Zennström: A Year in The Audi MedCup Circuit
  08 Oct 2011
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Cascais Trophy, 18 05 2011

One year ago Niklas Zennström arrived in Valencia with the plan to join the Audi MedCup Circuit with a new RÁN. To date the successes he and wife Catherine had with their crew had been on the world’s classic offshore races like the Sydney-Hobart, Fastnet and Middle Sea Race. The step into the high octane world of close quarters, real time racing on the world’s leading regatta circuit was, he was sure, going to a big one, with many challenges on different levels for the very enthusiastic owner-driver.


Audi TP52 World Championship - I guess this feels very much like a second home for you having been here and been successful?
Nikklas Zennstrom
- "We were here three weeks ago when it was crowded with a lot of people. In a way I like it like this when it is very quiet and calm."

AWC - How does it all compare to what you had as your expectations when you set out a year ago in Valencia?
- " It has been a very busy and intense season, starting way back at Palma Vela in April and then one event every month, and also each event is so very intensive and the fleet is very, very good, such a high level of competition. It is pretty much as I expected though. I knew it would be intense, it would be tough and that there would be races where you would end up last. All those things have happened, and yes being last is harder to take than you think, but for us we decided that we would be making this a learning year, and so the most important thing would be to learn throughout the season, to gain confidence and improve. That was why our victory in Barcelona was so important for us. That showed us that things were paying off and the conditions were favourable, we got some of the breaks. That was hugely important for the team, to have that moment. But I am sure that we have improved as a team."

"Obviously this is the first time for us, but speaking to other teams, we are sure that even though it is smaller fleet it is much tighter for position. There is so little difference between the guys who win and those further down, that is the tough part of it. You look around the fleet and think ‘well, we were beaten by those guys you just don’t need to be ashamed of that. And you look around at the whole fleet, and so being beaten by them all is nothing to be ashamed of. But you still end up last and that is very hard to take. But the margins really are so small. You have a bad shift, a bad tack, a bad gybe, a bad set and that is it. So the feeling is you are racing to be the top boat, but as soon as you make a mistake you are suddenly racing not to be the last. That is how it is".

AWC - And how has the season actually unrolled compared with what you planned and hoped for, have you made more or fewer changes to the boat, rig and team than you anticipated?
- " On the technical side with the boat we have really not made many changes compared with other teams who say they maybe made a big mistake with the set up of their boat at different times, trying to re-engineer their boat through the season. We really were quite happy with the way our boat came out. And we spent a lot of time optimising sails as they came out, so in general we have been very happy with the boat and the set up. "

" On the team side we made a few changes. We had some difficulties with the grinder because Chris Dougall who got injured, and so we had Jono Macbeth on board, and then we made changes with Morgan Larson on tactics from Barcelona. That was about making a change. I am great believer in it being not always having the best people doing the job, but having people who fit well together, who work well as a group, and having the right balance. Morgan stepped into that role well, gelled well with the team and he has very good fleet racing skills."

AWC - And how would you describe your role in the team as owner-helm? And what is your philosophy with regards to the team ethos, you seem to favour a close knit, extended family approach?
- " I am sure if you take a boat like Quantum Racing or Audi ALL4ONE, the skippers take a much bigger role on board whereas my role is to drive the boat. On our boat the tactician is calling the shots and my job is to drive the boat fast."

For me, I have two roles in our organisation if you like. Tim manages the whole programme but I work with him on what the objectives are, what the strategies are and how we set things up. But when I am on the boat I am just driving. It is very clear to me that you need to have different roles in port and on the boat."

" We stay in the same place, we have a crew house and have our de-briefing every night and briefing each morning and I participate at all of them and that is very important because if I did not it would be harder for the team to work around me. I am very happy to get constructive criticism and feedback. When you are sailing you are getting feedback from the trimmers all the time, you have the tactician giving you boat on boat manoeuvres, so that is also the way to learn. Gavin Brady is very good on boat on boat manoeuvres as a match racer.  A lot of times this year  I really felt I was thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool and I really had to learn fast. He was very good in coaching and me learning in that way. In Cartagena and Cascais, all the way through the season there have been a lot of tough situations, you put yourself in there like a match racing situation with, like, Ed Baird. And if you have not done it you are very likely to come out on the losing end, but you learn from it. As a sailor if you can outmanoeuvre them there is a great buzz experiencing things like that, but it is also a great way to learn. Sometimes we have not had good results that is because it is part of the learning curve. I think for us as a new team and for as an owner drive you need to allow yourself to make mistakes."

