The RC44’s 10th anniversary season is lining up for an ultra-competitive conclusion with the RC44 Valletta Cup taking place this week out of the Excelsior Hotel on the Maltese capital’s Marsamxett Harbour.
Despite the RC44 Valletta Cup being be the fifth and final event of the 2016 RC44 Championship, the scoreboard remains impressively close. In the Fleet Racing, Igor Lah’s Team CEEREF holds a slender two-point lead over Chris Bake’s Team Aqua but just seven points separate the top seven, with, in theory, any still capable of claiming the 2016 title. In the 2016 Match Racing Championship, it is even closer with Vladimir Prosikhin’s Team Nika and Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing tied for the lead and just three points behind them, a further three teams also tied.
Dr Christian Cardona, Malta’s Minister of the Economy, Small Business and Industry this morning welcomed the RC44 teams: “We are looking forward to the prestigious RC44s coming to Malta for a second time. It will be exciting for those taking part as much as for those watching. Not only do we boast one of the world’s largest and most notable harbours, but Valletta, with its rich architecture, will provide a magnificent backdrop. The RC44s have a reputation for visiting some of the most beautiful sailing venues around the globe. We are delighted that Malta is on that list. It seems that our island was made for this sport.”
While the final four days of the RC44 Valletta Cup will see the ten teams competing off the coast, tomorrow’s match racing will be held inside Valletta’s Grand Harbour, surrounded by the fortified city’s towering ramparts. Local organisers Yachting Events have managed to get Grand Harbour closed for the day so the match racing can take place.
Team CEEREF’s Igor Lah is pleased to be back in Malta. Here in 2015 his Slovenian team rejoined the RC44 class. 18 months on and now they are leading. “Malta is awesome - I am looking forward to it,” said Lah. “It is nice to be out in front, but the other guys are really good. All the fleet do extremely well so we’ll have to do our best to maintain our position. The set-up with the hotel above the boats is brilliant.” This time the RC44 Valletta Cup is self-contained at the Excelsior Marina.
However among those chasing Team CEEREF there is considerable hunger. Team Nika, the defending fleet racing champion and 2015 World Champion, currently lies fourth, five points off the lead. Owner Vladimir Prosikhin commented: “It is not realistic for us to knock them [Team CEEREF] down, but we will do our best to make them nervous!”
Cameron Appleton, tactician on Chris Bake’s Team Aqua echoed this: “To be leading is good, but it is hard to stay in that spot because this fleet is so strong. We wish the best of luck to Igor, but we’re coming for him…”
Nico Poons and his Charisma team are looking for big improvements this week. They won the RC44 Valletta Cup when it opened the 2015 season. “Last time we had lots of wind and we were quite strong and had a good team,” commented Poons. “This time we have a new team and have made lots of changes - we’ll see what it brings. We need to stabilise the team more, but I am feeling a bit more comfortable compared to Cascais.”
As to the prospects of defending his title, Poons added: “It is unbelievably close, which is what makes it challenge. All the owners and crews are competitive and have the mentality to win. But there is also a great atmosphere between crews and owners.”
At a time of year when the weather should be volatile, conditions are looking exceptional with the sun currently out, 20°C and a forecast of 10-20 knots for the week.
For making the RC44 Valletta Cup happen, Peter Valentino and Niki Travers Tauss of Yachting/Events thanked the Maltese government, Transport Malta, Malta Tourism Authority, along with their sponsors, including Valletta Superyachts and ARQ Group.
Niki Travers Tauss commented: “More and more businesses understand what this event can do for them – it is a great platform for VIP hospitality, for companies to bring in top executives and clients and have them witness the spectacle of RC44 racing. It is a truly unique opportunity. I’d like to thank the teams on their vote of confidence in coming here once again.”
Among the highlights for the RC44 owners this week will be a dinner hosted by the President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.