terms of the race zone and the sailing conditions, Qingdao is more reminiscent of Singapore than Oman. Amidst the gigantic skyscrapers, the Extreme 40s will seem minute to the Chinese spectators, who are learning more and more each year about the appeal of sailing.
Racing kicks off on Thursday and will continue through until Sunday with around ten races per day. Daily results will be available around 1000 GMT given the 6-hour time difference.