The tightest match of the year and drama for Luna Rossa. Matthew Sheahan reports

 Few things could overshadow the outstanding match between Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle in the final race of the semi finals, a head to head that was easily the match of the year. Few things, that is, apart from a collision.

Having been dispatched by the Kiwis in the race for third and fourth in the Petit final of Division 1 for Act 12, BMW Oracle was locked in an upwind bounce-off against Luna Rossa. As the pair made their way up the second beat, the Italians held the right hand advantage each time the pair met. But little by little, Chris Dickson’s team hauled themselves up closer to Luna Rossa until Dickson decided to pounce.

“We did a number of tacks into the centre of the course and back out with Luna Rossa always holding the starboard hand advantage,” explained BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler. “In the final one, the gap had closed, our duck was bigger and we were in the dip, going behind them or expecting them to do a normal lee bow. Instead, James [Spithill] waited too late and turned right in front of us, the stern swung into us and smacked into our bowsprit. The umpires ruled that Luna Rossa had tacked too close.”

But the issue didn’t stop there.

Seconds after the clash the Italian team bore away sharply, the crew waving their arms in anger and frustration. While BMW Oracle’s bowsprit was hanging limp and out of action, Luna Rossa had suffered more serious damage towards the stern and around the port running backstay area. Fearing further major structural issues in the 18 knots breeze and lively sea state, Luna Rossa had to retire and head for home.

As the story unfurled during a protest hearing that ran late into the night, Luna Rossa declared that the damage was so serious that there was a possibility that it would take a week to fix the boat, ruling them out of the final two races on Sunday. BMW Oracle believed that their boat was also too seriously damaged to race. After hearing the evidence, the jury found against Luna Rossa and awarded one point redress to BMW Oracle leaving them third overall.

A disaster for the Italian ‘A’ team, not just in losing a protest and finishing Act 12 in fourth, but the final tally in Act 12 provides points that will be converted into bonus points for the Louis Vuitton series next year. The incident has extended BMW Oracle’s lead over the Italians, a big blow for a top team in a tightly fought group.

A further blow came the following morning after a hearing to settle how the costs would be apportioned. The Jury ruled that Luna Rossa must pay its own costs as well as 80 percent of the repair costs on the American boat. In reality this means that the Italian team are paying for almost 100 percent of the damage caused in the incident. Another blow to a team that has looked to be trailing the big three in the top group.

So what about that match between the Kiwis and BMW Oracle in the semi final?

Few have witnessed such a closely fought match between two of the big boys. At the finish, the final delta of 11 seconds was the largest of the match, giving a clear indication of the intensity of a battle that saw the Kiwis hold their nerve throughout.

On the first beat the Kiwis kept bouncing BMW Oracle out to the right hand side of the course until the lay line, a gutsy call that required perfect boat handling. As the pair approached the weather mark a luffing match broke out as the Kiwis squeezed out every inch of an advantage that they could to round ahead.

By the bottom of the downhill slide the boats rounded opposite marks, BMW Oracle fluffing their drop and having to ditch the kite. Both boats were neck and neck.

The beat was head to head all the way and at the weather mark a luffing match with the Kiwis pushing BMW Oracle way out to the right looked like the pair were about to turn their match into an offshore race. But, after an agonising few minutes, BMW Oracle got painfully close to rolling Team New Zealand. But still the Kiwis were having none of it and drove the American team out to the right hand side of the course. As they did so, the protest flag was waving like a cheerleader’s as BMW Oracle appealed to the umpires time after time that a proper course wasn’t being adhered to. With every appeal came a green flag.

And then the gybe that could seal the Kiwis’ fate. A gybe that was performed with clinical precision. Yet still the battle continued, with several more gybes into the finish, each one a nail biter for both boats.

The result, a win for the Kiwis and another boost for the most impressive team at the event.

Their second match was against Alinghi, the first of a possible three to seal overall victory in Act 12. For all those who witnessed the earlier close action, this race, although close, was marginally easier victory for the Kiwis who have yet to be beaten in their new NZL 84 by the Swiss.

If this is a sign of what is to come next year, there are few that can wait.


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