Light and shifty breezes eventually improved to near-perfect conditions in today's start to the Farr 40 Pre-Worlds, held at Chicago YC. Three races were completed with Jim Richardson's Barking Mad from Newport, RI leading the pack of twenty entries on scores of 1 - 2 - 1. The reigning North American Champion is also leading the series into this final event of the 2012 Farr 40 North American Circuit.
Even though Richardson, with tactical help from America's Cup veteran and Star World Champion Hamish Pepper, has an impressive 8-point lead over nearest rival Enfant Terrible, owned by Alberto Rossi from Italy, he is not yet ready to claim victory, saying "It was a really tough day out there, and its far from over yet." Richardson should know: he is a 3-time World Champion in this class, dating back to the inaugural Worlds in 1998, and has been active in the class ever since.
This same cautious sentiment was echoed by Rossi, who leads Helmut Jahn's locally-based Flash Gordon 6 by only a point in the current standings. "This is a surprisingly tough fleet," said Rossi, "everyone is at a high level. I think this will be a long week." Rossi is also a World Champion, having twice won the ORCi Offshore World Championship while racing his Farr 40 in a mixed fleet.
Race 1's 4-5 knots of dying breeze was particularly cruel to Rossi, who led around the top mark by nearly a minute with help from Brazilian tactical legend Torben Grael, and after gybing back to stay on the favored side looked well on their way to holding that lead towards the bottom gate. But the team stumbled into a hole and watched helplessly as Barking Mad closed the gap and passed them to take the lead and earn their first win on a shortened course.
After a lengthy midday delay, a southeasterly lake breeze eventually filled in closer to shore to a sailable 7-9 knots, prompting relocation of the course area and the start of Race 2. In this race, Wolfgang Schaefer's Struntje Light won the start and the favored right side of the first leg, setting up the German team to hold and even extend their lead with tactical help from past America's Cup champion Peter Holmberg. And with Barking Mad in second and Enfant Terrible in third, it looked as though these top three leaders in the North American circuit could very well continue to dominate this Pre-Worlds event.
However, as the breeze building towards 10-12 knots and crews scrambled to adjust their rigs for the new conditions, it was time for some new teams to take their turn at the head of the pack.
On the strength of a perfect start that replicated Struntje Light's in the previous race, it was Bob Hughes's Heartbreaker that vaulted out of the blocks in Race 3, immediately tacked to the favored right side, and led the pack around the first top mark. The team from Michigan led by tactician Nick Thompson was chased closely by Turkish-based Hasip Gencer's Asterisk Uno, guided by tactician Mike Buckley. As Heartbreaker, Enfant Terrible, and others in the front ranks gybed away behind them, Asterisk managed to recover from a disastrous spinnaker hoist to lead at the bottom gate with Barking Mad, having chosen the favored side on this run while their nearest rivals at the top mark melted into the pack behind them.
The two finished 1-2 in Race 3, while Flash Gordon, led by World Match Race Champion tactician Bill Hardesty, beat out another local team, Phillip Dowd's Inferno, on the final run for third.
Racing continues tomorrow in the Farr 40 Pre-Worlds, the opening act of next week's 2012 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship to be held over September 17-20th.