Indicative of how close and competitive the 52 Super Series fleet will be in 2023, the first week of April saw the majority of the fleet already in Valencia for testing, tuning and training, all underpinned by a major dose of FOMO (fear of missing out).
The search for fractions of a knot here and there continues for some, while others, like the 2022 World and circuit champions Quantum Racing, have an exciting new posse of young blood to bring up to speed before the curtain rises less than three weeks later in Saint Tropez.
As America’s Cup commitments take up more time and energy from here on, Terry Hutchinson will not be leading the defence of Quantum’s double titles this season. Correspondingly Doug DeVos, we hear, will be visiting some of the regattas, observing progress and cheering on ‘Quantum Racing powered by American Magic’ with his usual infectious enthusiasm.
Indeed the average age onboard plummets with the arrival of a new grinder, new strategist, new mid-bow, new driver, but the new tactician – none other than John Kostecki – will make sure youth doesn’t entirely take over the run of the ship.
Harry Melges IV, 22, will steer the boat, Victor Diaz De Leon will be strategist/navigator supporting JK, aspiring Scott Ewing will understudy legendary Piet van Nieuwenhuizen. Sarah Stone will be mid-bow and young Lara Poljsak is retained as a reserve. Undoubtedly one of the most engaging aspects of this coming season is going to be witnessing the progress of the 2022 champions’ new-look team.
Quantum team director Ed Reynolds enthuses, ‘One of the focuses has been to maintain the speed team intact, because that is fundamental. ‘Collectively we are the fastest boat on the racecourse and maintaining that is important. Doug is of course very committed to the Super Series but he is also very committed to diversity, inclusion and creating opportunities for young sailors.’
Reynolds adds, ‘My read is Doug is way more hands-on with the Cup programme this time around; as a result he needs to be sure the TP52 is in good hands. Now he’s confident that stage has been reached he can focus on what they’re building with American Magic.’
Terry Hutchinson will be in Valencia for the Easter training while the coaching continuity continues with James Lyne and sail designer Brett Jones in the coach boat. ‘Harry [Melges] is a great young sailor but he will have to learn to understand how long it takes to accelerate out of the start or manoeuvres,’ says Reynolds. ‘I don’t know where else you can come into a windward mark with ten 52-footers overlapped. The biggest challenge I see, and I see it with all new crews coming in, is making mistakes in critical boat placements.
‘I am excited and cautiously optimistic. Our expectation is to still be on the podium, then win the circuit… I think we have outperformed the fleet by risk management over recent years, that means turning the tenths and ninths into fourths, fifths and sixths.’
Valencia should give the first glimpses of new hardware and other line-up changes. Both Vrolijk designs Platoon and Provezza have new fins for 2023, pursuing what Quantum and Alegre achieved through fin changes last year.
‘These are general updates,’ explains Tobias Kohl of the Vrolijk office, which designed both new fins. ‘There were a lot of discussions at the end of the season after we watched the performance of Quantum’s new appendage package from Artemis.
‘It gets tighter and tighter on the first legs here. The one who can hold the lane best gets the big advantage. But, as we know, look at the start record of Quantum and we have to remember it is not just about appendage size, it is about coming off the line on time with a bit of overspeed and that is really what Quantum seem to do best. So let us see, but these should give a little more grip.’
Kohl continues, ‘There are minor differences between our two new fins, they are the same family but sailors never like to have exactly the same as each other. They should help with manoeuvres, coming out of slower tacks; but as ever when you employ a more forgiving section the question is about the price downwind.
‘It is always the same question. Upwind on your own going bigger is not a gainer. But in the pack and the fleet it gives opportunities. In the high mode situations, when you get a little out of the groove with a smaller package, you need more leeway to accelerate again. And this is a luxury you don’t have in a fleet of this standard.
‘But there have been other updates. The features you see on these boats you don’t see anywhere else; access to control lines, where you can operate them – up and down and in and out for the jib, for example. Nowadays it’s all operable from two or three positions to maximise time on the rail for the trimmers.’
Sled also have a new fin and plan to be first afloat in Valencia, keen to look at different ways to set up the rig following a small rule tweak which allows a further 2mm adjustment to rig height. As class manager Rob Weiland outlines: ‘Till this year the maximum permitted change in rig height from measured Boom Above Sheer height (BAS) between races was 8mm. But with boats now racing with more rake, and requiring larger rake adjustments, some felt 10mm would allow you to achieve optimum trim without having to go for V1 and D1 tweaks as well, which are not that straightforward.
‘The general effect of lowering the rig is of course less rig tension, and this then changes the way the mast bends, but with rake adjustment in the mix it is not as simple as that!’
Sled’s Don Cowie is keen to get out there and see what can be achieved: ‘It will make rig tuning a little different; we will start from scratch as we have a few ideas on how we want to take advantage of the 10mm. Sounds a bit nuts, but a couple of millimetres of extra shims means you can set up your rig quite differently.
‘Meanwhile, keel foils have been stagnant for a while. Then the bulbs changed and more recently there are new fins. Our new keel really is quite different… as usual we very much do our own thing. It is easy to blame the fin if you don’t do well, hence the reason we want to get started now and get really good data of our own.’
Sled also lost tactician Francesco Bruni to the Cup and so Murray Jones slides forward from strategist to tactician and Michele Ivaldi comes onboard as strategist.
Among other interesting personnel changes is the return to active service in the fleet of former Azzurra skipper Guillermo Parada who has joined Tony Langley’s Gladiator team as tactician. With four 52 Super Series titles, won in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019, Parada has an amazing level of knowledge about the class and most especially what it takes to win.
There is also some added depth to this year’s fleet with the new Alpha Plus team from Hong Kong bringing a heady mix of a passionate owner wanting to challenge himself at the highest level, racing with a young and mainly amateur crew. Albeit supported by some solid, experienced grey heads.