Pierre Pennec and his men keep a cool head
Already four days have passed since the eleven crews competing in the Muscat Grand Prix began doing battle on the fabulous race zone at The Wave Muscat. Benefiting from some pleasant weather conditions and a gentle breeze of around ten knots, the organisers relentlessly linked together one race after another so that a total of eight races could be run today! Not very satisfied with their sailing yesterday, Pierre Pennec and his three crew, Thierry Fouchier, Hervé Cunningham and Christophe Espagnon, were keen to get things back on an even keel from the outset of racing today. By winning the third race of the afternoon and putting up a more consistent performance than yesterday and in relation to the others, the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group have managed to hold onto the lead of the provisional ranking. It’s a position much envied by a good number of their adversaries this evening, with one day to go until the end of the first act of the 2011 season.

“It’s been a really positive day for us as we’ve had pretty much the same wind conditions as yesterday, but we managed to get the boat making better headway. That enabled us to get a few more points between ourselves and our direct rivals, but given the number of races that remain tomorrow, it’s not yet enough. The level is so similar and the boats are so close that nobody is safe this evening!” explained Pierre Pennec. The waltz of positions in the ranking and the arrival of Red Bull and the New Zealand team in the top four, when they were respectively in 5th and 7th place last night, supports the view of the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group.

This afternoon’s racing was packed with tension. After four days of competition, the sailors’ bodies are beginning to show a few signs of weakness, though it’s the nervous rather than the physical fatigue that is really taking its toll. Evidence of this lies in the numerous penalties awarded on the Omani race zone today, with the crews getting worked up as they battle even more fiercely for precious points as the Grand Prix draws closer to its conclusion. “One of the keys to success is to find the right balance between aggressiveness and caution. Indeed, if we’re overly cautious in the start phases, we fall behind, but by the same token, if we are too aggressive, there’s always the risk that we will be awarded a penalty. Today we managed to find the right balance for the bulk of the afternoon, though perhaps we weren’t quite so successful in the last two races” admitted Thierry Fouchier on his return to The Wave Muscat Marina, before casting his mind forward to the day that awaits them tomorrow: “We’re making mistakes aboard the boat but the others are making them too and, for now, they’re making more than us as we’re still leading the ranking with a day to go until the end of the Grand Prix. Tomorrow, more than ever, we’re going to have to put up a solid performance and not let the slightest point needlessly slip from our grasp. The competition is very tight and it will be like that until the end. We’d certainly prefer to win the Grand Prix before the last race, which scores double points, but the fleet is very dense and I think we’re going to have to battle all the way to the last race. That’s also part of the beauty of the Extreme Sailing Series too though.”

Tomorrow, on the first day of the Omani week-end, the crowds are expected to come out in force to witness the final nautical jousting of this Muscat Grand Prix. The first race will begin shortly after 1400 hours (local time, which equates to 1000 hours GMT).

The crew speak out 
Thierry Fouchier, headsail trimmer: On days when eight races are run, especially when our arms have already had to cope with three successive days of competition, our bodies really feel the pressure. However, we prepared hard in Mussanah, before coming out here, and each of us have been doing our own physical preparation so as we can take the pace on afternoons such as these. You also have to know how to pace yourself as you need some energy left for the final day. For the past 48 hours we haven’t had full-on conditions on the water, so I’d say that the fatigue may well be related more to nerves than physical. This year, there are eleven boats on the start line and it’s even harder than it was before to carve out a place for yourself. When all of us cross tacks at the marks it’s pretty fraught as there’s very little between one place and the next.
Our rivals, notably Artemis and Team New Zealand, are learning quickly but knowing a lot about their level of professionalism, having rubbed shoulders with them in the Cup, I’m not at all surprised to see them up with us this evening. This is especially true given that there approach is a little different to ours, with some very competent coaches, who help them learn the race zone very quickly and observe the competition for them.”

Cyril Ducrot, technical manager: Marie and I work together with each of us making use of the other’s little specialities. We’re working that way for the 2nd year running and we’re beginning to acquire the reflexes which enable us to go a little further with our work preparing the boat. On a typical day, we spend the morning working on the list communicated to us by the crew on their return from sailing. However, I have to say that since our arrival in Muscat, they’ve been particularly careful and the jobs’ list only takes up a couple of lines. We also have a few jobs which are repeated each day, namely cleaning the hull beneath the water and doing a complete check of the appendages (rudders and daggerboards). In the afternoon I’m at the crew’s disposal on Gitana’s support rib, with water and a few biscuits, but above all the emergency equipment for minor repairs which can be effected on the water between races. I also film the races so that the crew can debrief each evening by focusing on the image and the real facts. When you spend long weeks preparing the boat, seeing her in such a good position is naturally a great source of satisfaction and motivation.”


Provisional ranking for the Muscat Grand Prix on 23 February (after 25 races)

  1. Edmond de Rothschild Group– 194 points
  2. Artemis Racing – 187 points
  3. Red Bull Extreme Sailing – 183 points
  4. Emirates Team New Zealand – 176 points
  5. The Wave, Muscat – 165 points
  6. Luna Rossa – 163 points
  7. Alinghi – 161points
  8. Oman Air – 143points
  9. Team Extreme – 96 points
  10. Niceforyou – 75 points
  11. Team GAC Pindar – 44 points
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