A full-on match race from the start and a display of a powerful boat. Matthew Sheahan reports on another cracking race
Whether it was spectators heading back to the port, or viewers turning away from their TV and computer screens at the end of today’s racing, most came away asking what Luna Rossa could possibly have done differently on the last run to the finish. A leg that saw Dickson’s BMW Oracle Racing take the last killer bite into what had started as a commanding lead for the Italian team.
Dickson and his team had been hammered at the start by James Spithill who turned a modest advantage into a full-on arm lock in the last minute before the gun fired. This was the most aggressive pre-start we’ve seen, with Dickson carving around behind Luna Rossa as he tried to get the hook (an overlap from underneath). Spithill danced like a Torero in the face of the black and white machine, before turning on the beast from behind, nailing them and them slamming two down speed tacks on Dickson for good measure.
By the time the Italians reached the weather mark they were 58 seconds ahead having smoked up the first beat. But the downhill leg saw the tables turned with Dickson and his crew sailing faster and smarter to chew 38 seconds out of their lead.
Luna Rossa were a fraction slower out of the leeward mark rounding and gave away a few more precious seconds and then split tacks with Dickson on the next upwind leg. By the time the pair reached the weather mark they were virtually head to head and a luffing match ensued. But still Spithill and his crew held on. Indeed, when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and getting down to basics, Spithill seems to revel in close quarters dust ups.
Around the weather mark Luna Rossa rounded ahead by just 14 seconds, with Dickson breathing down their necks.
From there the game became a gybing duel in which the Italians did well until the pair got separated. Then, on came the power as BMW Oracle sailed deeper and faster. When they came back together they were head to head again but Luna Rossa’s trump cards were disappearing
When asked in the press conference after the race what the team could have done to prevent a loss in the last few hundred metres to the line, most were surely expecting a Mediterannean style shrug with the facial expression to match. But Luna Rossa’s navigator Michele Ivaldi was clear where the game had finally been lost.
“They did a very good job and we were a little bit slower in reacting,” he said. “We barely had a piece of them, so we gybed on them as late as possible. Then the game went into a very low game. When this happens, usually the first boat to put the bow up is the one that gains the biggest advantage. We should have done that move before them and perhaps then we would have had a chance. So it was a good move by them and it was a mistake that we paid for.”
But according to Ivaldi, while the final run to the finish was a dramatic one, this wasn’t the turning point in their race.
“It was the first run where we got out of phase,” he said. “From such a comfortable lead you cannot go back to a boat-on-boat race. So getting out of phase and thinking that the Valencian sea breeze is stable was misleading us. The answer is to be on top of every shift, every puff on every leg.”
While the team had certainly avoided banging the corner in quite the same manner that they did yesterday, was this a hint that there’s a concern in the afterguard that the tactics are still too bold? Balancing the benefits of a sparky performance in the pre-start against a more mature performance once the race is under way seems to be one of the team’s current weaknesses.
For their opponents, understandably relieved to have turned what for much of the race looked like a second loss into a win, BMW Oracle Racing’s navigator Peter Isler put today’s performance into perspective.
“It’s more fun and more spectacular! It is certainly harder on the heart, but with a great crew and boat, coming back is all part of the scene,” he said.
“Sometimes you are not going to come off the line first or get the first shifts, so you have to have that ability if you want to win the Cup. Our strategy is to come into the Semi Final with the best possible equipment honed to the right mode. We are faster than ever before – but it doesn’t always matter, as we have seen in the last couple of days where the sailors actually make a difference too.”
“It is not all boat speed,” he continued. “We are happy with USA 98 all around the course, the oscillations and puffs gave more opportunity for the trailing boat to look super fast than on a typical sea breeze day where it is more persistent. It was a matter of being patient and looking for opportunities. It is completely maddening to sail against a boat that won’t tack on you or gybe with you when you are way behind, and psychologically it’s nice when you can make a split.”
The match between the Kiwis and the Spanish was a far more clinical affair with Barker and his crew dominating the pre-start along with the rest of the race. While the Spanish finished just 40 seconds behind on a course with 3.3nm leg lengths, they never looked like they stood a chance.
Results After Day 2
Emirates Team New Zealand v Desafio Espanol: 2:0
BMW Oracle Racing v Luna Rossa: 1:1
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