The conditions were complicated today in Naples for the start of the AC World Series: the thermal breeze, which was very variable in strength and direction created a lot of worries for the skippers. The crew of Energy Team achieved a fine performance from the match race quarter final, even if they lost out to Ben Ainslie. In the two fleet races that followed, Energy Team finished seventh and then third. So a rather uneven day… but it’s always good to get up there on the podium.
Match Race / Quarter final. Energy Team Vs JP Morgan Bar
A difficult task for the match race quarter final. Early this afternoon, Energy Team was up against J.P Morgan Bar, skippered by the towering “Big Ben”, in other words the Olympic champion Ben Ainslie. Against all expectations, the French came out on top in the pre-start phase. Yann Guichard manoeuvred the boat down to the millimetre and managed to get priority: just as in the racing manuals, he forced JP Morgan right to the end of the line, meaning they got extremely close to the committee boat. Spectacular and magnificent. Energy Team therefore got a good advantage at the start, but on the third leg on the starboard tack, with each boat on either side of the race course, J.P Morgan Bar took advantage of a wind shift and got ahead… It was then all to play for, and on several occasions the boats came very close to each other speeding along at almost 20 knots and very often up on one hull. But Energy Team had to bear away and the English rounded the third mark with a lead of 9 seconds. At the fourth mark in this very short duel, which just lasted ten minutes, it was all over: JP Morgan went on to win. Ben Ainslie managed to grab the only opportunity to come his way and luck was on his side. He won this first quarter final by 15 seconds. Energy Team could rightly feel disappointed, but have no reason to reproach themselves: the French were right up there with their rivals.
Fleet Race 1:
In the middle of the line, Energy Team got off to a good start with the first group along with the overall favourites, Oracle, Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis. The second leg was unfortunately not very favourable for the French. They were very unlucky in choosing their mark with the wind dropping off and found themselves at the rear of the fleet. At the windward buoy (mark 3), watched by thousands of local spectators in Naples, Oracle was in front ahead of Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Piranha… but the American AC45 got a penalty for going outside the boundary. Dean Barker could not have hoped for more and grabbed the lead enabling the Kiwis to be first to round the fourth mark. Energy Team struggled to get away from last place… and managed to do just that in a battle, overtaking China Team and HS Racing. At the end of this first fleet race in Naples after 21 minutes of racing, Dean Barker and the New Zealanders grabbed victory ahead of the Americans on Oracle and the English on JP Morgan Bar, who took third place. Energy Team had to make do with finishing seventh.
Fleet Race 2:
The thermal breeze, which was very unstable and disturbed by local effects, strengthened a notch for this second fleet race… before dropping off again. There are places out on the race course, where there is literally no wind and others where the wind funnels through, making it all the more complicated for the skippers to make the right choices.
Energy Team got off to an excellent start, while Artemis and China Team crossed the line too soon. Yann Guichard moved into the middle and played it very well: 4th, then third behind Ben Ainslie’s and Chris Draper’s AC45. More importantly, these three widened the gap ahead of the pack. Only Emirates Team New Zealand, winner of the day’s first race, remained a threat and a very serious one at that. At the third mark, Energy Team rounded in third place ahead of Dean Barker’s Kiwis. At the fourth mark, the French managed to ward off an attack from Emirates Team New Zealand and the three frontrunners, Ben Ainslie, Chris Draper and Yann Guichard would remain in that order. The wind dropped right off at times and in certain places, which gave a few worrying moments to the Energy Team supporters, with the French AC45 remaining under threat from the New Zealand boat. They had to give it their all… but without panicking, Yann Guichard and his men managed to remain ahead and therefore achieve their first podium place, which was fully deserved on this opening day.
Yann Guichard’s reaction: “We just weren’t lucky in the Match Race against Ben Ainslie, after getting off to such a great start. We chose the wrong side of the race course, which meant we lost our advantage and simply couldn’t catch Ben again. In the fleet races, we had some good starts, but after a poor gybe, we got overtaken in the first fleet race. Fortunately, we saved our honour in Race 2 with some good sailing and making it up to third place and managing to keep that position right up to the finish in spite of the pressure from Dean Barker (Team New Zealand). Overall, we can see that what we thought would happen, has happened. The teams that trained throughout the winter put in a great performance.”