The final showdown of the 2012 Extreme Sailing Series? has begun in Rio de Janeiro under the gaze of the world famous statue of Christ the Redeemer on a race course that is quickly earning itself a reputation as one of the most beautiful the Extreme 40s have ever sailed on.
Alinghi were the undisputed stars of the show on the opening day and two race wins for the Swiss America's Cup winners sees them top of the leaderboard at the end of day one and in a podium position for the first time this year.
Six races were sailed in glamour sailing conditions - 12 knots of breeze with gusts of 15, and a brilliant Brazilian sunshine. A reaching start saw the teams power off the line for a short sprint to the first mark providing the spectators on the cable cars at the top of Sugar Loaf mountain with a real spectacle. Pierre-Yves Jorand, the man in charge of Alinghi in Rio commented on their performance. "We had a good day the first day and were lucky enough to make some big gains in races two and three at the top mark which worked in our favour. We tried to take it easier and sail a smart way - not complicate things, take an easy approach and at the end it paid off".
It wasn't all plain sailing and there was a damage delay after almost every race - the worst of which came after a collision in race five at the first mark between Oman Air and Red Bull Sailing Team with the Austrians careering into the back of the Omani team as they fought for space. Down but not out, both teams made quick fixes on the water to complete the final race of the day (Oman Air to their stern, Red Bull Sailing Team to their bow), but it was not the start either team were hoping for with the Series podium beckoning. Tonight will be a long night of crucial repairs for the shore teams as a despondent Larson explained, "It's the third transom repair for Oman Air this year (Alinghi clipped it in training one time, The Wave, Muscat's in Nice), but this is probably the worst. These guys (shore crew) are experienced at this and by 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning they will have it done. Tomorrow is another day - chin up, keep going. We are still in the hunt."
Both teams will be given a time penalty at the start of tomorrow's first race for failing to avoid the collision.
The teams are understandably looking ahead to Sunday night when the 2012 Series champion will be crowned. Current Series leader Leigh McMillan on The Wave, Muscat is sitting pretty in second place, while surprisingly none of his biggest rivals have managed a top three position after day one. But as seen many times before, the leaderboard could take on a very different shape on the second day, which McMillan is all too aware of, "Today was a solid start. We didn't get off the line well but had good recovery which has been our saving grace this season. So we are in a good position but the main rivals will be back and we will be looking out for them tomorrow."
SAP Extreme Sailing Team, who yesterday officially announced a three year technology partnership with the Series, finished the day on a high with two consecutive race wins, including a spectacular win in race five which saw them finish 400metres ahead of the rest of the fleet on the 4,000 metre course. Co-Skipper Jes Gram-Hansen said after racing, "We had a tough start to the day and found ourselves sailing into trouble on the downwind leg. Every race is a new race, and in the end we pulled it together and are really happy with the wins and hope to stay in contention for the podium. It was about getting clean air today and we were luck to get a break, all the teams struggled at times in the tough conditions."
Brazilian national Olympic legend Torben Grael made his Extreme 40 debut today as the man in charge of wildcard entry Team Brasil and showed his medal winning pedigree leading his team to a second place finish in race four - no mean feat against a fleet that has been locked in irons against each other over the last 11 months of global touring. Erik Maris and his French team ZouLou had their strongest day of the Series, finishing the day in third place, joining Alinghi in a podium position for the first time this year.
Friday will see racing start at 17:00 CET (14:00 local time). Catch all the action on the official event website http://www.extremesailingseries.com
Extreme Sailing Series 2012 Act 8, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil standings after Day 1, 6 races (06.12.12)
Position / Team / Points
1. Alinghi (SUI), Pierre-Yves Jorand 38 points
2. The Wave, Muscat (OMA), Leigh McMillan 38 points
3. ZouLou (FRA), Erik Maris 35 points
4. Oman Air (OMA), Morgan Larson 31 points
5. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT), Roman Hagara 31 points
6. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN), Jes Gram-Hansen 30 points
7. Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA), Pierre Pennec 29 points
8. Team Brasil (BRA), Torben Grael 19 points
9. GAC Pindar (GBR), Andrew Walsh 19 points