What Happens When Two Rivals Work Together: 52 Super Series

A problem shared is a problem halved, so the saying goes. But what if the shared problem is the goal of winning the 52 Super Series? It’s the toughest, highest quality keelboat championship on the grand prix racing scene, and teams are spending millions in pursuit of a common goal, to win. Two doesn’t go into one, so we were told at school, so why would you want to share secrets with one of your rivals? Because rising tides raise all ships, and information makes everyone better. That’s the philosophy at Quantum Sails and this is part one of the story of collaboration between two professional teams, Platoon and Quantum Racing.

Two to Tango - Platoon and Quantum Racing on the water together during the 2016 season. Photo by Keith Brash.

Partner, not competitor

Quantum Racing has been at the top of the 52 tree for some years, always finishing in the top two alongside arch rival Azzurra. In the past five seasons, Quantum Racing has taken three titles with the Italians claiming the other two years. Sounds like a nice place to be, right? But Ed Reynolds, president of Quantum Sails, was looking at it differently. “In some ways we were a victim of our own success,” he says. “It became clear to us that the other teams viewed us strictly as a competitor, not as a potential supplier/partner. Our mission as a company is to help owners overcome challenges to meet their sailing aspirations. We knew there were programs that wanted to achieve more and we could help take them to the next level.”

“I saw what Harm Müller was doing with Platoon; he wants to perform, he’s a good sailor and he understands what it takes to succeed at the top level. I thought we could help him reach his performance goals and his team would be an ideal training partner for Quantum Racing.”

Our Powers Combined

So the two of them sat down at the end of the 2015 season and agreed to share all knowledge, all data, and do everything they could in 2016 to improve each other’s performance. It’s an approach that Quantum offers to all levels of one design racing. “It took a bit of selling to the Quantum Racing and Platoon teams because there are multiple agendas in these programs,” says Reynolds. “Everybody on our team is a paid professional sailor, and their deliverable is results. Because this effort was putting an element of their deliverables at risk, we knew there could be some apprehension. We went into the process with eyes wide open. Our team is incredibly talented; they also know that a lot of Quantum Racing’s success is due to our IP and how we set the boat up and go fast. In the end, there was very little opposition, and the process has been very positive.”

Reynolds knew that if the collaboration was going to work, there had to be 100% transparency. “In the very first meeting with Harm, we agreed that both teams would participate in all of the morning briefings, the post-race debriefs and share everything during the tuning and testing sessions; but at the sound of the warning signal, the gloves would be off.”

Reynolds explains, “I said to Harm, ‘Once we get on the race course, if the right thing to do is to tack on you, then that’s what we’ll do.’ And I gotta tell you, there were times where the racing got a bit confrontational. In one of the distance races, we got into a situation where we just crushed them into a place—it was kind of a kill tack that was a tactical option that needed to be done at the time. When we got back to shore, it was a little emotional and tempers flared a bit. That’s one of the biggest challenges, but you have to be true to your fleet; you can’t team-race. You’ve got to go out and compete individually because that’s how the sport works.”

Any occasional flare-ups on the racecourse were more than compensated by the huge gains made by the two teams as a result of their knowledge sharing. For the season, Quantum brought in professional coach James Lyne, who used a range of performance analysis tools as well as his own keen eye for seeing what was working and not working on the racecourse. Lyne is the best technical coach in the world, says Reynolds. “Last year, James coached teams in four major classes—Melges 32, TP52, Farr 40 and mini-maxi—all of them won their world championships.” Lyne has also coached Melges 20 teams to world championship status and has worked with top-level Olympic sailors.

Always be Testing

When working with one-design boats, says Lyne, the testing and analysis is a very straightforward process. “With this TP52 program we were working with boats from two designers with a very different design philosophy. Platoon is a Judel/Vrolijk design, always very strong downwind, good upwind in strong winds but with a weak spot in under 12 knots. Quantum Racing is a Botin design, very strong in sub-12 knots upwind, pretty good upwind through the range but not as strong as the J/V boats in some downwind conditions.”

The differing strengths of the two designs made the process of analysis much more difficult, but it also helped the teams work on their respective weaknesses. As Reynolds says, winning the TP52 Super Series doesn’t come from winning races by a country mile in your boat’s favorite conditions: “Everything about this circuit is about salvaging points. In the case of Platoon, our overall focus was eliminating double-digit finishes. Instead of getting 8th or 10th in a 12-boat race let’s try to get you in 6th place. It’s so subtle, but working on a place here, a place there, it all adds up to a huge difference by the end of the season.”

For Quantum Racing the collaboration brought the benefit of a regular tuning partner. “Previous seasons were difficult because no one wanted to tune with us. It was difficult to really validate what we were doing and to some extent, we were victims of the on-board relevant expert opinion,” says Reynolds. “Once we had a 100% truly committed and transparent tuning partner to measure against, we were able to quantify our strengths and weaknesses and validate our processes. With James Lyne, performance is a physical science, everything we did was based on data.”

Adds Reynolds, “Considering the two boats were so different at the outset, the process worked exceptionally well, even better than I expected.”

The Results are in

Quantum Racing, which gave up 17 points to finish runner-up to Azzurra in 2015, went on to dominate the 2016 season by 59 points over Azzurra (140 points vs 199). Rán Racing took third place with 245 points; Platoon was just four points behind with 241.

While Lyne is a big fan of data analysis in any circumstance—even for a one-boat program—he says the learning curve is exponential when you bring two-boats together. “The rate of learning goes up by a factor of 50. It’s unbelievable, and I think we saw that with the Super Series last year. We developed both boats as the season went on; both boats got faster. In comparison, other boats that were faster in the early part of the season did not develop so they were off-pace by the end of the season. Other single-boat programs, like Azzurra, did a very nice job in isolation of developing their game, but other boats didn’t. Platoon and Quantum Racing, achieved steady gains throughout the year. We were always able to definitively say, ‘hey, that’s faster or that’s slower’. If you are a single boat program, trying to work out whether something is fast or not, you’re still just shooting darts at the dartboard wearing a blindfold.”

Want to try something similar in your fleet? In Part 2, Lyne delves further into what the data revealed and Reynolds talks about the 2017 program which also includes
Interlodge and Gladiator. And even if you don’t have a TP52 or access to the kind of data tools used in this program, these experts will share tips on how to make a -two-boat program work in your fleet.

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The Discussion