Oman Sail’s GC32 “Sultanate of Oman” exceeded expectations when they became the first ever winners of the 2015 Bullitt GC32 Racing Tour’s Austria Cup on Lake Traunsee.

With just four days of training under their belts when racing started on Thursday, the team were aiming for a clutch of podium places, but by the end of the second day, they had moved into the lead and spent the next two days building on that progress.

The final day’s racing posed a new set of challenges, starting with a fresher breeze which meant the fleet were able to complete six races, some of them in sufficient wind to ‘fly’ on their foils. The crew, skippered by Leigh McMillan, opened and closed the day with victories, taking their total to six for the competition and earning them the Austria Cup, eight points ahead of second placed Spindrift with Alinghi finishing third.

Over the four days, McMillan’s team scored 14 podium places from the 17 races, emphasising their appetite for foiling and a quick grasp of its principles, but victory still came as a surprise.

“It was a really unexpected start to the GC32 campaign for us,” said McMillan. “We were on the back foot coming into this but had a lot of experience on board from across a variety of campaigns and with the guys being such good friends, it was always going to be enjoyable. That made it a bit easier for us to get out there and get stuck into the racing and just let the racing do the talking. There is still lots to learn but we have really enjoyed the steep learning curve so far.”

McMillan paid tribute to the contributions of his crewmates, America’s Cup sailors Alister Richardson and Glenn Ashby, but reserved special praise for his bowman Nasser Al Mashari who, like Pete Greenhalgh and himself, had made a hasty switch from Extreme 40 to GC32 racing without much in the way of preparation.

“We couldn’t have won if Nasser wasn’t absolutely at the top of his game. He only had four days in the boat but he picked it up very quickly. He’s a natural.”

For Al Mashari, the visit to Lake Traunsee was not just about winning but about being part of an exciting new Oman Sail venture.

“It was an amazing start for us on a totally new boat,” he said. “We had a great spirit on the team so it was an incredible experience for all of us. We are really happy and proud to be able to raise our Omani flag here in Austria at the first ever Bullitt GC32 event.”

With a GC32 Austria Cup medal added to his assorted collection, Glenn Ashby will now return to America’s Cup commitments with Emirates Team New Zealand but is hoping he might return for another event. “We know so much more now than we did at the start of the regatta in terms of boat handling, so I’m sure the boys will be making notes for the next events. It has been a lot of fun racing and I look forward to having another sail on the GC32s down the track,” he said.

The unexpected win was witnessed by Oman Sail CEO, David Graham, who was invited on board for a few races. “I am absolutely delighted for the team,” he said. “They have worked so hard to get the boat here and the crew together – we were a late entry and I am absolutely elated for them. They have done a fantastic job for the country.”

“You can see when Nasser wins, he can’t wipe that big smile off his face so I would say it has all been thoroughly worthwhile and I’m really pleased with how they raced and how it has all worked out.”

The next event on the 2015 Bullitt GC32 Racing Tour is in Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK,  from June 24 to 27.

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