Article from Forbes:
Maserati’s Nautical Speedster Prepares for Atlantic Record
By Daniel Fisher, Forbes Staff
With his sunburned, deeply creased face and callus-encrusted hands, Giovanni Soldini looks distinctly out of place in downtown Manhattan as he waits in the shadows of the Battery Park skyscrapers for the weather patterns that will allow him to shove off in the 70-foot racing sailboat Maserati on a trans-Atlantic record attempt.
Soldini, 46, is leading the effort to put Maserati in the record books, not on the asphalt tracks where the Italian car maker once dominated top-level racing, but in the ocean. This week he and the rest of the boat’s eight-man crew were anxiously scanning marine weather forecasts to see if a cold front in the Atlantic would produce winds strong enough for them to shove off, perhaps Friday night, in search of a world record for distance covered in 24 hours.
Maserati bankrolled the carbon-fiber sailboat as a floating promotional tool to link the Fiat unit’s well-known trident logo with its less well-known product line, which has long labored under the shadow of the more famous Ferrari brand that is also in the Fiat stable. Maserati’s car suffered a declining reputation in the 1970s and 1980s and Fiat is working hard to reestablish the brand’s sporting image with the type of consumers who can afford to spend $120,000 on a GranTurismo S.
All that was far from Soldini’s mind last week on a sunny afternoon as he sat on Maserati, the boat, rocking gently in a slip at the North Cove marina. Maserati is a heavily modified version of the Volvo 70 boats now engaged in a round-the-world Ocean Challenge. She shares the same hull design, a wedge-shaped, flat-bottom prism designed to plane off on top of long ocean rollers and hit speeds as high as 40 knots, or 46 m.p.h. But Soldini turbocharged this sled, adding large tanks in the stern to hold thousands of pounds of water ballast to keep the bow up and clear of oncoming waves and the twin rudders planted firmly in the ocean.
Soldini is a Milan native who has 30 Atlantic crossings and nine round-the-world races on his resume. He spends his days in between record attempts conferring with weather forecasters in Europe and the U.S., watching the development of high-pressure zones in the mid-Atlantic and cold fronts that can create strong winds to carry the boat across the ocean. His goal is to beat the record of just under seven days set by billionaire Robert Miller in his 140-foot Mari-Cha IV in 2003. That was an average of 18 knots on the 2,900-mile route; to beat the record the shorter Maserati needs stronger winds to keep her speed closer to 20.
“You need the wind with you all the way across to get to England in six days,” Soldini told me. “The boat can average 22 knots, easily, no problem. At 22 knots you can make 100 miles in four hours.”
Earlier this year he set a record for the so-called Columbus route of Cadiz, Spain to San Salvador, Bahamas of just under 11 days at an average of 16 knots. The speed would have been faster, he said, except for hydraulic problems toward the end that forced the crew to slow the boat down to protect its vulnerable swing keel, a pendulum-like keel that swings a heavy lead bulb to the side of the boat to keep it upright against the force of the wind. Most modern racers have the keels despite their frequent mechanical malfunctions. Former United Technologies Chairman George David nearly died after his chartered 100-foot racing boat broke its keel in the Fastnet race last year and flipped, forcing the entire crew to abandon ship.
Now Soldini is watching a front that could bring plenty of wind, possibly too much to pursue the transatlantic record.
“With weather forecasts that indicate an average of 40/50 knots in the colder area of the depression, it is easy to face blows of 80 knots speed and 20 meters waves,” he said in a post on the team website earlier this week. “It is better to forget it.”
Instead, the team may try to ride the calmer leading edge of the system to a 24-hour record, using the Gulf Stream current to turbocharge the effort. To do it, he needs to keep Maserati humming at 20 knots plus in as straight a line as possible for 600 miles.