The final showdown of the 2011 Extreme Sailing Series has begun in Singapore under the gaze of the iconic Singapore Flyer, the world's largest observation wheel, and the towering downtown city skyline.
The fleet includes the return of the Swiss Team TILT
, headed up by Alex Schneiter, and a new team skippered by match racing supremo Sébastien Col on Team Extreme - the first club
who faced the tougher and more experienced teams on the water today, all eager to commence battle on the opening day of Act 9 on Marina Bay.
It was Roman Hagara's team on Red Bull Extreme Sailing
who were on fire in the first two races before a thunderstorm with monsoon-like rain and lightning which saw racing momentarily suspended.
"We had two really good positions in the first two races then we had to stop because of the thunderstorm,"
said Hagara. "Afterwards it was a little bit cooler and it was better for us. We had some good starts and mark rounding's and didn't make too many mistakes so a perfect day for us, we couldn't do better."
Hagara's team have not graced the Extreme Sailing Series podium since finishing third in the opening round in Muscat, Oman
in February and the podium is beckoning once again, "For sure, it would count a lot for us to be on the podium again. We had some really good races in Nice and were leading after two days but then we had some bad luck when Hans Peter fell off the boat in Nice, so we need some good luck here and, hopefully, this could be the one we win."
Not surprisingly, it was a game of cat and mouse for Luna Rossa
and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild
who are locked in a battle for the overall championship, "We know that in this series anything can happen so we have to keep focused on ourselves and we know that Luna Rossa is going to chase us until the end so it's up to us to stay in front or respond to the challenge so at the end we can be in front, that is our goal,"
said trimmer Thierry Fouchier.
After the five races, Max Sirena's Luna Rossa,
driven by Britain's Paul Campbell-James, is lying in second place with 39 points, two points ahead of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild
. The Brit said, "It's no surprise that they are going to watch us and pay attention to us on every race for the next four days and it's just up to us to stay calm and focused on our speed, on our tactics and not to get in trouble."
Apart from the fierce thunderstorm, the breeze was pretty good although the shifts made the game a little bit harder with some teams suffering more than other. "We've had a pretty tough day, we didn't really read it too well,"
said Emirates Team New Zealand
skipper Dean Barker. "Every time we ended up on the start line it seemed to be in the wrong place and you determine the first beat on the start, and we didn't read it as well as some of the other guys did today."
The crew haven't raced together since Act 2 in Qingdao, China and Barker himself last competed at Act 7 in Nice and the competition has only got tougher in his absence. "It's very tight courses and some very competitive boats,"
said Barker. "There is no question as the season has gone on that every time I come back the fleet seems to have got better, so it's really challenging."
The Kiwi team is lying in fourth place at the end of the first day, ahead of Oman Air skippered Chris Draper who takes the helm for the Singapore event, a highly skilled Extreme 40 helm who also skippered Oman Sail's Masirah to victory in 2009.
Team GAC Pindar
may be out of contention at the top of the overall rankings but Britain's Ian Williams, recently crowned ISAF World Match Race Tour champion, remains upbeat. "It's my first time racing here and we've got an interesting race course with three different shorelines to think about and obviously the weather is a major factor here,
" said Williams. "Singapore is about an individual result for us and getting a good result that we can build on for next year."
Thursday 8 December will see racing start at the usual time of 06:00 GMT (14:00 local time) with media guests on board as 5th men, ahead of the event opening to the general public on Friday through to Sunday.
Extreme Sailing Series Act 9 Final, Singapore standings after 5 races (7.12.11)
Position / Team / Points
1. Red Bull Extreme Sailing
(AUT) Roman Hagara 45 points
2. Luna Rossa
(ITA) Max Sirena 39 points
3. Groupe Edmond de Rothschild
(FRA) Pierre Pennec 37 points
4. Emirates Team New Zealand
(NZL) Dean Barker29 points
5. Oman Air
(OMA) Chris Draper 27 points
6. Team GAC Pindar
(GBR) Ian Williams 22 points
7. The Wave, Muscat
(OMA) Leigh McMillan 22 points
(SUI) Tanguy Cariou 21 points
9. Team TILT
(SUI) Alex Schneiter 18 points
10. Team Extreme - the first club
(FRA) Sébastien Col 15 points