Tricky Breezes Test Formula Racers in Opening Exchanges

French teenager Axel Mazella opened his campaign where he had left off at the KiteFoil GoldCup in Italy, with an emphatic bullet in the first race of the Formula Kite (foil) world championships.

His feat was matched by Britain’s Olly Bridge, 18, who signalled his intent when he also scored a convincing win in the opening race of the alternate men’s qualifying fleet, on the smooth waters off Joysea Beach, at Binhai, Western China.

But the light breezes over the Yellow Sea, that started out blowing between 10kts and 14kts, dropped steadily as skies cleared on day one of the inaugural International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) Formula Kite World Championships on foiling equipment, the first since rule changes enabled hydrofoil use.

After a joyous opening ceremony laid on by the Chinese hosts, the later start to competition saw the breeze decline to the point where it was only possible to complete two races, one for each of the men’s qualifying fleets.

But with the approach of the first race of the 11-strong women’s fleet — packed with the world’s leading riders — the winds swung onshore and dropped below 5kts forcing the race director to halt proceedings in the sultry heat.

The women’s fleet will race together for the forthcoming five days, while the men’s fleets will be re-ordered for the coming two days before being seeded into “gold” and “silver” flights, with the top ten racers earning spots in the medals races of the final day.

Sixty racers from 19 nations made the trip to Weifang to pit their skill and tactics in a line-up that comprises the vast majority of the world’s top riders in the still fast-evolving kitefoil discipline, many returning after a well-executed event at the same venue a year ago.

Italian-Colombian Rikki Leccese reflected the views of many when he praised the smooth organisation, while saying with their previous experience the returning riders were much better prepared.

“This is the second year, so we know the kind of weather to expect,” he said. “The riders are more prepared, bringing their huge kites. The kites themselves are all showing really good performance, even since last year. They’re very fast even in low wind.”

Leccese had used his Ozone R1 V2 kite and Mike’s Lab foil to good effect, snatching a fourth spot in his day’s sole race, just behind Mazella, Maxime Nocher (MON) and Florian Trittel (ESP).

Yet one of the biggest surprises is the sudden emergence of the 18-month-old Italian foil brand, Banga, as a potential winner. In the opening two races riders on the Banga foil — including Mazella and Nocher — took four of the top six positions.

Leading riders have been scrambling to get their hands on the foil after seeing its potential for better speed, and upwind and downwind angles. Italy’s Mario Calbucci and Julien Kerneur (FRA), both riding Banga foils, gave Olly Bridge a good run for his money in their day’s only race.

“The wind was very light, but with this new hydrofoil we can cope well and go fast in these conditions”, said a delighted Calbucci. “Since our last outing in Italy we’ve a new foil. It’s very strong and stiff, and the fuselage profile has been altered.”

One innovation on the Banga’s front wing is the use of what the makers describe as fancas — small front-to-back raised sections towards the front wing’s tips — that allow the ends to break the surface when hiked over hard upwind without causing ventilation and a crash.

The foil’s builder, Luca Filippi, is understandably stoked by the roster of riders like world champions Nocher and Elena Kalinina (RUS) who have been beating a path to the brand’s door in recognition of it’s success.

“It’s been a great deal of work, since April last year,” he said, as he fine tuned Calbucci’s wing. “All day and all night we work. Too much. But it’s beginning to seem like it was worth it.”

Overall standings after two races:

1 Axel Mazella (FRA, F-one/Banga) — 1pts
1 Olly Bridge (GBR, Ozone/Levitaz) — 1pts
3 Maxime Nocher (MON, F-One/Banga) — 2pts
3 Mario Calbucci (ITA, Elf/Banga) — 2pts

Full results men: