Swiss team Alinghi were crowned 2016 Extreme Sailing Series™ champions today after an epic final-day shoot-out at the season finale in Sydney.
Extreme Sailing Series
December 12, 2016
In a nail-biting showdown that went right down to the wire, Arnaud Psarofaghis' men saw off a last-ditch attempt from arch rivals Oman Air to complete their ascendancy to the top of the 2016 rankings.
It's the third time Alinghi have won the Extreme Sailing Series following victories in 2008 and 2014 but the first time they've done so 'flying' on the new lightning fast GC32 catamarans.
Morgan Larson's Oman Air started the eighth and final Act of the season with the upper hand taking a narrow two-point lead overall onto the iconic waters of Sydney Harbour, but Alinghi knew that if they could defeat Larson's crew they would claim the Series crown for themselves.
Alinghi started the final day in charge with a 19-point buffer on Oman Air and opened their scorecards on trademark form with two seconds as Sydney Harbour delivered champagne sailing under bright blue skies and with winds of 13 to 20 knots.
However, a wobble halfway through the afternoon gave hope to Oman Air and they answered by notching up a podium finish of their own to narrow the gap once more.
Desperate to force Alinghi into making a mistake that could allow them back into contention, Larson pulled out every trick in his book but time and time again the Swiss crew clawed back into the action.
Alinghi's season victory was only guaranteed following the 24th and penultimate race of the Act, their fourth place ahead of Oman Air in fifth finally pushing glory beyond Larson's reach.
"We're really happy, and pretty relieved too," co-skipper and helmsman Psarofaghis said. "It was a really intense day – we started really well then had a few bad starts. Then we got into a game with Oman Air that we didn't really want to play.
"Halfway through the day Oman Air were still able to come back but then we started to sail simply again. When we sailed our own race away from the pack we were really fast and that was the key for us."
Oman Air's dominance over the first half of 2016 saw Alinghi playing catch-up but as the season went on the Swiss crew became known as the kings of consistency, winning just over a quarter of the 169 races held this year and the last four Acts outright.
Despite giving it everything Oman Air had to settle for third place in Act 8 behind Danish team SAP Extreme Sailing Team, and second on the overall standings.
"It was a great day of sailing but unfortunately we had too big a deficit to make up, and Alinghi were two notches better," said Larson, gracious in defeat. We threw a few things at them and gave them some penalties but they battled back as they do.
"We should have come to this event with Alinghi needing to put a couple of boats between us to win, but instead we came in basically tied and it should never have come to that really. But we can't be too disappointed – any time you're on the podium in this event it's a good thing."
Red Bull Sailing Team dominated the penultimate day in Sydney but couldn't keep the momentum going, slipping off the Act podium but retaining third place overall.
"It was a tough season, this first season on these GC32s," skipper Roman Hagara said, "but it was great to finish on the 2016 podium."
Land Rover BAR Academy recovered from a spectacular capsize on day one and a broken mainsail yesterday to score three podium finishes from eight races today, finishing fifth both in Act 8 and overall.
Kiwi wildcard crew RNZYS Lautrec Racing just pipped Visit Madeira into sixth with home crew Team Australia rounding off the leaderboard in eighth.
Act 8 marked the end of a momentous year for the Extreme Sailing Series as it celebrated its tenth year with a change from the Extreme 40 boat to the super-fast GC32 foiling catamaran.
With it came a new skill for the sailors to master, plus incredible boat speeds of up to 39 knots around the Series' trademark stadium racecourses providing a spectacle for crowds the world over.
"Foiling has really added a new dimension to the sport," said Extreme Sailing Series Event Director Andy Tourell. "I don't think we could have had a better year - it's been absolutely sensational."
The final Act of 2016 also marks the end of Race Director Phil Lawrence's six years at the helm of the Extreme Sailing Series, during which time he has been instrumental in shaping it into the world's premier short-course global racing series.
Lawrence, who is joining the Volvo Ocean Race, bows out after delivering one of the most exhilarating Acts of the 2016 season in Sydney.
The 2017 Extreme Sailing Series will kick off under the expert guidance of new race director John Craig with the season opener in Muscat, Oman, from March 8 to 11.