Sailing: Mean Machine wins Audi Medcup grand prix

In keeping with its Mean Machine name, Dutchman Peter de Ridder pippedSpain's King Juan Carlos by just one point to win the opening Audi Medcupgrand prix yesterday.

Only one of a possible three races was sailed in patchy winds which turnedto autumnal rain and it was won convincingly by the king along with NewZealand America's Cup skipper Dean Barker.

De Ridder was seven places behind, with some gnarly, veteran Kiwis of hisown in a very impressive crew, in eighth. But he had a big enough cushionfrom the previous seven scores, including five wins in a row, to hang on tothe trophy.

Third-placed Terry Hutchinson failed in his pre-regatta aim to beat Barker,for whom he was tactician aboard team new Zealand in last year's America'sCup 100 miles up the coast in Valencia, but most disappointed were PaulCayard, skipper of Spain's America's Cup team aboard El Desafio, 24 pointsadrift of de Ridder in eighth overall, and Britain's Hertfordshire-basedJohn Cook, 10th aboard his Cristabella.

While each of the six regattas in the series stands alone, the points areall carried forward, first to Marseille at the beginning of June andfinally to Portimao, Portugal in September.

De Ridder's dominance of a week which, last year, was gifted with strongwinds but this year tested tacticians and navigators with patchyconditions, is testimony both to campaign organisation and a crew line-upcrammed with experience. Like many others, the team has benefited from thehalt which legal action and the private battle between Ernesto Bertarelliand Larry Ellison has brought to the America's Cup.

All the other challenging teams have had to lay people off, releasing aflood of top crew to other events, not least what is still the most hotlycontested big boat circuit.

But tactician Ray Davies predicted that the rivals would soon catch up tocampaigb which, he said, had been rewarded for all its pre-season work andwas already operating at somewhere near maximum.

Ellison's own BMW Oracle team is expected to join in Marseille and awatching Mike Sanderson, director of sailing for Britain's originchallenge, said that the TP52 circuit was an option for next season.