GC 32 Class Championship 2017, Oman
With the inaugural GC32 Championship now underway, there are just six days until the Extreme Sailing Series™ returns for 2017 with Act 1, Muscat – the first stop on an eight-Act global tour that will visit three continents over 10 months.
Eight teams, representing seven nations, with 40 of the world’s finest sailors on board, will compete on the waters in front of the Al Mouj Golf course, as they start their season-long campaigns to claim the coveted Series title, currently held by Swiss team Alinghi.
The crews will come fresh from competing in the inaugural GC32 Championship, which has seen the one-design fleets from the Extreme Sailing Series and GC32 Racing Tour unite to form a record 11-strong fleet of GC32s.
John Craig, who will make his debut as Race Director of the Extreme Sailing Series in Muscat, predicts this will mean an even hotter standard of racing in the first Act of the Extreme Sailing Series than normal.
“A lot of the teams have been here in Muscat for a few weeks so they have done a lot of sailing and the end result is that the level of competition should be even higher than usual. The GC32 Championship is a week of preparation that they’ve never had before,” he said.
Craig expects to see some tricky light-wind conditions for Act 1: “Muscat is an interesting venue in that the typical sea breeze direction means that it is lighter the closer you get to the shore, so we are hoping we’ll get a couple of fronts coming through that will bring us some breeze.
“We’ll do as much Stadium Racing as we can – as that is our sporting DNA – but we also have a couple of long distance coastal races planned which will give the teams a bit more breeze,” Craig added.
As always, however, the weather can be unpredictable and so far the GC32 Championship has seen some good winds and plenty of foiling from the fleet of super-fast catamarans.
The Act sees the return of five of last season’s teams; Alinghi, Land Rover BAR Academy, Oman Air, Red Bull Sailing Team and SAP Extreme Sailing Team, alongside some new additions in the form of Kiwi-flagged Tawera Racing and wildcards Team ENGIE and Team Tilt.
The 2016 season opener in Muscat saw the home team, Oman Air, walk away with the Act win, giving match racing ace Phil Robertson, who takes over from Morgan Larson as skipper this season, something to aim for: “I have some massive boots to fill with Morgan Larson leaving, and me jumping in, so it’s not an easy task. The Oman Air team has got a huge amount of experience and a big playbook, so it’s just a case of me getting up to speed and bringing my style to that to make it a successful year,” said Robertson, who skippered wildcard team Gazprom Team Russia last season.
“The Extreme Sailing Series is its own little beast and you’ve got to learn how to sail and change all your strategies to suit this style of racing. We are being realistic at the moment and know that it’s not going to be easy,” added Robertson.
Co-skipper of the 2016 Extreme Sailing Series-winning team Alinghi, Arnaud Psarofaghis, is ready to go again but he is not taking anything for granted: “Last year was really good but it has passed now. This year is a new year and we must focus on that. Now everyone is stronger and there are also some new faces so we need to start again. But I am really looking forward to next week and getting going,” he said.
The action is scheduled to get underway at 13:00 local time (UTC+4) on Wednesday 8 March, with open water racing in front of the stunning backdrop of Muscat’s Old Town, known as Muttrah.
Fans can follow the action via the official social media platforms and website and can watch racing live on the official Facebook and YouTube channels from 14:00-17:30 (UTC+4) Friday 10 March and 13:30-17:00 (UTC+4) Saturday 11 March.