Azzurra close on lead in Audi Valencia Cup


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The Independent Online

Two wins and a disappointing fifth in the opening trio races for the Audi Valencia Cup were enough to put Italy’s Azzurra team within three points of the 2012 52 Super Series lead after 25 races so far and with four more scheduled by the final day on Saturday.

The Italians had been leading the third race as well but on the finish line made contact with the committee boat when lying third, had to drop sails and take a penalty, and so dropped what could be an important couple of points.

Still, the threat to the leader, the American Quantum team, is strong, but Quantum, the 2011 Audi MedCup champions, skippered by Ed Baird, has hung tough before when under pressure.

For the British-based Rán, skippered by Niklas Zennström, there was the consolation of a win in the final race but the team is still struggling to achieve the sort of consistency it needs and the conditions in Valencia, light and threatening to be lighter, are not ideal.

“It was really tricky to sail here today, especially with the lumpy seas,” said Zennström back at the dock. “A bad tack or a few tactical mistakes can be costly but our objective is still to win here and the season as a whole is going to come down to the last few races.”

The local Iberdrola team, with two firsts and a second, continues to lead the Soto 40 class but Britain’s Tony Buckingham, despite the tactical input of America’s Cup winner Brad Butterworth, could manage on a third and to sixths.

Apart from a few rather luxurious yachts berthed in the middle, the America’s Cup harbour that used to buzz with activity and created a new meeting place for Valencia’s weekend family promenaders lies silent and a little forlorn.

But, welcoming the Audi Valencia Cup fleets, Cristobal Grau, Mayor Rita Barberá’s deputy and boss of Valencia’s sports programmes, said there was a bright future for the harbour as a training base for Olympic squads – three were there before the 2012 Games – and Valencia is the designated sailing venue in Madrid’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

He had, he said, met with the “excellent” organisation in Weymouth and looked forward to hosting regattas for the Olympic classes. Over 2,000 people and children had attended the sailing school and “every initiative has its own budget.”

In terms of legacy, Weymouth is streets ahead, but Valencia could not have been expected to foresee the America’s Cup being ripped away because of a court case in New York, though it always knew that if a challenger were to beat the Swiss holder Ernesto Bertarelli the event would move away.

Now it is also the only marina in the world fully enclosed by a Formula 1 grand prix road circuit but the initial five-year contract finished this year and the city is trying to negotiate a turn and turnabout extension with Barcelona which would see a return in 2014.

Powerboat racer Dan Whapples, who sustained serious injuries in a race incident in Weymouth on Sunday, is showing signs of improvement although he remains in intensive care in Southampton General Hospital.

The Royal Yachting Association, the national body of powerboat racing, has confirmed that it will be conducting a full and independent investigation into the incident, in which Mike Lovell died, and race organiser Powerboat P1 has said it will co-operate fully with the appointed panel.