While three of the crews have experience of winning the highly coveted title at least once, so close is racing now on the world’s leading grand prix monohull circuit that any one of the teams could rightly lay claim to the 2022 Rolex TP52 World Championship title.
Doug DeVos’ Quantum Racing team have won on both recent occasions when the TP52 last raced at the Portuguese racing mecca, in 2019 and in 2018 when they were crowned Rolex TP52 World Champions. And the US flagged team led by Terry Hutchinson come to Portugal fresh from winning the first regatta of the season, sailed last month in Baiona, Galicia.
They might indeed seem to win the world title in alternating years, in 2014, 2016, 2018 (there were no worlds in 2020) and so the sequence favours them, and they have won three out of the four regattas sailed in Cascais in the ten year history of the 52 Super Series, but as ever Quantum Racing are taking nothing for granted.
But in so saying for a team which is hard wired to be risk averse, knowing that chipping away to achieve strings of top three/top four race results is what wins the season long championship, that is not necessarily a recipe for winning world titles.
Team Director Ed Reynolds notes,
“We would really like to win the worlds. It is one of the very top trophies you can win in the world of sailing is the Rolex TP52 World Championship. But that is a little more difficult for us as it is very out of nature for us. We love winning regattas but on the 52 Super Series for us it is always about winning the season. We have to change our strategy a little bit because we don’t want to get a second or a third at the worlds. We want to win. It is the only regatta where we have to take a few more risks, we have to be a bit more aggressive, but it is really exciting. It is one of the very top trophies you can win in the world of sailing is the Rolex TP52 World Championship.”
The defending title holders are Takashi Okura’s Sled who triumphed by the narrowest of margins when the 2021 Rolex TP52 World Championships in Palma last November went to the wire on the last day. Talismanic owner Mr Okura could not attend last year’s regattas and has given the team free rein to push as hard and risk as much as it takes to retain the title with him in the driving seat.
“Mr Okura wants to do well in the worlds, he is keen for us to push as hard as we can at the worlds and not worry about the season too much. He wants to win the world championships. For us the worlds is one to push for. The kudos for winning the Rolex TP52 World Championships has probably a bit more punch to it than winning the season. We will go out there looking for the win.”
Enthuses Don Cowie the Sled mainsheet trimmer and project manager.
Defending 2021 circuit champions Sled had a modest opening to their 2022 season in Baiona as Cowie acknowledges,
“You need to be fast in all conditions and sail well in all conditions. We made a few pretty unforced errors in Baiona. We have a few little changes in the crew. So for example we were comfortably second in the last race and we trawled the kite at the last mark and that is so uncharacteristic of the Sled programme. And so we need to improve our communication. When you are hurtling downwind you must have clear communication and we are comfortable sailing in the big breeze. But every team has picked the ante up. I think that every team has the ability to win the event and I think that every team in their own mind knows they can win the event.”
In the five year history of the Rolex TP52 World Championship only one team has won twice, German owner Harm Müller Spreer’s Platoon team led by John Kostecki. The talented Hamburg based owner-driver is a Rolex timepiece collector who jokes that 2017 and 2019 world titles, gained on the flat waters of the Mediterranean, have been his most expensive Rolexes to date. But for the team which just finished second to Quantum Racing in Galicia in late May, the big winds and waves have of Cascais have never suited their Vrolijk design which is best in 10-12 knots and marginal downwind conditions.
Olympic gold medallist and America’s Cup winner Jordi Calafat is their strategist,
“Historically Cascais has never been our best conditions but we will give it everything and fight hard to be in the top three. We know how important it is to win the worlds. If you win the worlds and don’t win the circuit title it is still a good season. Our boats are best in 10-12kts and strong in marginal surfing conditions that would be ideal. But we all know how Cascais is, and it does not normally happen, but we can hope. I think we have been sailing the boat well in the breeze, our manoeuvres are good and we get the boat round the course well, downwind we are especially good and Harm is very, very good on the helm. When he gets into these big conditions he is really handy. We feel comfortable in the big breeze and don’t usually make many mistakes.”
While these three teams are all past or current Rolex TP52 World Champions perhaps the crew outside of that trio with the strongest claim to the worlds crown is South Africa’s Phoenix team led by Tom Slingsby. Mistakes on one day in the middle of the regatta cost them their chance of winning in Baiona and seven months on they are still smarting from a kite ripping in half which lost them their challenge for the Rolex TP52 World Championship title in Mallorca.
Returning to a venue, Cascais, where he won his first Laser world title in 2007, Slingsby is clear about what they need to achieve on board Phoenix,
“For Phoenix we really need to be mistake free, pick the right side and have great speed. I’m very confident in our crew work and speed in most conditions. We haven’t done much sailing in windy conditions so hopefully our speed is good. We were very close to winning last year but let it slip through our fingers so we are hoping to have a good shot in Cascais.”
The Rolex TP52 World Championships also count as the second of the five regattas which comprise the 2022 52 Super Series.