After 201 races, the Louis Vuitton Cup still hasn’t settled anything. Luna Rossa and AmericaOne are tied with four wins each in the Final series. Race Nine, to determine the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup and the Challenger for the America’s Cup is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday). Italy’s Luna Rossa forced the decisive race by earning an incredible win under immense pressure. Having lost three consecutive races to Paul Cayard on AmericaOne, Francesco de Angelis rallied his troops and won what was yet another close race. Millions of dollars, three years of hard work and over four months of racing will be decided in just two hours on Sunday afternoon here in Auckland.
Racing started in ideal conditions again today. For the second consecutive day, the Hauraki Gulf was under sunny skies dotted with high cumulus clouds. There was 10-15 knots of wind from the South-Southwest and a slight sea swell. The wind veered to the Southwest throughout the afternoon.
The start featured very aggressive manoeuvring from both Cayard and de Angelis. De Angelis gave a sign of things to come on the initial dial-up when he waited until the last possible moment to turn his starboard tack boat up into the wind, and almost made contact with AmericaOne. Cayard, never one to shy from combat, led out behind the Committee Boat from the dial-up with de Angelis on his tail and then turned back for the starting line first. Luna Rossa established a small overlap to leeward and de Angelis luffed once and then again, forcing Cayard to tack. Luna Rossa crossed the start line first near the pin end. AmericaOne tacked again near the Committee Boat and also started on starboard tack, upwind, and two seconds behind the Italian boat. Penalty flags were flown on both boats on the initial dial-up and the luff, but the Umpires decided no rules had been infringed.
The boats pushed out to the left side of the course from the start. Separated literally by just 100 metres AmericaOne, to windward and Luna Rossa, slightly ahead, sailed out nearly to the port tack layline. Cayard first, and de Angelis just moments later, tacked and pushed up towards the top mark. When the wind shifted left, and both boats appeared to be laying the windward mark, de Angelis started footing off to roll over the top of AmericaOne. But the wind went back to the right and at that point both grey boats appeared as though they would miss the mark. A small left shift near the mark and de Angelis made it around while Cayard was forced to tack twice to get to the layline. AmericaOne trailed by 20 seconds at the top of the first run.
Both boats elected for bear-away spinnaker sets and Cayard gybed off for the middle of the course after a few moments. AmericaOne exhibited good speed and gybed back to close in on Luna Rossa. De Angelis gybed just three boat lengths ahead of AmericaOne and Cayard slowly picked metres out of the already tenuous lead.
Midway down the leg, de Angelis could look over his shoulder and see Cayard just over 50 metres behind him. Cayard and de Angelis gybed at virtually the same time, and now AmericaOne was in a strong position to interfere with the wind reaching the Italian boat and perhaps roll over to windward. De Angelis gybed away, protecting his starboard tack advantage on the next convergence, but Cayard had won the inside if he could establish an overlap for the mark rounding. When Luna Rossa gybed short of the layline, Cayard closed and then gybed with a full overlap and positioned well between the Italians and the wind. De Angelis slowly luffed, Cayard responded slowly, and the Umpires ruled AmericaOne didn’t respond quickly enough, penalising Cayard. AmericaOne was now burdened with a 270-degree turn to exonerate the penalty, to be taken at any time before the finish. Both boats rounded the mark cleanly with Luna Ro