AWC - What parts of the programme are you especially involved or passionate about, the technical side, people, the sailing?
N.Z. - "
I think for me my role and passion is about making things with the team gel, so things are really humming and people are happy with what they are doing. But for sure sailing is a very technical sport and we are quite fortunate to have a fair bit of big boat experience. But what really is interesting now is that the boats  do look quite different when  you compare our design to the other Vrolijks and the Botin designs, they are very, very different hull forms, but you can see that they are very similar in terms of speed and results and it is such a good thing now that you have a 2009 design which is as good as the 2011 designs, which is great. It is wonderful technology and I appreciate, but all the guys, like the boat captain for example, know their jobs much better than I would and so it is very difficult for me to add anything as we go along. It is great fun, but these guys are so good at their jobs and so I think my job is so much more to make sure that things are humming."

AWC - What do you see as the future for the class on the Audi MedCup Circuit, do you worry that it is still perceived as a class where you have to have your amount of money to be successful and spend more to win as an owner-driver?
N.Z -
"It has been hard for several reasons to get more people into the class. There has been a little bit of stigma that the Audi MedCup is such high end class that is difficult for an owner to come in and drive his own boat at such a high level. And so we have proved that we can win, and look at Tony Langley here, he has been doing well the first few days."

" It is maybe true that in 2007, or some time like that, that you could come in and just spend money to win. But today you just can’t. The class is very well controlled, the budget is controlled and you cannot outperform by money. There is a limited number of sails with the buttons, you have a limited number of crew. No one can have an excessive number of shore crew because it would not add anything. Even now we see that you don’t need to build new boats every year. Look,
the ex Bribon is actually the best performing boat in the second half of this season, and that is a 2009 design. These boats are now at a level where you can show up with a 2009 boat and be competitive. So the longevity of these boats is now very, very good and the sail buttons are good. The sails you do have to spend money on, but is you race IRC you can turn up with new sails at every regatta – most people don’t do it but you could. And crew, sailing with 12 here, you can sail IRC with 15, so someone buying or building an IRC boat can spend more money."

" And here for sure the race management is so good, everywhere the race committee are doing a fantastic job, the while organisation is very good, and Audi as a sponsor are doing a very, very good job. Sailing in nice venues is great, but what you cannot do is come here with a competitive advantage, you cannot build a boat which will be like a handicap beating boat. There is no silver bullet. And that way you do get more exposed, but if you want to improve this is the way to do it. We have two owner-drivers but if we can get three or four then that would be great.

AWC - So would you like to see you Swedish compatriot Torbjorn Tornqvist back as a successful owner-driver?
N.Z -
He should. I am sure he misses it.

AWC - And the biggest high point?
N.Z -
"For sure Barcelona was the high point, not just winning but because it went to the wire, and because we went there with no expectations, let’s go out there and enjoy ourselves and not be so worried about results."

AWC - Any changes foreseen for next season? And what could be the objectives, a podium at the end of the season?
N.Z -
"We had a chat about the things we want to do with the boat. There are small things, but nothing major. For us we want to continue, no big changes in terms of the team. I believe if you make a lot of changes you unsettle everything. This has been the learning season and next year we go in with the aim of better results. We have not set the objectives, but I don’t see why we can’t have the podium as a target."

AWC - And how many days have you sailed this season, it must be a few!
N.Z - "I have not counted, this has been a very busy year but roughly 90 days. You can feel that now towards the end of the season, we do the Middle Sea Race as well. It is very good now, though, we are very relaxed. The atmosphere here has been great, very relaxed, chill out and try and get some good results."

  Pictures rights free for editorial use only:
1) Cascais Trophy, 18 05 2011 © Ian Roman/Audi MedCup
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