Punishing light winds and beating Arabian sun called for nerves of steel on the penultimate day's racing of the Extreme Sailing Series in Muscat.
Overnight leaders Alinghi managed to hold onto pole position and withstand the onslaught of pressure from the rest of the pack, but it couldn't be closer at the top, with just 14 points between the top five boats - less than the difference of the final double point's race.
SAP Extreme Sailing Team did well to put themselves back in the game, heading into the final showdown in second place, but the team of the day was Ben Ainslie's J.P. Morgan BAR, with three race wins for the Brits, who are now threatening the podium hard.
Alinghi marked their intent from the first start gun with a race win, but even the light wind specialists struggled for consistency in breeze of around five knots, and it looked like the tricky course may have finally got the better of the Swiss America's Cup winners with a last place in race 16.
Race 19 and the team turned it around, hitting the reset button and clawing back some valuable points, as helm Morgan Larson explained, "Things can come and go out there, you try and stick to the same objective and sometimes the wind doesn't go your way or you get stuck in a tough spot. I think a lot of the other competitors that came out today had already figured it out, so we got caught up a little bit. You have to have the best day tomorrow, you can't hold back."
SAP Extreme Sailing Team played a steady game, keeping their heads cools and their concentration level, slowly chipping away at the points with consistent results throughout the day. A win in the final race elevated the team to second place, and their elated co-skipper and tactician Rasmus Kostner was thrilled with the comeback, "That was really close racing all day. We got some good starts, we got some good positions on the left hand side of the course - we are super happy. Four points (between them and Alinghi) is nothing, you can win or lose that in one race so it's all on tomorrow. We just need to push on, get everything right - there's no room for mistakes on a course like this."
The Kiwis on Emirates Team New Zealand, who were the fastest off the startline on the penultimate day according to the SAP analytics, are breathing down the necks of the Danish, just one point behind, but the legendary America's Cup skipper Dean Barker knows the team have more to give, "It didn't feel like a good day for us to be honest. I think we made a couple of silly mistakes. The day could have gone a lot better, and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day. Whoever sails reasonably smartly tomorrow will have a good chance of being successful. You just battle for every point in every race."
Four times Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie and his team on J.P. Morgan BAR hit accelerate, and really applied the pressure, coming together as a team with all the right moves to take three race wins.
The British team upgraded their overnight position from sixth to fourth, and their tactician and Olympic champion Paul 'Goodie' Goodison is ready for the final battle, "I'm pretty surprised we're as close to the leaders as we are, but it's really good. It means there's still a lot to play for and if we keep improving like we have done the last three days we should be doing alright."
Reflecting on the day, he continued, "I think we had a good set plan before the start. We wanted to be the first boat out on port heading into what we thought was more pressure, and it seemed to work most of the time. Apart from that, when things didn't go well, we did quite a good job of pulling back. I think a lot of that is where we're still learning to sail the boat and becoming a bit more confident in our skills, which is starting to show up."
Realteam were also able to upgrade their overall position, from ninth to seventh, seeing more of the form we saw at Act 1 in Singapore, where the team took third place, as were Gazprom Team Russia, who took their first race win this year, elevating them from tenth to eighth. "We're starting to sail better, our starts are better and we're a bit more in the mix now. Everyone was pretty pleased to get the first bullet, but hopefully it's the first of many,"
commented their helm Paul Campbell-James.
The light winds punished some of the teams hard, including the defending champions and the home team The Wave, Muscat and Groupama sailing team. Neither team were able to put in the consistent performance that will be needed if they want to be stood on the podium tomorrow, but they did enough to keep themselves well in the game - The Wave, Muscat in fifth place on 118 points and Groupama sailing team in sixth with 105 - three points ahead of Realteam.
The final day shoot-out will inevitably go down to the final double-points race, and with the results changing with every race, it is anyone's guess who will be stood on the podium in the evening. Watch the racing, live from 15:00 local time/11:00GMT/12:00CET www.extremesailingseries.com
Extreme Sailing Series™ 2014 Act 2, Muscat standings after Day 3, 21 races (21.03.14)
Position / Team / Points
1. Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, 132 points.
2. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, 128 points.
3. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Dean Barker, 127 points.
4. J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, 122 points.
5. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, 118 points.
6. Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, 105 points.
7. Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, 102 points.
8. Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Paul Campbell-James, 99 points.
9. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, 96 points.
10. Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, 88 points.
11. GAC Pindar (AUS) Seve Jarvin, 59 points.