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Formula for success – Cardiff

The Extreme Sailing Series™ lived up to its name last week, 18-21 June, as Act 4, Cardiff presented by Land Rover battered the teams with a solid 20 knot breeze over four exhausting days of racing on Cardiff Bay. In conditions that were at times on the edge of control with 30-knot gusts, Race Director Phil Lawrence rolled out 32 high intensity races as Cardiff turned on the breeze, blue skies and beautiful conditions for the eight Extreme 40s.

Using SAP Sailing Analytics at each Act, the teams get the chance to replay the action, study their starts and see the cold hard facts on how they performed. We caught up with British Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas, the on-site public commentator in Cardiff, to delve into the statistics and discover the key to success in Cardiff.

“It’s always interesting to look into the statistics after racing, especially after a big week on the water to figure out exactly where the wins and losses were made. The two stand out teams for me were really Red Bull Sailing Team and The Wave, Muscat,” explained Lucas. Statistics show the two top teams were identically matched on their average distance to start line, speed on race start and rank at first mark throughout the week with The Wave, Muscat taking the Act win closely followed by Red Bull Sailing team just 18 points behind after an outstanding final day gave them the jump on SAP Extreme Sailing Team who finished the Act in third with five race wins and 16 podiums.

With typically eight short sharp races per day, good starts play a key role on the competitive Extreme 40 racecourse; “There was always a fight for the pin end of the line, the breeze was better and so was the angle on the wind to the first mark,” explained Lucas. “Red Bull Sailing Team certainly nailed this on the Sunday in the first three starts. They were consistent and really stood out with their speed to the first mark. Coming off the line fairly even with the fleet you would then see them start to sneak out and hit the mark rounding in front time and time again.” Red Bull Sailing Team was on average the best starters over the week, ranked 3.56 at the first mark compared to the other teams rank of 4.40. On the final day, the Austrian team boosted their average with an average position of 2.00 at the first mark, their expertise off the start line helping them to an impressive 10 race wins over the course of the Act, more then any other team, despite sailing a longer distance then the majority of the fleet – only GAC Pindar sailed further over the four days.

“What was interesting on the final day was for the first three races Red Bull Sailing Team were in control at the pin but as the rest of the fleet started to contest them throughout the day, they were quite happy to move up to third boat from the pin. A bold move but keeping out of trouble they were still hitting the mark rounding first showing their speed wasn’t just on starting position but also from boat set up.”

Clocking an average speed over ground of 13.04 knots Red Bull Sailing Team was the fastest boat on the water closely followed by SAP Extreme Sailing Team on 13.02. The main tools used by SAP Sailing Analytics are GPS modules, installed on each of the eight Extreme 40s and sensors installed on the buoys conveying live wind information. SAP Analytics are able to submit real time information on a boat’s position, boat speed, headings, distance sailed, manoeuvres and mark roundings.

Taking the Act win The Wave, Muscat were the only crew to hold consistency throughout the week finishing with an outstanding 22 podiums out of a possible 32. Keep in mind they missed five races due to damage and the stats are all the more impressive. The Omani team were the only team who never lost rank between the first mark and the race finish – either holding their position off the line, or picking up points as the race went on, picking up on average 9.93 points for the 27 races they completed. Defending their title as Cardiff Champions on home waters Olympic champion and tactician Sarah Ayton had her work cut out on the race track as Lucas explains, “It was interesting that the gains and the losses were all made in the second upwind leg between the gate and the windward mark, this was where we really saw all the place changes and where the tacticians could really make their play.

“A few times the left paid, on the Saturday certainly the left was more powerful, but on Sunday it was a bit more 50/50. As a tactician you would be using the downwind to consistently look ahead to the next upwind to see where the gusts are, it’s a lots of pressure to make that decision and the left didn’t always work, but the advantage was that you did one less manoeuvre than right and obviously tacking in these boats slows you down.”

Another team showing promise, Brits GAC Pindar with new co-skipper Chris Draper on-board came into the week strong with nothing to lose and found themselves in third overall after two days, but struggled to hold on to the podium. “The first two days Chris sailed his own race and ignored the rest of the fleet which worked well, but as soon as the pressure of defending third place came in he started to play the game and when the conditions are that shifty it’s so hard to match race. One boat gets a gust and you don’t and they are just off, trying to protect a lead goes completely out the window because the conditions are just so fickle. It’s almost impossible,” explained Lucas. The British flagged team finished the Act fourth overall, thanks to a combination of good average boat speed, (only SAP Extreme Sailing Team and Red Sailing Team were quicker) and 13 top three finishes. If the team can minimise their manoeuvres – they did more then any other team over the four days – and sail a smarter course, the podium is surely well within the grasp of this young outfit.

“I was just so shocked at how short and intense the courses are, so much of the racing is in the boat handling and Cardiff really put this to the test. A couple of the teams although posting good results couldn’t find the consistency they needed. A prime example was Lino Sonego Team Italia, leading the fleet around the course but a moment’s hesitation or problem with the gennaker and you’re at the back. Boat handling is absolutely imperative one error and you’re out.”

Now at the halfway mark of the eight Act global tour, the Series will heads to Hamburg, Germany for the first time, from the 23-26 July, as the race for Series honours is on.

SAP Sailing Analytics:

Fastest average boat: Red Bull Sailing Team, 13.04 knots

Fastest on race start: Team Turx powered by Kaya Ropes, 8.24 knots

Fastest upwind: Oman Air, 12.61 knots

Fastest downwind: Oman Air, 12.75 knots

Most race wins: Red Bull Sailing Team, 10 race wins

Most podium positions: SAP Extreme Sailing Team (excluding The Wave, Muscat’s five RDG podiums)

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