K-Challenge Team France shows the way in Lagos’ GC32 Worlds
Conditions didn’t look promising for day one of the GC32 World Championship in Lagos, Portugal. While the prevailing conditions here – strong offshore northwesterlies and flat water – have made this Algarve venue a favourite since the GC32 Racing Tour first visited in 2018, today the forecast was for a dying easterly. To get the best from this, the start for the ten flying catamaran teams was brought forward from 1300 to 1000.
Ultimately the weather proved as surprising as the results, thanks to the tenacity of PRO Stuart Childerley and his race team from the local Clube de Vela de Lagos. Despite few expecting more than three races would be completed, the full schedule of five was held across the full range: Two in ultra-light winds with upwind starts, before the entire race course was moved east into stronger conditions where there was another upwind start race followed by two more with reaching starts in winds gusting to 20+ knots and a building sea state.
Just three weeks here, K-Challenge Team France, sailed its first ever GC32 event and finished seventh. Today the French SailGP team looked like a different crew, winning three races.
“I was surprised a bit, but it is cool”, admitted skipper Quentin Delapierre, who represented France at the Tokyo Olympic Games as did fellow crewman Kevin Peponnet. “At the beginning of the day we were hoping to be top three.”
“Today we had everything– light winds, strong winds, choppy waves, etc which was good for adapting our boat handling. That was our first objective today and starting. So we are really happy – it was the perfect start.”
And the difference? Partly their burly, hugely experienced new flight controller Devan Le Bihan and also a few extra days training. Their boat was previously Franck Cammas’ 2016 and 2018 GC32 Racing Tour winner Norauto and with Le Bihan, three of the crew (also Olivier Herledant and Matthieu Vandame) raced her with Cammas. “We made a big effort to improve our level and especially our boat handling, so everything is easier. Now we just have to start well and try to sail good races, but with the high level of this fleet it will not be easy.”
Their performance left them leading this fourth GC32 World Championship by five points over Alinghi Red Bull Racing. The Swiss America’s Cup challenger put in a solid performance winning two races, one monumentally, despite having for this event a fledgling helmsman in 24-year-old Maxime Bachelin.
“We started the racing here quite well”, observed Bachelin. “It wasn’t the best day and it was quite challenging because the wind was changing direction and dropping and increasing and the waves were quite large. Starts were key. One upwind with no gennaker for us and the last reaching start one, we had good speed under the Code Zero. It was a good beginning for us.”
Yves Detrey, who has sailed with Alinghi for the last 24 years, including her three previous America’s Cup campaigns, was impressed with how quickly Bachelin has integrated. “We still have to work together to make it happen, but it was the same 10 years ago with Arnaud [Psarofaghis] – we didn’t win races with him initially. With Maxime we have some good signs of improvement.”
“Everyone here knows how to sail, so to be ahead is all about details – it is complicated to make the boat go fast. It is the same with communication during manoeuvres, but we are getting there and hopefully tomorrow we can improve again.”
Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team was looking her most consistent this season, rounding off the podium today, three points behind their Swiss compatriots and with Team Tilt just two more astern. “It was not bad but he had a fifth and a seventh”, observed Zuerrer. “We made it a bit too complicated in one of the upwinds and on one of the reaching starts. It is close racing and we made good comebacks. Unfortunately no bullets, but we have 15 more races. It is tight racing and more or less everyone can win a race, which is what makes this whole class so exciting.”
Zuerrer also paid tribute to the race committee: “They made the best of the day and did a great job, especially the young lads moving the marks around.”
The Danes on Team Rockwool Racing were jockeying for second overall until they had to retire from the final race with both a broken daggerboard and gooseneck (holding boom to mast). One of the favourites for this event, technical woes may let them down.
Given today’s tough conditions, the owner-drivers have yet to get into the swing of things, with even stand-out favourite, Erik Maris’ Zoulou, having a tough day, despite posting a second in race three. The French team leads Jason Carroll’s Argo by two points in turn three ahead of GC32 Class President Simon Delzoppo’s .film AUS Racing another three back, followed by the newest team, HRM Racing of Poland’s Piotr Harasimowicz.
The GC32 World Championship is supported by the City of Lagos and Tourism Portugal, plus Sopromar, Marina de Lagos and Clube de Vela de Lagos.
Racing will start early again tomorrow with a first warning signal scheduled for 1100 local time.
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Text Credits: GC32 Racing Tour
Photo Credits: GC32 Racing Tour / Sailing Energy