At the halfway stage of the TF35 season final in Scarlino Esteban Garcia's Realteam Sailing, co-skippered by Jérôme Clerc, has risen to the top of the leaderboard but is challenged at every move by Alinghi and Spindrift.
The second day of racing for the new cutting-edge TF35 hydro-foiling catamarans started an hour earlier than scheduled to make the most of the lighter wind before conditions were forecast to ramp up. Into sequence for the first race of the day at 11:00CEST the 10-knot southerly wind created a racecourse close to shore that was a little more fickle than yesterdays and with it a new tactical challenge for the teams.
In the first race Clerc at the helm of Realteam Sailing was the only team to go right and she nosed ahead of Zoulou at the top gate to take the lead, chased by Alinghi in third. At that point, Spindrift was not a threat; after a slow start in the second row she rounded the windward gate in fourth. But still in contact with the leading group from there, Yann Guichard's team started to reel the leaders in. On the second downwind leg, Spindrift had leapfrogged Zoulou and, in a photo-finish, managed to get in between the leading boats with Realteam in first and Alinghi in third.
"Spindrift has improved a lot since the last event," said Realteam Sailing's tactician Seb Col of their performance so far. "Now we are playing with Alinghi and Spindrift, and it's getting really interesting; especially today, they showed some great speed in the breeze."
Spindrift pulled off a similar manoeuvre in the next race and challenged Alinghi in the final downwind leg to get ahead and take second place behind Realteam Sailing.
In today's third and final race Erik Maris' Zoulou nailed the start and rounded the windward gate bow-to-stern with Spindrift before Guichard's team charged ahead to take the win. Realteam Sailing claiming second, Team SAILFEVER in third and Zoulou fourth.
With a 1 -1 -2 scoreline today, Realteam Sailing has risen to the top of the leaderboard, holding a three-point buffer over second-placed Spindrift. But it wasn't all smooth sailing said Col: "We decided to do a JK, which is kind of a high-speed u-turn at the bottom gate where we drop the gennaker at the same time. But the gennaker went over the side and under the bow. So during the upwind leg, I had to climb forward and pull it up". The mistake in the second race almost cost the team their lead and resulted in the photo-finish that saw Realteam, Spindrift and Alinghi crossing the line within three seconds of one another.
In the overall ranking for the event, Alinghi now takes third place, with a three-point gap to bridge to second and a further three points to first. Catching up with Team Director Pierre-Yves Jorand onshore, he explained: "Every single team is giving a strong performance and I think the overall level of the fleet has gone up quite dramatically since racing here".
"We struggled a little bit today to find the right balance with the sail trim and the lift so often we were in an unstable situation, but it is good to see Realteam and Spindrift being so solid in this wind. We need to find some extra boat speed for tomorrow to come back into the game".
Tomorrow racing is scheduled to start at 11:00CEST to make the best of the wind before it gets too strong. Follow live at TF35.org.