Wilmot superb in light winds as GAC Pindar takes first win of the Extreme season

Australians are supposed to be poor sailors in light airs, but no-one told Nathan Wilmot. As Cardiff Bay glassed out and 11 Extreme 40s struggled to maintain momentum, the 2008 Olympic 470 champion pulled off three excellent starts in a row and built a scoreline of 3,2,1 before the race committee called a halt to proceedings and ran two non-scoring races. The momentum was halted by this delay but GAC Pindar managed to score another second place, before a hard-fought 8th in the last.

Wilmot said yesterday that the key to better performances was better starts, and the key to better starts was having momentum at the gun. Without the experience of the other crews, many of whom have been sailing these boats for years, the crew of GAC Pindar struggled to “pull the trigger” at the right time on day one.

Yesterday they improved their starts and enjoyed one podium finish and three fourth placings. However, with the course close to a traditional windward-leeward today, as opposed to the reaching starts and finishes of Friday and Saturday, Wilmot was able to apply his Olympic skills and leave some of the best multihull sailors in the world in his wake.

In the first race, GAC Pindar was second across the start line, behind Ben Ainslie's JP Morgan BAR, and both boats had good momentum at the boat end of the line. However, The Wave and Red Bull had better pressure on the other side of the course and caught the Australians. Behind the leading four was chaos as the rest of the fleet drifted into each other and boats stalled in pockets of still air. A strong move by Wilmot right on the line was enough to pip double Olympic multihull champion Roman Hagara and take third.

Wilmot nailed the start again in the second race and held a handy lead but was caught at the top mark when Oman Air gained an inside overlap. The margin back to the fleet was enormous and the Australians were able to carry their momentum into the third race of the day.

An excellent start gave Wilmot a big lead, but again boats from the other side were able to carry more pressure. Red Bull, ETNZ and Alinghi all closed the gap and at one cross going upwind, Alinghi was ahead. But Wilmot was sailing much tighter angles downwind and the light blue boat swept across the finish line for their first win of the season, ahead of Red Bull, The Wave and Groupama.

The result meant that Groupama, GAC Pindar and Gazprom Team Russia were all tied on 97 points at the bottom of the table. The Wave had moved to the top, ahead of JP Morgan and Alinghi.

With flags hanging loose, two non-points scoring races were run for spectators and GAC Pindar got their OCS out of the way, finishing in last position in the second of the “fun” starts.

With the wind building nicely to a solid 12-15 knots, two more points-scoring races were possible and the Australians picked up where they left off. Although forced out at the boat end, they were able to build up the left-hand side of the course and sailed a perfect layline to round the top mark third.

Constant pressure on Red Bull coming down the run paid dividends, and an inside overlap at the gate allowed GAC Pindar to put the Austrian boat into their slipstream on the second beat and they raced away to finish second behind Realstone.

A feature of the Extreme Series is that no-one can maintain top three finishes throughout the day, and the Australian bubble burst in the final race. Again forced out at the boat end, this time they were unable to climb out and at one stage were dead last.

On Friday and Saturday in this position they had dropped further behind, but it seemed to be a different team today. Good course management saw them work past three other boats, including the Kiwis, and they picked up a valuable three points for their eighth place finish.

Unfortunately for Australia, Gazprom had a superb race and finished third behind Red Bull and Alinghi.

After a superb day at the office, Wilmot and his weary crew have lifted themselves off the bottom of the table. Sitting ninth of eleven, but only four points behind the Kiwis, they hold a one point lead over Gazprom and are seven points ahead of Groupama.

At the top of the table, Leigh McMillan's The Wave, Muscat had a steady day to be seven points ahead of Alinghi and a solid 14 points clear of JP Morgan BAR.

There is a full day's racing scheduled for tomorrow and strong winds and lashing rain are forecast.

– Roger McMillan in Cardiff

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