Having dominated the Louis Vuitton Trophy for two weeks, the Kiwis are defeated in the final. Matthew Sheahan reviews the event

Right from the outset, Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand have demonstrated how polished and well rehearsed their teamwork is thanks to the years that they have been working together as a team. When the event got underway two weeks ago, it took not time to see that the Kiwis would be the benchmark as their score line remained completely one sided. At least that’s how it appeared.

But, in an event that has provided plenty of surprise performances, the biggest came with the Kiwis defeat earlier today (Sun 22 Nov) in the best of three final.

The Italian team Azzurra, led by Francesco Bruni, with Tommaso Chieffi as tactician, beat Barker and Co. 2-0 in the typically light weather (sub 8 knots) that has characterised the fortnight of match racing in Nice.

Yet looking back at the scores in the various rounds, the writing was on the wall that the Italians would be the team that could cause the upset in the final. By the end of Round Robin 1 Azzurra finished equal top with the Kiwis. After the combined results of this round and the abbreviated racing in round robin two, the Italians had overhauled the Kiwis to take pole position with the Kiwis in second and the British Team Origin in third.

Then, come the semi final and the final, Bruni’s team dropped just one of its five matches, a race against Ainslie and Co. The Kiwis and Brits lost three apiece.

In slipping to the petit final, Team Origin faced another team that has been causing upsets throughout the event and one that consistently punched well above it’s weight. Synergy, the newly formed Russian team skippered by Karol Jablonski took a staggering number of big scalps throughout the series, including that of Team Origin in the last race of the series. Unlike some teams where the team name is the only detail aboard a boat stacked with America’s Cup talent, the Russian entry had few experienced Cup personnel aboard, the crew list alone drove this point home with surnames that caused those commentating serious headaches.

There were headaches no doubt for some of the big guns, who’s normally slick performance backfired during this series, among them BMW Oracle racing who struggled right from the start and finished the event in 6th place. Yet perhaps an even bigger surprise was to see Artemis, skippered by Paul Cayard, slip down through the rankings to finish a lowly second to last, 7th by the end of the event.

Certainly the racing conditions were the consistently lightest that version 5 Cup racing has seen leading the organisers frequently to fire off racing as early as 8.30 am in order to catch the land breeze spilling off the snow capped Alps to the north, before the afternoon sunshine set a weak sea breeze against it. As a result the breeze was fickle and skittish in direction, providing some huge stumbling blocks on the course for teams that had gambled on one side in particular.

Yet, the interesting fact was that in such fickle conditions, the potential difference in the boats’ performances was ironed out. Getting the weather right assumed far more importance than before.

Overall, the event was another fascinating indication of what happens when you take design and technology out of high level big boat match racing. Seeing teams for what they are, unmasked by the brilliance of their design teams, is something we rarely see in Cup racing and first witnessed in Auckland in January with the Pacific Series. Now, after it’s second regatta and with four more to go in the new Louis Vuitton Trophy, the event has not only created a momentum for itself, but has provided an incentive for newer teams and their backers to put more than one toe in the water.

The next LV Trophy series is in Auckland in March, just after the 33rd America’s Cup.



M1: Azzurra d. Emirates Team New Zealand – Delta: 25 seconds

Azzurra 1, Team New Zealand 0

The first match of the Final of the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Cote d’Azur was a straightforward match race. There wasn’t a lot of boat-on-boat action, but the Azzurra crew deserves credit for sailing a smart race. Skipper Francesco Bruni and crew gained the advantage on the first beat and then covered smartly around the course for the win.

With the course axis set at 340 degrees and the range at 1.2 nautical miles, the course was short and placed a premium on winning the pre-start. But with the wind strength around 7 knots, the pre-start was mostly sedate. Azzurra had the starboard-tack advantage, but the two crews seemed more intent on positioning off the line rather than trying to pin a penalty on their opponent.

Both boats started on starboard with Azzurra at the pin end and Team New Zealand three lengths to windward. Team New Zealand quickly tacked to port off the line. Azzurra tacked to port about a minute into the race and both boats enjoyed a slight left-hand shift. Azzurra enjoyed it more as the Italians won the first cross, on port tack, by a boatlength. Bruni and tactician Tommaso Chieffi crossed to the right and then employed covering tactics. Azzurra led by 14 seconds at the first windward mark.
There wasn’t much difference between the yachts on the run. Azzurra gained nicely when the two crews first jibed to starboard. Then Team New Zealand gained back later on the leg when they both jibed to port. The gains and losses seemed due to how much pressure the crews had during their manoeuvres. Such is match racing in patchy winds. On the crews’ final jibes to starboard for the leeward gate, Azzurra got directly in front of Team New Zealand, which allowed the Italians to begin the second beat with an 18-second advantage.

Azzurra had an initial loss at the bottom of the second beat, but made that back later on the leg once it got into similar pressure as the Kiwis. The Italians gained nicely on the top of the leg when they were able to tack on the Kiwis’ air. Azzurra led by 23 seconds beginning the run to the finish.

Azzurra’s tactician Chieffi made a bold call on the final leg when he gybed his crew to port after the windward mark rounding. They gybed out of a covering position, but seemed to find more wind on the left side (looking upwind) of the course and were making 1.5 knots more boatspeed. When the two yachts converged moments later Azzurra had firm control halfway down the leg. The finish was in sight, and the 1-0 lead was secure.

M2: Azzurra d. Emirates Team New Zealand – Delta: 17 seconds

Azzurra 2, Team New Zealand 0

Azzurra sailed another solid race, winning the first cross and covering around the racecourse to win the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Cote d’Azur 2-0 over Emirates Team New Zealand.

Azzurra entered the pre-start of Race 2 on port tack. In the light, 8-knot winds the sailors consider that a death sentence because it’s hard to escape your opponents’ control. But Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni was up to the task. With about 2 minutes to the start he’d gone far enough forward on Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker to tack to port and lead the match to the outside of the committee boat. At the start Azzurra tacked to port and headed to the right side of the course while New Zealand took starboard onto the course before tacking to port.

With both boats on port tack Azzurra seemed to foot out to leeward of Emirates Team New Zealand. Azzurra tacked to starboard on the right side and when the two yachts converged about 5 minutes after the start Azzurra crossed so easily that Team New Zealand ducked behind to get to the right and minimize its loss. At the top of the leg Azzurra tacked to port and crossed with a boatlength advantage to round the windward mark 18 seconds in the lead.

The first run became skewed when the wind shifted left and both boats reached on starboard jibe. Azzurra led by 21 seconds at the leeward gate. Up the second beat the Italians protected the left side of the course and halfway up the leg got Team New Zealand pinned to leeward on starboard tack. The two yachts rode out to the port layline in that manner before tacking for the windward mark. Azzurra led by 18 seconds at the second windward mark.

Barker and Team New Zealand attacked on the run to the finish and after one cross halfway down the run appeared to gain the lead on the right side (looking upwind), but when Azzurra jibed back to port and converged with Team New Zealand, on starboard, the lead was back to 50 meters. Azzurra hung on for a 17-second win and won the series, 2-0.