Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Dragon sailor is crowned Grand Champion at Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta

* Robert Alpe of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, with ‘Indulgence’ wins a new A4 Avant 1.8 TFSI multitronic
* The 8.9 metre Dragon first won her sailing division, then won Audi Final Challenge event to win the car as major prize

Crews prepare for the Audi Final Challenge. Image copyright Andrea Francolini/Audi.

by Di Pearson

The theme of this year’s Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta was undoubtedly “small is fast”, after two smaller yachts took the lead of the Audi IRC Australian Championship away from the better known big boats, and then last night the owner/skipper of an 8.9 metre (29.2ft) International Dragon keelboat was victorious in the Audi Final Challenge after first winning his division, and then the Audi Final Challenge drive event.

For his efforts, Robert Alpe, a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron drove away in a brand new Audi A4 Avant 1.8 TFSI multitronic last night.

Mr Alpe, from the northern suburbs, was astounded when Anna Burgdorf, Audi’s General Manager Corporate Communications, announced his name at the official prize giving held last night at Middle Harbour Yacht Club, host of the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta.

“We encourage yachts of all sizes to enter the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta,” Ms Burgdorf said.

“Our goal is to increase the number of competitors, and the level of competition every year. It’s good to see that the smaller yachts like the three-person Dragon have an equal chance at winning as the better known big boats.”

Robert Alpe with his new A4 Avant 1.8 TFSI multi. Image copyright Andrea Francolini/Audi.

Alpe, who sailed Indulgence to a win in the Dragon One-Design division, had no idea he had won until the official announcement.

“I can’t wipe the grin off my face,” said an overjoyed Robert Alpe who has sailed his five year-old Dragon at the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta every year since its inception in 2006.

“The car’s gorgeous. I was asked over the weekend what colour I’d like if I won the A4 Avant. I replied ‘black‘, which is great because that’s the colour I won,” he exclaimed.

When handed the keys to his new car, Alpe said he was “blown away. I enter the Regatta each year to sail, then we won our division. Then we won the car – it wasn’t the icing – it was a whole new cake!

Having already owned an Audi, Alpe said he was under “strict instructions from my wife we were to keep the new car and share it.”

He went on to thank Audi: “This is not gratuitous; I’m a firm believer in organisations like Audi that get behind sailing 100 percent and stay for the long term – everyone wins – so I thank them.“

Will he be back to sail at the Regatta next year? “Absolutely. This is a great weekend’s sailing, especially this year, we had great conditions,“ said Alpe who admitted his wife Karen named the yacht Indulgence after he purchased it out of Europe and brought it to Australia.

There were 25 divisions competing at the Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta on the weekend. To determine the overall Grand Champion of the Regatta, and the winner of the major prize car, each of the 25 winning yachts sent two crew members to compete in the Audi Final Challenge, held at Eastern Creek International Raceway on Monday 8 March 2010.

Under the guidance of Audi motorsport ambassador Brad Jones, who kept drive times a secret, each boat’s representative was given a test run in the new Audi TT RS sports coupe, then it was the ‘real deal’ as they took to the race track for some serious precision driving, amid much cheering and encouragement from the sidelines. A test of skill and consistency was required to win the Final Challenge event.

Alpe was the lone driver for his well-named boat Indulgence, which due to its size, is crewed by just two others who could not make it to the Final Challenge due to work commitments. This meant Alpe only had one chance, not two, to win the car.

Being down a driver and therefore down two drives, did not hinder the yachtsman though, who came up with 18.94 seconds on his first slalom drive and 18.90 seconds on his second, meaning a difference of just 0.04 seconds between the two drives – and that is what the Audi Final Challenge was all about – precision and consistency over speed.

The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron member’s nearest rival was Richard Hall, a crew member from the Division 1 winner, Loki, owned and skippered by Stephen Ainsworth.

In a first for the Championship series, major sponsor, Audi, has partnered with ONE in 2010 and the highlights from each regatta will be shown nationally following each round of the series.

Highlights from Round 2 of the Audi IRC Australian Championship can be viewed on March 24 at 9.00pm on ONE in Australia.

Audi IRC Australian Championship 2010

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