2024 Formula Kite European Championships at Mar Menor, Spain – Day 1 – Sail World

by Andy Rice 19 Mar 14:25 PDT
18-24 March 2024

2024 Formula Kite Europeans Day 1: Lucy Bilger (NZL) on the edge of control © IKA Media / Robert Hajduk

Day 1 of the 2024 Formula Kite European Championship was a critical day for finding out how well riders had spent their winter training time over the past few months.

The huge saltwater lagoon of Mar Menor in Spain provides conditions for going fast in flat water, but it was still a deceptively complex race course at times during the sunny afternoon. With the breeze pulsing between 3 and 15 knots, there was never a time for relaxing or settling into a predictable pattern.

Gomez goes his own way

Benoit Gomez is known to be the maverick of the fleet. The big Frenchman likes to plough his own furrow and go in the opposite direction to the rest of the pack. So it proved in race one of his qualifying group. “In the first race most people like to feel their way into the competition and prefer to start on starboard tack,” he said. “I think this gives a good opportunity to try a port tack start, to get into clear air, and that’s what worked for me.”

He felt there was a bit more breeze on the right-hand side of the course and, provided he judged the lay line correctly, it meant only one tack compared with all the starboard starters having to complete a minimum of two.

The other factor in his success which Gomez might be reluctant to admit is that he’s using a Flysurfer kite. Having ploughed his lonely furrow as the only proponent of the Gin brand, with French Olympic selection on the line he has gone for using the more proven option of a Flysurfer just like the rest of the men’s fleet.

Teenagers going fast

Gomez won the 12-minute race by a big margin while Max Maeder fought back from a poor start to get through to second by the end of the race. “I made the wrong choice at the start,” admitted the 17-year-old from Singapore, “but I learned from it and went better in the next two.” With two wins from the next two races, Maeder, the reigning World Champion, looks to be every bit as fast as in previous seasons.

Meanwhile in a match race for Italian Olympic selection in their qualifying group, defending European Champion Riccardo Pianosi took two wins ahead of Lorenzo Boschetti’s two second places. And after Valentin Bontus’s breakout performance at last year’s Worlds when the Austrian shocked the fleet with his fourth-place triumph, it would be interesting to see if that result was a flash in the pan or the mark of real progress.

Two wins from two in his qualifying group suggests Bontus really has made a permanent step up to the front of the pack. Even more impressive was that he won the first race with a port-tack option behind the fleet and in the next won the pin end and blasted out into the left-hand corner.

Fight for the French spot

Having been the dominant force in the women’s fleet over the past season or more, Lauriane Nolot is the clear favourite for French Olympic selection on home waters later this summer. However there are some other French riders looking to make that selection process much less obvious.

Not long returned to the water after five months recovery from injury last year, Jessie Kampman must have been wondering how she would fare on the race track. The French rider crossed the finish of her first race in first place, except that her teammate and rival for selection Poema Newland brought a protest against her. “It was a port starboard cross and I thought I was OK,” said Kampman, “but Poema protested so I didn’t win that one after all.”

Frustrating but encouraging

In the next race Kampman again found herself in a marginal port-starboard situation with Newland. “I didn’t want to make the same mistake again so I slowed down but then I got in the way of another girl [on starboard]. So I did a 360 turn and carried on, but that was a race that I felt I was in a position to win.” In the third race, no mistakes and Kampman finally scored the bullet she had been looking for. “A frustrating day, but I’m happy that I have the speed,” she smiled.

It’s Newland who tops the women’s rankings with scores of 1,2,2 while Gal Zukerman also put in a great performance in her qualifying group with 2,2,3 from the day. With Zukerman trailing Maya Ashkenazi in the battle for Israeli Olympic selection, today’s results suggest this duel could go all the way to the wire. As for Nolot, she started the day slowly but gradually rediscovered her mojo, the reigning World Champion scoring 4,7,1 to be sitting in 6th overall.

Qualifying continues on Wednesday with the wind expected to blow stronger, and stronger still in the latter part of the week. The final two days will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook.

Results after Day 1: (top three)

1. Valentin Bontus AUT 2pts
2. Riccardo Pianosi ITA 2pts
3. Maximilian Maeder SGP 3pts

1. Poema Newland FRA 5pts
2. Gal Zukerman ISR 7pts
3. Ellie Aldridge GBR 10pts

More info at www.kiteclasses.org

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