In the Extreme Sailing Series’ closest finish so far this year, British Olympian Leigh McMillan and his crew onboard The Wave, Muscat won Act 3 in Istanbul, after four days and 29 races which has seen them in a game of cat and mouse with Roman Hagara and his Austrian Red Bull Sailing Team since the word ‘go’.
After day one Hagara was on top – day two and it was McMillan. Day three and Hagara was back in pole position and the question everyone was asking this morning was whether Hagara and his men could defend their position at the top of the leaderboard, and win their first ever Extreme Sailing Series Act. But no one was discounting Pierre Pennec and his all-French team on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, and a win for the French in the final double-points race was enough for Pennec to leapfrog Hagara to claim second place.
Six races were sailed in the final day with the forecasters predicating big breeze this morning with gusts of up to 17 knots – and the weather didn’t disappoint. In the strongest breeze the fleet have sailed in all week, it was hull flying, water spraying action as the Extreme 40s charged around the race course in 15 knots of wind, completing each race in less than 14 minutes.
An elated McMillan, whose smile said it all tonight, commented: 'It’s been a really tough week. I am just over the moon with our result here. It’s been a heroic effort from all the guys on the boat – a fantastic performance; we are getting better all the time and learning how each other sail. We are already looking forward to the next Act in Porto, it is getting very close, and so [the competition] is just going to be getting tighter and tighter, and more stressful. We are sure we will be battling it out until the end of the Series.'
Three races in and it was clear today the battle for the podium was between Oman, Austria and France. Pierre Pennec saved his best race of the event until last, and his winning performance sees them go one better than their results from Act’s 1 and 2 to finish second. 'We were close to finish in first position. The summary of four days of competition is nevertheless very positive from all points of view. We are consistent and have been on the podium at all three events this year. In the overall ranking, The Wave, Muscat increases their advantage but the season is long and we will have to maintain the pace until the end of the season in Brazil.'
The real story of the Act unfolded today in race 27. Hagara led Red Bull Sailing Team to a great start, powering off the line as the fleet drag raced to the first mark – while McMillan was stuck in seventh place. But going into the second lap, Hagara’s men got their gennaker tangled which cost them five places on the water – including a place to The Wave, Muscat. McMillan took full advantage, picking off the rest of the opposition one by one, before ultimately winning that race – and they never relinquished the lead.
An understandably frustrated Hagara commented: 'The final day just didn’t turn out well for us. In the end, it’s the little things that are crucial, even a wrong spinnaker hoist or a bad start can turn out really bad overall. Our attitude is that you’ve got to go for the win, we still have that as our aim and that’s what we are looking for from the next Act in Porto.' Watch McMillan’s analysis of that race.
Act 1 winners Oman Air, who were in contention for a podium place going into the day, won the opening race today but fell short of the podium, finishing the Act fourth. The form team of the day was the 2012 new boys, SAP Extreme Sailing Team. They won two races, more than any other team today, and finished fifth overall – the best result so far this year for America’s Cup sailors and co-skippers Rasmus Kostner and Jes Gram-Hanson. Despite dominating the Bosphorus racing yesterday, three times world match-racing champion Ian Williams could only manage a seventh place for his all British crew GAC Pindar.
Istanbul has seen two new faces on the start line, with Alain Gautier making his Extreme 40 debut at the helm of the Swiss team Alinghi, while Erik Maris returns to the Extreme Sailing Series at the helm of ZouLou having competed in 2008 and 2009 with Luna. Maris, whose all-French team missed the first two races today while they made repairs to their main halyard, showed some real moments of potential in Istanbul and he had nothing praise for his competitors.
'As far as racing is concerned I think that the level has significantly increased since I last sailed in this Series, as we expected. All the boats sail and race extremely well, so it’s tough. The fleet is still fantastic, the guys racing are just the best frankly.'
Istanbul has delivered the eight Extreme 40s with the best conditions they have sailed in all year - blue skies, warm weather and most importantly - great breeze. From racing on the stunning waters of the Bosphorus to the stadium racing against the backdrop of Istanbul’s old town and the famous Blue Mosque, Istanbul is an Act the fleet and the public of Istanbul will not forget in a hurry. Next stop is Porto, as we move into the second third of the 2012 Series, Act 4 5th-8th July.