by Lindsey Bell
British sailing’s Olympic and World Champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson prepare to race at the next leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup series starting in Palma, Majorca, on Monday 4th April.
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson.
The Beijing gold medallists join 57 of their Skandia Team GBR teammates at the Princess Sofia Trophy, which marks the start of the European Olympic classes sailing season and which will see some 710 sailors from 53 nations compete from 4-9 April across the 10 Olympic disciplines and the 2.4mR Paralympic class.
Having not competed in their two-man Star keelboat since the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth and Portland last August, Percy and Simpson see the Palma regatta as the real start of their road towards 2012. They opted for intensive winter training in Portugal rather than racing at the Miami World Cup event in January, so are looking forward to honing their racing skills against a high quality fleet comprising 40 boats.
'We started [our 2012 campaign] in earnest at the beginning of the year, mainly testing and training in the south of Portugal, which has been great fun with the young British lads, John and Steve, helping us out a lot,' Percy explained.
'We worked hard down there and had a lot of fun, but we haven’t been doing very much racing so this is the start of the road of getting back into that side of it, learning the starting and the wind shifts and the fleet management – all of the stuff we need to work on a little bit to get sharp.
'Hopefully we won’t be too off the pace, but I know from experience against the level there is here that they’ve all been racing hard all winter and raced in Miami – it might be a bit of a baptism of fire but we’re looking forward to it and hopefully we’ve been around long enough to know that it’s the start of the road.'
The 35-year-old was philosophical about his and Simpson’s goals for the regatta.
'We know that [our rivals are] ahead of us in their race training, but we’ve got our programme and we’re here to try and catch up on a lot of that stuff. We’re not too proud to be trying to learn from where they’re at and learn some of the new techniques they might have developed over the last couple of years and try and put them into our sailing.
'We’re touching base here, we’re trying to find out how big the mountain is we’ve got to climb. I’m sure it’s going to be big but we’re looking forward to the challenge.
'Results-wise we always try and enter an event to win. That’s probably not realistic here, but that’s what we’re going to try and do and we’re going to fight for every place around the course like we always do. But it is really about touching base, starting to get back to where we’ve been in the past before we start the long road over the next 450 days.'
Percy and Simpson’s training partners John Gimson and Stephen Milne have been forced to sit out the regatta after their boat sustained irreparable damage during a collision in training.
Skandia Team GBR is fielding its full Finn squad for this Princess Sofia Trophy, with Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie, World Champion Ed Wright, and Miami World Cup winner Giles Scott lining up together for the first time since the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta last August. Andrew Mills, bronze medallist in Miami, and Ainslie’s training partner Mark Andrews will also look to trouble the 85 boat fleet.
Palma marks the first event of the 2011 season for 49er European Champions Chris Draper and Peter Greenhalgh, bronze medallists Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, and Dylan Fletcher-Alain Sign. They join the three Skandia Team GBR boats – John Pink-Rick Peacock, Paul Brotherton-Mark Asquith and Dave Evans-Ed Powys – who took a sweep of the podium spots at Miami in January.
In the 470 women’s event, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark will face the first test of their new partnership, formed after Sarah Ayton’s retirement in February, while Penny Clark and Katrina Hughes will look to continue the form which saw them claim their first podium finish together in Miami. In the 470 men’s event, Nic Asher and Elliot Willis will hope for a second World Cup win of the season to add to their gold in Miami, while Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell will hope to better their bronze. Double Olympic silver medallist Nick Rogers will also race with new crew Chris Grube.
Elsewhere, British hopes will rest on Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw in the men’s and women’s RS:X windsurfing events, with the women’s match racing trio of Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor, and with Paul Goodison and Nick Thompson in the Laser event.
Charlotte Dobson and Alison Young will feature for Skandia Team GBR in the Laser Radial event, while Helena Lucas and Megan Pascoe will be in the race for medals in the single-handed 2.4mR Paralympic event.
Racing at the Princess Sofia Trophy will start on Monday 4 April 28 March and continue through until Saturday 9 April.
For the latest news and information visit the website or follow us on Twitter (@skandiateamgbr) for race updates during the regatta.
Skandia Team GBR website