With all of the pressure and excitement of opening day of the 2015 52 SUPER SERIES applied it was Niklas Zennström’s Rán crew on their new, recently launched Vrolijk design which rose best to the multiple challenges, posting an impressively consistent second and first to lead Ford Vignale Valencia Sailing Week.
From the biggest and most competitive 52 SUPER SERIES fleet yet assembled, including nine new boats all making their major championship debut and three high level teams new to the circuit, the potent combination of the cool Swedish owner-driver, multi-talented Californian Morgan Larson on tactics and Adam Beashel as strategist proved telling. Their positioning on the race track was consistently strong, their crew work polished to ensure they finish the first, high octane day with a lead of a single point over circuit newcomers Alegre.
Andy Soriano’s British flagged crew made a dream start to their TP52 campaign when they emerged as clear winners of the first windward-leeward contest. Ergin Imre’s brand new Provezza finished second to Rán in the second heat. Added to a modest, just above mid-fleet opening race fifth the Turkish flagged team lie third, four points up on a gaggle of three crews all sharing 11pts. And so two of the top four teams after the first pair of races are newcomers to the 52 SUPER SERIES. Defending champions Quantum Racing lie fifth, sharing the same points tally as Azzurra.
Among this high calibre fleet there are many sailors who spent what to them must seem life half of a lifetime training and racing off Valencia’s Malvarrosa beach during the 32nd America’s Cup years. There is no shortage of in depth ‘local knowledge’ on almost all of the very top TP52s. But it was John Kostecki – who sailed here with BMW Oracle – and Kiwi Kelvin Harrap who was with Emirates Team New Zealand who called the first beat of the first race best, earning the preferred left side of the course in the 11-13kts NE’ly breeze. Their start, towards the pin end of the line, was sharp and owner-driver Soriano had Alegre locked into a good groove early, not easy in the choppy, bumpy conditions. They lead around the windward mark with clear daylight between them and second and third placed Rán and Platoon. That was the order across the finish, the first winning gun of the year going to Alegre.
In third Harm Müller-Spreer would be content to open with a third in his first race back in the class since 2008, but they were then locked out of the start of the second race, caught early at the committee boat end of the line.
Just before the second race start a few spits and spots of rain was maybe a signal that the breeze was becoming more unsettled and changeable. Early in the first windward leg the left looked to be strong again, Quantum Racing – with 23 year old TP52 debutant Dalton DeVos on the helm – were nicely positioned with good speed, working the left flank. But during the top third of the beat the right side came in strong with a noticeable shift. Rán was well placed to benefit, Provezza bouncing back from a less than perfect start to round second – chasing Zennström’s stern hard downwind, while Quantum Racing and Sled, in particular, suddenly found themselves fighting near the back of the pack.
Between the new boats there is no discernible speed difference. The top five represent designers, in order, Vrolijk, Botin, Vrolijk, Vrolijk, Botin. But Zennström cautioned:
“It’s always a challenge when you have a new design and you don’t know how the boat is going to go. I think we’re quite happy with the boat but there is so little in it that I think that nobody is going to win this regatta or the 52 SUPER SERIES this year just because they have the quicker boat. It is going to be who has the best team and who sails the best.”