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44Cup 2024: fresh influx of crew

by 44Cup 23 Feb 10:38 PST 28 February - 3 March 2024

After a brief winter break, the 44Cup resumes next week with the 44Cup Calero Marinas, first of the five event 2024 series, taking place out of Puerto Calero in Lanzarote.

Three months ago, the high performance owner-driver one design RC44 fleet concluded its 2023 44Cup on these same Canary Islands waters. On that occasion Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing comfortably won ahead of Team Nika with Nico Poons' Charisma completing podium, to win the season.

Aleph Racing had an exceptional 2023 with only one result off the podium, but even so she still finished the season second overall, three points behind Charisma.

For the 44Cup Calero Marinas, Aleph Racing will have almost the same winning crew as before, led by Michele Ivaldi, however standing in for owner Hugues Lepic will be Italian Pietro Loro Piana. Loro Piana steered Aleph Racing to second place at the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina last year.

The more significant crew change for 2024 is the departure of Hamish Pepper from tactical duties on Charisma. The Kiwi ace helped coax Nico Poons and his team to 44Cup victory, in both 2023 and 2022. He is being replaced by American RC44 veteran Andy Horton, who last sailed with the class in 2022 as Torbjörn Törnqvist's tactician on Artemis Racing. Ironically, following the departure of the Swedish team's tactician, Dylan Fletcher, so Pepper will be taking his spot in Lanzarote - albeit only as a one-off.

Horton first raced the RC44s in Lanzarote 13 years ago on Ironbound and since has been the long term tactician on Katusha, before Artemis Racing. He comes in race fit from having won last weekend's GL52 Winter Series in Key West on board Fox, where Charisma's mainsheet trimmer is Chris Hosking. He is looking forward to stepping on board the Nico Poons winning machine. "I can't wait to get with those guys and see what they have and to learn from them."

He continues: "The 44s are the best boats we sail: they are powered up in all conditions - the genoa does that in light conditions and the kites are big. They are nearly as quick as a 52 around the race track. And the boat is as complex, with adjustable things like the pole and trim tab - so everyone has a job. It is the best boat there is - 100%."

Igor Lah's Slovenian team, led by Britain's Adrian Stead, lacked their usual impeccable consistency in 2023 winning in both Oman and Gibraltar (44Cup Alcaidesa Marina) but also scoring three deep results that almost cost them their final spot on the podium. For this season the only crew change is Ireland's Grattan Roberts coming in as grinder. The team for this season will be known as Team Ceeref Vaider (Vaider being owner Igor Lah's company).

One point off the podium for the season in 2023 was Team Nika, which otherwise scored results in the top half of the fleet, culminating in a second place finish to Aleph Racing in Lanzarote last November. The team has been part of the 44Cup since 2011 and last season saw two of its longest serving Slovenian crew depart in offside trimmer Mitja Margon and grinder Iztok Knafelc. They are being replaced this season by burly Estonian Taavi Taveter, who already stood in for Knafelc grinding last season and Australian Harry Hall.

"We were a little bit light with our set-up, so we have gone younger and gained some weight, which should make a difference," explains British tactician Nic Asher. "Both should be very eager and bring a more youthful outlook to Nika this year." Team Nika is also bedding in a new mast.

As to their prospects for 2024, Asher says: "We feel pretty good. The last event was good for us. We sailed well. We have a few things we want to work on for this year and the two new guys should make a nice difference in a few of those areas. So we are feeling quietly confident. We just need to find our way, improving at every event."

Chris Bake's Team Aqua also has a fresh influx for this season with Rockwool Danish SailGP team's Hans-Christian Rosendahl coming on to grind and Rebecca Coles stepping up from the shore team to fill the offside trimmer role. Meanwhile Matt Cassidy returns as bowman. A joy of the 44Cup is that many of the owners get to sail with their children and over the course of this year we can expect to see both Grace and Andrew Bake racing on board with their father.

Christian Zuerrer's Black Star Sailing Team is hoping to continue its ascent, with improved consistency, after scoring their first podium event finish at the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina last year. The Swiss team has much the same crew as 2023, including New Zealand veteran Cameron Dunn on tactics and Australian 470 Olympic gold medallist Will Ryan trimming main. One of their 2023 crew has departed to focus on her Mini Transat campaign and is being replaced in the 'floater' position by 28-year-old J/70 World Champion Kilian Wagen, who previously went to the Tokyo Olympic games in the 470 with Black Star's offside trimmer Grégoire Siegwart.

John Bassadone's Peninsula Racing always seems to be 'in the hunt' but struggles to put together a consistent series. Back with Italian tactician Vasco Vascotto, their only crew changes are Matthew Barber going from pit to grinder role and Juan Pablo Maros taking over in the pit.

Finally the 44Cup's trial horse, the 'black boat' will be campaigned this week by a team fielded by the event's host. Calero Sailing Team will make a welcome return to the 44Cup with a crew led by Daniel Calero with Alfredo Gonzalez as tactician for the all-Spanish crew. More details follow next week.

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