On Monday, Alinghi Red Bull Racing brought both of their AC40s out in pure one-design mode for some gloves-off racing with what we assume to be the probable starting line-up for Vilanova onboard the red-trimmed boat in Arnaud Psarofaghis, Maxime Bachelin, Yves Detrey and Bryan Mettraux. Facing them down in the yellow-trimmed boat was the test team of hired-in guns, namely Dean Barker, Phil Robertson, Jason Waterhouse with Nicolas Rolaz on trim also. And it was the experienced heads that seemed to have the day, securing race wins over relatively short laps out by the Forum district to the north of Barcelona with Arnaud and Bryan only securing one win from four.
Pre-start tactics were electric, especially on the lead back-in with both boats desperate to cut speed to get time-on-distance accurate, executing large scalloping moves dialling off the wind and then back to course as they filtered along the start line towards the pin end. This is what we’ll see for sure in Vilanova but with six boats on the line, it’s going to be more than interesting. Of note, was a pre-start where Arnaud seemed to hold the leading position but crashed off the foils on the last scallop and handed the advantage straight to Dean Barker who capitalised to windward and then tacked off to the favourable right hand side of the course. Fine margins, consistency and accuracy are undoubtedly going to be the take-aways from the first Preliminary Regatta and these next two weeks are going to be crucial for the probable Alinghi Red Bull Racing team to build that into their game-plan and execution.
Speaking afterwards, Arnaud Psarofaghis summed up the day saying: “Today was a really good day to start the week, we had the offshore breeze in the beginning that died off really quickly. But we got super-lucky to get the southwest breeze coming back in and it was a perfect way to start the week as we are doing our racing programme now and Dean, Phil and Jason are here to help us to improve and to push us to the limit and today we almost found little limits on the boat and good things to improve and to work on for the rest of the week.”
Asked what improvements can be made and what the team are focussing in on, Arnaud offered: “We can improve all little details -a bit of communication – and as well as the condition were a little bit tricky with the gusts and lulls so little tweaks on the set-up just to make sure that everything goes really smoothly and you don’t lose anything but just try to make some gains.”
Talking about race craft and race strategy, Arnaud spoke about the team’s mind-set ahead of Vilanova saying: “You cannot put everything on the table too early so you need to be patient and it’s going to be fleet racing so you don’t need to win every race, you just need to be up there and at the end of the week the points will count… you try to find a routine that works for each condition, each situation, it’s still early on because we are still practising fleet race starts but with two boats so it can really quickly end up in a match-race situation, but weare just try to find some routines but it’s not really far away from a match-race routine, our way of thinking.”
Is there pressure going into the first Preliminary Regatta? Well Arnaud thinks not, saying: “There is not much pressure on the team to perform, we just want to do it well and to try to work on every little detail and it’s going to be a really good first event and then we are going to carry that work through to Jeddah and it’s where we can fine tuning things into next year.”
Alinghi Red Bull Racing looked brilliant on the water on Monday. The fine tuning will come from extensive debriefs and this young team learns super-fast. Plenty of interest now in how they go in Vilanova. One of the teams to watch, for sure, with a lot of hours on the water in the AC40s. Fascinating.
Whilst the swish Swiss were flying around in Barcelona, INEOS Britannia were suffering a break-down onboard T6 having intended to two-boat against their AC40 ‘Athena’ and it was a frustrating afternoon for the sailors and shore team who sent Chase Boats ashore for parts to try and fix the unspecified issue down below. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be as Ben Cornish explained: “We spent a while out there today and…not a huge amount converted into sailing hours, a couple of bugs onboard, gremlins which we tried to resolve. We sent a couple of chase boats in with some replacement parts in the debugging process and by the time we were closing in on a fix to it, the breeze actually turned off and went back to this offshore land breeze, so bit of an opportunity missed I guess out there today.”
With T6 disabled, Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott took full advantage of the afternoon Garbi breeze with a solid session on the AC40 with Bleddyn Mon and Leigh McMillan on trim and this is the probable line-up for Vilanova although in the trimming department, INEOS Britannia also have Iain Jensen and Luke Parkinson who were onboard T6 today. Asked specifically who will line-up for Vilanova, Ben Cornish responded: “I mean you can see the crew list each day as to who’s been focused in which areas which probably answers that question, we’ve been starting to up the hours with the AC40, obviously now what two weeks away, so the priority has to start to turn towards race sharpness in the communications onboard that boat.”
Asked about the importance of Vilanova, Ben responded: “This is the first time for teams to like and state their claim in this America’s Cup. You mentioned the importance, it’s not massive for the Americas Cup but just you leave a mark of what you’re intending to do and each team wants to go out there and win a regatta so we will be will be approaching it with that same attitude.”
Diving into the tactics and what will win the regatta, Ben gave an accurate assessment saying: “I think a couple of weeks ago with the first official line-ups that we had on the media testing, there were a few small differences that were picked up within the coaching and the sailing teams but I think by the time we get to racing it will come down to small mistakes here and there on the racecourse, manoeuvres not quite being landed or I think that poor starts will probably make the difference.” And asked about how the team builds consistency into their programme, he responded: “I mean it’s time on the water effectively, as a team we’ve been focusing a lot with T6 so we’re probably maybe a click behind on hours but again you know the boys are out there today and every moment you can go through the manoeuvres and perfect the moves is very valuable… it will be interesting as we’ve not seen these boats raced in in a fleet race before other than last weekend…there’s so many unknowns it’s going to be exciting to find out for sure.”
INEOS Britannia will be back out on Tuesday with Ben saying that they had a “good handle” on the issue that caused T6 to be towed back to the base and the training will continue at pace. Plenty of resource for the British to call upon and the coaching staff are first class so no panic at this stage – one of those days.