Sunday, 22 May 2011
by Kate Jennings
A month and a half after the Oman Grand Prix, which saw the men of Edmond de Rothschild Group brilliantly dominate the inaugural event of the 2011 season, the eleven Extreme Sailing Series crews are back together in China for the second act of the circuit. It’s in Qingdao, a city in the Shandong province, on the shores of the Yellow Sea to the SE of Beijing, that racing will start tomorrow, Wednesday 13 April. Pierre Pennec’s men, who opened the scoring in Oman, will be under close scrutiny from their adversaries during the five days of racing involved in the Chinese Grand Prix. However, the sailors of Gitana Team aren’t afraid of pressure and are keen for battle to commence.
The radiant smiles of Pierre Pennec’s men at the end of the Oman Grand Prix aren’t so far away... however, the four racers aren’t the type to rest on their laurels and the crew quickly got back down to work with their minds focused on the second of the season’s meetings. At the end of March, they got together for a few days of studious training offshore of Lorient, aboard an Extreme 40 hired for the occasion. The skipper of the 40 foot Gitana explained the benefits of such a working session: “It was really very important to be able to sail together on the craft before heading out to China, especially as some of us race on other types of boats between each event so you have to get your bearings again! During these four days, we were able to get back into the swing of things with the Extreme 40, familiarise ourselves with the sensations again and sail in some breezy conditions (steady wind), the likes of which we’ve seldom encountered thus far, and that got rid of any apprehension we had about such conditions. Our discussions and our working sessions mainly focused on boat speed according to the chosen conditions and situations, performing manœuvres and selecting the boat’s trim.”
Christophe Espagnon, from the Olympic Games to the Extreme Sailing Series
For several years, Qingdao has been considered to be ‘the’ Chinese sailing city, a reputation it owes to the fact that its waters played host to the sailing events during the Beijing Olympic Games. Christophe Espagnon, who fulfils the role of mainsail trimmer and advises Pierre Pennec in the tactics for the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, is familiar with the Chinese race zone. Representing France in the Tornado during the Olympic Games 2008, the native of La Rochelle travelled to the site five times for training sessions which lasted over three weeks.
“I’m pretty happy to be back in Qingdao. The Extreme 40s are moored in the Olympic port and that naturally brings back a lot of memories for me. It’s obvious that, on a personal level, I’ve come here with less pressure on my shoulders than during my last event in the Games. However, as a group we have objectives and a great desire to regain the same sensations and even the same results as we had during the Muscat Grand Prix,” admitted Christophe. “After several training sessions here in the Tornado and a preparation which was specific to the characteristics of this race site, I think I can say that I have a sound knowledge of the Qingdao race zone. However, I’ve never come here in April before. With the Olympic Games being held in the summer, our main focus at the time was on that period. As such there will be an element of discovery… I’m not the only one who is familiar with Qingdao though...” Indeed, among the sailors racing on the Extreme 40 circuit this year, we have fellow Tornado specialists, who have also represented their countries during the Olympic Games in China. These include Roman Hagara, skipper of Red Bull and double gold medallist, as well as Sebbe Godfroid and Glenn Ashby, who respectively sail with Team Extreme and Emirates Team New Zealand.
Arriving in China at the end of last week, the crew have been able to acclimatise to conditions on site and above all erase the fatigue of the six hour time difference separating France and Qingdao. In line with the regulations for the Extreme Sailing Series, Pierre, Hervé, Thierry and Christophe have been getting in some practice on the race zone since yesterday, which amounts to a total of two days to get their bearings before things start to “get serious”. Indeed they are very much aware that it’s not going to be easy in China. Already, in Oman, the level proved to be extremely similar and it was necessary to wait until the last race on the last day before it was possible to decide between the top three boats. We can wager that their adversaries will also have made the most of the few weeks’ break between the two events to train and further raise their game. As such the races promise to be closely contested, which perfectly suits the temperament of the sailors on Edmond de Rothschild Group.
Ranking for the Extreme Sailing Series 2011 after the Muscat Grand Prix
1. Edmond de Rothschild Group (FRA) – 11 points
2. Artemis Racing (SWE) – 10 points
3. Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT) – 9 points
4. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ) – 8 points
5. Luna Rossa (ITA) – 7 points
6. Alinghi (SUI) – 6 points
7. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) – 5 points
8. Oman Air (OMA) – 4 points
9. Team Extreme (EUR) – 3 points
10. Niceforyou (ITA) – 2 points
11. Team GAC Pindar (GBR) – 1 point
The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group
Pierre Pennec - Helmsman, skipper
Christophe Espagnon – Mainsail trimmer, tactics
Thierry Fouchier – Headsail trimmer
Hervé Cunningham - Bowman
Extreme Sailing Series