Resounding victory for Edmond de Rothschild Group in Muscat
The 2011 season has begun on a high for Gitana Team. Winner of the first Grand Prix of the year for the past two seasons, Venice in 2009 and Sète in 2010, the Extreme Edmond de Rothschild Group has once again proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the opening event. Indeed history has repeated itself but this victory in the Muscat Grand Prix was certainly not a mere formality. Pierre Pennec and his three crew – Hervé Cunningham, Thierry Fouchier and Christophe Espagnon – had to fend off stiff competition for five days of competition. Finally, after thirty-two races on the Omani race zone, the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild got the better of some of the world’s best sailors. The crew of Artemis Racing, who made life especially difficult for the men of Gitana Team, took second place, while Roman Hagara and his team complete the event podium.

Leading the way from the very first day of racing, the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group managed to keep their rivals at a safe distance until the last race of the Grand Prix. However, the minute they crossed the finish line of this last race, the four sailors that make up Gitana Team exploded with delight: “What a day! Clearly I’m very happy with the result, though I’m especially proud of the way we won this Grand Prix. We managed to play it so that we were relatively consistent, even though the third day of racing didn’t go quite as well as the others. I’m incredibly lucky to sail with such a crew. I really enjoyed helming Edmond de Rothschild Group, and the breezy sailing on Monday in particular. In the short courses there was a massive amount of pressure and I was a little tenser. I couldn’t afford to put a foot wrong, not with a crew like mine. Hervé, Thierry and Christophe are as strong technically as they are tactically. They have a very good feeling and they are physically powerful. I have a dream team,” said Pierre Pennec in tribute to his crew, before continuing with great emotion: “This victory makes me feel extremely emotional… It’s been ten years since I’ve been entrusted with the helm of a catamaran. Baron and Baroness de Rothschild, along with Gitana’s team manager Cyril Dardashti, have given me an incredible opportunity. They believed in the potential of this crew and it was daring challenge. I cannot thank them enough.”

A loyal member of the crew on the catamaran in the colours of the Edmond de Rothschild Group, a usually reserved Hervé Cunningham, couldn’t conceal his delight this evening after five days of competition where the tension and pressure were constant: “I don’t think the competition necessarily expected our crew to be up at this level of the game, but we race for a family which has a history steeped in sailing and on a boat which has already performed very well over the past two seasons, that the pressure on our shoulders was massive. However, it also came as a great benefit because it pushed us into working very hard prior to this first meeting. The Extreme Sailing Series is an atypical circuit and even though we had confidence in our team and our potential, there was still an unknown element in how long we would need to adapt to Pierre, our new skipper, and to perform well in this highly unique championship. He was fantastic, right on top of his game and competitive from the very first race. We had a tough day on Tuesday and that could have unsettled us but we joined forces, as has been the tradition on this boat since we began racing on this circuit. We talked to each other a lot, without mincing our words and we knew just what to do to adjust our aim the following day. Our weakness related to the start phases and Pierre took on his responsibilities as skipper-helmsman to reverse the trend,” assured the bowman of the boat.

This first Grand Prix of the season was very hotly contested and the calibre of the line-up lived up to expectations. With eight events remaining, the men of Gitana Team know this evening that it will be a complicated season, but the foursome are relishing the challenge ahead: “When we see the intensity there was in this Muscat Grand Prix and knowing there are still eight stages to go, it promises to be a very fine season. We’re going to have to continue working as the learning curves of the crews who are pursuing us are still long. However, that’s exactly what is driving us on and what will make this 2011 circuit so enthralling.”

The Extreme Sailing Series teams will now be heading to Qingdao, China, where racing takes place from 13 to 17 April for the second act.


The crew speak out:
Thierry Fouchier, headsail trimmer: We had to hunt down this victory: the race format is more complicated than last year. There are a lot of boats on the race zone with a fleet of eleven competitors in total and the level has gone up a notch. We knew we had potential but we had to apply it on the water, which isn’t always very easy. We just had to take it one race at a time and above all not give up when we got a poor result. The strength of our crew lies in the trust we have in each other. Pierre relies on us a great deal and we rely on his a lot as ultimately the decision about trajectory is down to him. Aboard the boat, we managed to put in some good moves and some not so good moves, but even in the tricky moments, we managed to remain united and optimistic. We still have a lot of progress to make and we’re going to have to put more work into raising our game as the event goes on. This past week of racing has been a very steep learning curve for us.”

Christophe Espagnon, mainsail trimmer: “I’m obviously happy because, in addition to pulling off a win, the fact that I’m a newcomer to the team enabled me to really get a lot of enjoyment from the experience. Pierre and I have known each other for 20 years but it’s the first time we’d sailed together. We’re friends in life but we were adversaries in the Tornado competition for many years. This understanding, which is based on mutual trust, naturally facilitated my integration in the team. These past five days of racing have been really intense, especially as we went straight from one race to the next in the afternoons. In fact I’d be incapable of saying how many races we’d raced in total. This first place was something that was built on each day. We took one race at a time without focusing on the yo-yoing of the points and the ranking. I think that this was the right way of going about it to ensure we were as confident and calm as possible.”


Ranking for the Muscat Grand Prix on 24 February (after thirty-two races)

  1. Edmond de Rothschild Group (Pierre Pennec) – 253 points
  2. Artemis Racing (Terry Hutchinson) – 243 points
  3. Red Bull Extreme Sailing (Roman Hagara) – 239 points
  4. Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) – 236 points
  5. Luna Rossa (Max Sirena) –   234 points
  6. Alinghi (Tanguy Cariou) – 217 points
  7. The Wave, Muscat (Torvar Mirsky) – 208 points
  8. Oman Air (Sydney Gavignet) – 188 points
  9. Team Extreme (Roland Gaebler) – 140 points
  10. Niceforyou (Alberto Barovier) – 95 points
  11. Team GAC Pindar (Ian Williams) – 62 points


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

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