Kiwis come good when it counts, Cup holders last of the big boys - what is going on as America's Cup Act 2 ends?
We had everything today, sun, spectators, and a climax to Act 2 where every point counted. Everything that is except wind, but even this didn’t dampen the surprises.
The racing started off well with 8-10 knots of breeze, easily enough to make for an interesting series of pre-starts, but gradually conditions faded away to leave the entire fleet struggling to move on the race course. Substantial cloud cover throughout the morning had prevented the land from heating up and with it the chances of a sea breeze developing.
So, by 3pm it was all over and the overall results for Act 2 stood as they did at the end of yesterday’s racing. Emirates Team New Zealand won Act 2, a tremendous result for a team that haven’t won a major AC event since successfully defending the Cup in 2000.
“Success in this event is a building block for us,” said Grant Dalton. “It says we’ve got a good team and good ingredients, now we’ve got to bake a good cake.”
At the beginning of this series the team looked a little dusty with the odd wake up call on the start line and just a hint of slow pace from time to time. Yet this was hardly surprising given the number of changes that had taken place in the crew, especially at the back of the bus where the tightly defined roles of navigator, tactician and strategist seemed to make for a complex chain of command among people who were unused to working with eachother.
Of the key people, Ben Ainslie kept attracting the attention of the press and by the finish there were some who were drawing parallels between the Kiwi’s charge from behind with Ainslie’s performance a few weeks earlier in Greece.
Once more the bridesmaid, Luna Rossa finished second to the Kiwis and were kicking themselves for the few mistakes they had made.
“It’s always tough, but we really should have won our race yesterday against ETNZ,” said Luna Rossa’s helmsman James Spithill. “It was tough conditions, but they did a better job.”
The Italian team were nonetheless pleased with their performance having sat out the first of the Acts in Marseille.
But the real surprise was to see the top two teams occupying third and fourth places. For BMW Oracle the issue was simple one according to their helmsman Gavin Brady.
“We dropped the ball a couple of times and then we didn’t get all the races in, so you really couldn’t afford to lose those matches,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the fall from the previously dominant position for Cup holders Alinghi. To see them finish fourth must be the biggest surprise of all for many. Has the team fallen apart?
Not according to Jochen Schuemann.
“When you are a winner in your sport you may have great wins and great victories, but there will have been plenty of losses where you have learned what not to do through experience,” he said.
“In Auckland we went out and practiced more times than just about any other team. This time we haven’t practiced and in sport you better do some practice if you want to win.”
Which perhaps gives us a clue as to what the real goals of the team were at the start and will further fuel the growing belief that Alinghi might just be back-pedalling. In many ways they have good reason to do so, as showing their hand at this stage offers little purpose in their long term game.
But that’s not to say that the team are under control and on top of things. There’s certainly an atmosphere of mild disarray and disorientation around the normally slick and sophisticated team. No money for new gear, no training and the loss of their top helmsman seems to have taken its toll. But just as you think they’ve lost their sense of humour, Schuemann comes out with a corker when asked how many men it will take to replace Russell Coutts.
“Oh, I don’t think he was that heavy, so hopefully not too many!”
So what of the others, what could they take from the week?
Le Defi had proved that they are the top boat in the second group, while the second French team drew success off the water, (despite demonstrating some flashes of inspiration afloat), by announcing a new sponsor last week.
The Italian 39 team have climbed a steep learning curve and is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with and with some straight talking from one of the newest boys on the block Iain Percy. Meanwhile the South Africans have demonstrated their aptitude for America’s Cup racing and how close they can get to toppling a big team in a race.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of all continues to be the number of people who flock down to the basin to be a part of the show. To get here you really need to want to as the site is well out from the main city. Everyday the walk back from interviewing the crews is like threading your way through Waterloo station in the rush hour – There I loathe it, here I love it.
Act 3 starts on Thursday – Be there!
ACT 2 FINAL RESULTS
Team Name: (Points) Matches Won / Sailed / Cancelled
Emirates Team New Zealand (11.5) 10 /11 /3
Luna Rossa (10.5) 9 /11 /3
BMW ORACLE Racing (9.5) 8 /11 /3
Team Alinghi (9.5) 8 /11 /3
LE DEFI (5.5) 4 /11 /3
K-Challenge (4.5) 3 /11 /3
39 (3.5) 2 /11 /3
Team Shosholoza (1.5) 0 /11 /3
** Point ties are broken in favour of the winner of the last match between the tied teams
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