Could a night on the town be the cure for Dickson's team as they reach crisis point? Matthew Sheahan considers
Having underperformed and posted a string of disappointing results, it’s not that uncommon to go out for a night on the town to forget. Resigning yourself to the notion that from now on you’re, ‘here to enjoy yourself’, not only makes you feel better at the time, but often does the trick.
Going back out onto the race course the next day with lower expectations and the pressure released, can often provide a shock result, a turn in your fortunes, sometimes just in the nick of time.
Perhaps this is just what BMW Oracle Racing need right now.
The frustration of finding themselves on the back foot and then backed up against the wall, must have come as a deep shock to a team that has wanted for nothing. At a conservative estimate, their Euro 150 million budget is believed to be the biggest in the 32nd America’s Cup. Among the Challengers they have the biggest base, the biggest team and the biggest toy cupboard which is understood to include 16 masts, 32 mainsails and more spinnaker poles than chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant. The sum of the parts adds up to the most innovative modern ACC boat that proudly displays one of the most recognisable logos in the western world, BMW, a company that has aligned itself closely with this high powered, high profile, deeply analytical team.
All of which adds up to a great deal of pressure and high expectations. And, as the saying goes, the bigger they are the harder they fall.
Losing to Luna Rossa in the first race was a hiccup that will have resulted in little more than some red faces. To win the way they did the following day would surely not have increased their confidence, sliding through on the final run after Luna Rossa failed to protect their position.
Losing on the third day was where the big blow came, this was not part of the plan, but by now the rot was starting to set in. The body language on the boat started to tell the story that the press releases didn’t as crew avoided eye contact and conversation whenever they could get away with it. Unless the cycle was broken, cracks would surely start to appear with the crew splitting into smaller groups within the team. When the boats are this closely matched, there is no amount of technology that can overcome a lack of confidence.
Meanwhile, aboard Luna Rossa, its crew were on the up side of the see-saw. Pleased to have notched a win on the first day, disappointed not to have driven home another in the second race, but happy that their boat and team had been proven to be a close match for BMW Oracle, Francesco de Angelis’ team were on the up.
Success breeds success and on each mark rounding and every race the Italians have developed their game and ground down the American team. Today was no different but shocking to watch. Shocking because of the speed that Dickson was dispatched.
Entering from the left hand end of the line on port is a strategy that Dickson has so far felt happy with. More often than not, he has been able to slide across the bow of the right hand boat to get back onto the safe side of the start box and stand a better chance of controlling the game. But the big boys have become wise to this and as Luna Rossa entered from the right, Spithill bore away hard to sail deep early and prevent Dickson from getting across. It worked and when the boats were dialled up, Dickson was pinned out to the left, beyond the starboard layline in coffin corner where the only way back is on port.
Instead of trying to bear away on starboard and out run Spithill before gybing and coming back, Dickson tried to get across Spithill’s bow on port. The move wouldn’t work, he flicked back onto starboard and headed back towards coffin corner, the beginning of the end.
Bearing away and gybing put him on port, Luna Rossa was on starboard. Spithill saw it, so did the umpires and up went the flag. Dickson was given not just any penalty, but a red flag penalty, ordering him to complete his turn at his earliest opportunity after starting.
The red mist came down, Dickson luffed hard, Spithill responded. But then for some reason rather than holding Luna Rossa up to the breeze, Dickson bore away hard, his transom swung out and hit Luna Rossa. The Italians might have been windward boat but they were given no opportunity to keep clear. At least that’s how the umpires saw it. On went another penalty light and with it, out went Dickson’s chances of winning this race.
“We’re still happy with our boat speed,” said Peter Isler at the post race press conference . Indeed, he seemed to keep returning to the point that the boat was quick. Was he hinting at something else as the cause? Helming, tactics, strategy? He didn’t say.
“This series has not come down to boat speed yet. Luna Rossa is putting on a great show so far,” he continued.
But Luna Rossa is quick, the crew work strong and their confidence high. They have rounded every single mark ahead. They won today and never needed to rely on their penalty trump card. Beating the Italians to the Louis Vuitton Finals starts with leading at the finish and doing this four times in a row.
Meanwhile, the Kiwis sailed a confident and tactically clinical race and never gave the Spanish the slightest opportunity to pass.
A summer Saturday night in Valencia barely exists, parties go on until dawn and the kids fireworks begin at midnight. Tonight or all nights is the time to be out of the tiles, but I doubt those that are will see any of Dickson’s crew out changing their fortunes tonight.
Results After Day 3
Emirates Team New Zealand v Desafio Espanol: 4:1
BMW Oracle Racing v Luna Rossa: 1:4
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