Swiss sailing stars Alinghi snatched the Act 5 lead from arch rivals Oman Air on the penultimate day of the Extreme Sailing Series™ in St Petersburg to set up a thrilling finale.
Crowds lined St Petersburg’s Neva River, along the beach in front of the Peter and Paul Fortress, to watch the action as Alinghi stormed to the top of the leaderboard with an impressive five podium finishes in six races.
Alinghi helmsman Arnaud Psarofaghis was more than happy to capitalise on the misfortunes of Morgan Larson’s Omani-flagged crew, who missed the podium in all but two races as St Petersburg dealt its most challenging day so far.
The sun shone but with it came a light, unpredictable breeze that, coupled with a strong tide, tested the seven international teams as they tried to coax every last bit of speed from their GC32 catamarans.
Alinghi slowly reeled Oman Air in throughout the day, and a runner-up spot in the last race of the day was enough to secure their new place at the top of the table of Act 5 presented by SAP.
“It is great to take the lead from Oman Air on the third day,” Alinghi’s Psarofaghis said. “We sailed really simply today and everything went our way. A few times we got into situations at the top mark but each time everything came together.
“We’re always happy when a few boats can get ahead of Oman Air because that doesn’t happen very often. Everyone has good and bad days, and today was a good day for us and a bad day for Oman Air.
“Tomorrow we will try to do the same as today – get good starts, sail away and find a good lane. It’s the last day and what happens on the water will decide the final result.”
Alinghi were the day’s top performers but not far behind were the Austrian crew of Red Bull Sailing Team, who, in an echo of yesterday, shot out of the blocks as racing got underway.
The team, led by Roman Hagara, won the day’s opening two races and added another two podium finishes to move within striking distance of third-placed SAP Extreme Sailing Team.
Meanwhile Oman Air scored their worst result of the Act in the third race of the day when they were handed a 45-second penalty for obstructing wildcard crew Gazprom Team Russia. They were automatically relegated to the back of the pack, and the punishment ultimately proved too much to come back from.
“It was a tough day for us,” Larson conceded. “We seemed to get ourselves into too many logjams on the race course where we got packed in among the other boats and just watched our competitors sail round us.
“We’ve got some stuff to figure out before tomorrow but it’s another day, and we’re in a great position going into the final. With teams this strong it always comes down to the last race, and we’re going to come out strong.”
Just 20 points – the difference between a handful of good or bad results – now separate first from fourth as Act 5 reaches its climax tomorrow.
Cheers went up from the watching crowds in the fourth race as home crew Gazprom Team Russia blasted across the finish line in first place. The result helped move them within four points of closest rivals Sail Portugal – Visit Madeira, who currently sit in fifth.
Bottom-of-the-table Land Rover BAR Academy started the day on a high after three podium finishes yesterday but struggled to replicate their success in the lighter airs.
“We had a bit of a tough day with a mixed set of results,” skipper Neil Hunter said. “The guys are pretty disappointed given we had such a good day yesterday. We still put in some decent results though and we’re fairly happy with how we’re improving.”
The final day of Act 5 commences at 1400 local time (1100 GMT). Fans following the racing around the world can watch live from 1530 local time (1230 GMT) on the Extreme Sailing Series website.
Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 5, St Petersburg presented by SAP standings after Day 3, 20 races (03.09.16)
– Extreme Media