Happy Birthday Mister Pennec!
After three days of competition, the top three in the Qingdao Grand Prix are still struggling to take shape. Leigh McMillan’s men have harvested the fruits of their day’s labour and have moved up into pole position, to the detriment of Red Bull, which had been leading since the start of the event. Such a heated exchange testifies to the fragility of the positions on the eve of the final confrontations. Conceding one place in the provisional standing after a mixed day, Edmond de Rothschild Group is still in contact with its adversaries, and could still add China to its list of wins. In order to achieve this, Pierre Pennec and his men will have to really take control, something they showed they were capable of by winning the final race of the afternoon hands down; a present from the crew to their skipper, who today celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday.

The thick fog enveloping Qingdao at daybreak was an ominous sign. Ultimately though, the pea-souper dissipated over the course of the morning and by the start of the first race, at 1300 hours, the conditions on the water guaranteed both spectacle and sport for the Extreme Sailing Series fleet:We were spoilt as regards the weather. Despite fearing the worst late morning, we had another fine day’s sailing. The wind varied between six and eleven knots, with a few slight oscillations in terms of strength and direction on the course; perfect conditions for a thrilling ride”, explained Pierre Pennec.

Within the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group, Hervé Cunningham, the headsail trimmer, is well known for not mincing his words. Back at the dock, he gave us his impressions about this mixed day of sailing: “We were too inconsistent again today. If we want to win some races, we need to very quickly make up the deficits which we’ve pinpointed. The start phases are first on the list because in stadium racing, the results are decided in these opening minutes. You have to be on the right pace and be in the right group from the first minute and a half of the start procedure (note that the Extreme crews have four minutes to position themselves before each race kicks off). If you’re not where you should be within that timeframe, the top spots will be drawn up without you.”

Key to how a race pans out and inevitable if you are to rank among the top boats, the starts are at the core of the strategy in the Extreme Sailing Series. Indeed, the size of the course doesn’t permit any failings from the crew as regards these approach phases. However, all that is a lot easier said than done… Hervé Cunningham explains where the difficulty lies in this exercise: “During the start phases and especially during the reaching (wind on the beam), it’s very hard to get the right tempo in the right place. You have to make a place for yourself and to do that you have to demonstrate a bit of aggressiveness in relation to your rivals. The balance between too much and not enough is hard to strike. When you set off like that in a beam wind, you have to head out with the boat powered up and once you’ve decided to switch things up a gear, going into reverse is impossible and there’s just no way out. It’s make or break! In our OCS today, maybe we were giving Pierre too much information? Indeed, on that particular call, it was me that urged him to power away…”

Evidently a quick scan of the provisional standing shows us that the men of Gitana Team didn’t perform well today. In fact, they’ve dropped a place and now lie in fifth position this evening. However, closer analysis of the situation shows us that Pierre Pennec and his crew are fifteen points shy of the new leading catamaran, The Wave Muscat. That is exactly the same number of points as the toppled leader, Red Bull Sailing Team, lost this Thursday: “It’s been a frustrating day as we know we have the potential to do a lot better, but ultimately, given that tomorrow’s final race scores double points in the Extreme series, fifteen points isn’t a lot”, recalls the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group.

With a day to go till the end of the Grand Prix, there is still everything to play for and victory is still within grasp for the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. Aside from one small detail… Indeed, during the day’s briefing between the race committee and the sailors, it was announced that the fourth and final day of racing was in doubt: like this morning, a thick fog could well thwart the final races due to insufficient visibility on the Qingdao race zone. If this is how things pan out, which clearly nobody wants, the standing for Act 2 could be drawn up according to the final race contested this Thursday. The points for this final race would score double points in this instance.

The team speaks out

A talented windsurfer and a sailor who goes on feeling, Alexandre Guyader has the role of Sports Coach for the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group in this second Grand Prix of the 2012 season. From the team’s support rib, he films and analyses all the races. Between each race, he does a debriefing with Pierre Pennec and his men, so as to point out where they’re going wrong: “This crew doesn’t do things by halves… When they manage to get the timing right at the start, they’re untouchable because they manoeuvre so well and they’re quick. However, all the difficulty of the Extreme Sailing Series lies in this famous start phase and things aren’t so simple because you have to deal with the wind, the positioning and the other eight boats of course. Pierre has to find the right degree of aggressiveness, but it’s far from easy. The OCS penalty (early start) in the fourth race, which I reckon is debatable, caused them to have a few doubts. However, the crew is mentally strong as they’re really tight and this cohesion enabled them to come back to lead the next race. Since the first day of racing here, we’ve identified that this area is where the team’s shortcomings lie. Pierre and his crew are working on it daily and even though tonight’s conceded points seem to contradict this statement, on the water they’ve made a great deal of progress with these start phases. The final adjustments are the hardest and longest, but when you look at the final race of the day, there is plenty to be optimistic about for the next stage. It’s always good to go to bed with this image of victory!” says a smiling Alexandre Guyader.

The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group

Pierre Pennec (Skipper / helmsman),

Jean-Christophe Mourniac (trimmer and mainsail traveller),

Hervé Cunningham (headsail trimmer),

Bernard Labro (Bowman)

Romain Petit (5th man)

Alexandre Guyader (Sports coach)

Standing for the Qingdao Grand Prix after the third day (twenty-two races run)
  1. The Wave Muscat – 139 points
  2. Red Bull Sailing Team - 131 points
  3. GAC Pindar - 129 points
  4. Oman Air – 125 points
  5. Edmond de Rothschild Group - 124 points
  6. Zoulou - 115 points
  7. Alinghi - 93 points
  8. SAP Extreme Sailing Team - 83 points
  9. China Team - 50 points

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