Last match of the Act and high pressure came into play
High pressure at the centre of the Mediterranean was the dominant feature for the weather on the final day of Louis Vuitton Act 4, but down at sea level off the coast of Valencia, there was also high pressure on the race course in two key matches today.
With the overall winner decided with a day to spare and fourth place buttoned up as well, it was the matches between Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle for second place and the match between the Swedes and the Spanish that drew the attention today. Both were close and both were packed with plenty of action.
In the Kiwi versus Oracle match the boats were barely more than 30 seconds apart round the entire course after the Kiwis had picked the beneficial left hand side of the course to gain a slim advantage. According to BMW Oracle helmsman Kostecki, they knew they had to do more than wait for the next big shift and capitalise on it and decided to get back at the Kiwis by grinding them down.
“The boats were relatively similar in speed and we weren’t going to sail around them by going to one side or the other so we needed to stir it up a little bit and hopefully get into a tight situation and force them to make a mistake,” said BMW Oracle tactician John Kostecki.
On the first beat the US team forced 12 tacks in twenty minutes, that’s around one tack every minute and a half. On the second upwind leg the pace quickened as the Kiwis notched up 31 tacks to the American’s 29 in a leg time of 19 minutes. That’s one tack every 37 seconds on average. This may not sound like a huge task, but if you’ve tried winding 25 tonnes of load on the runners each time an AC boat goes about, you’ll get the picture. And that’s before you consider the grinders winding in the headsail and mainsail.
Things didn’t get much quieter on the second of the downwind legs with the Americans piling on the pressure with 8 gybes to the Kiwis 9. But in the end the Kiwis held a slim advantage of 17 seconds to slip over the line and take second place in Act 4 – just.
On the south course, the Swedes were up against the home team, Desafio Espanol, to take fifth position overall. While fifth isn’t first, there’s little doubt that this was a match for the top of the ‘B’ division or the Silver fleet.
Both these teams have impressed the pundits, the public and even themselves with their performance after so little preparation and practice.
In the event, the match started off badly for the Victory team who incurred a penalty in the pre-start manoeuvre, but as we saw earlier in the series, in a bizarre twist, sometimes this can force a boat into a position that becomes an advantage. And so it did for the Swedes who managed to get a slim advantage as the start gun went.
As the race progressed the Swedes stretched out their lead to 43 seconds, enough to off-load their penalty at the finish to take the prestigious fifth place.
Positions are one thing, but just how serious were the teams racing this week and what can we deduce from their performances?
Any suggestion that the Act doesn’t matter and the teams weren’t trying simply doesn’t stack up for those who were watching. There’s also a strong suspicion that the big men behind the big teams want success more than many appreciate. The dockside chat after last season was that Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli was extremely disappointed not to have won last season. Yet this week the team has bounced back to display the kind of dominance and confidence that was so much in evidence in Auckland.
BMW Oracle, often seen as a team that wants success too much to make it a possibility, appears to have relaxed slightly and improved as a result, while Luna Rossa seem to have retreated into a quiet zone with little sign that they can pull a point off the big three in match racing at least.
And the Kiwis? Calm, confident and firmly in the top league but there are signs that they haven’t quite got what it takes yet to beat the team that caused them so much grief in their home town two years ago.
Tomorrow (Wed) was the reserve day and Thursday a lay day. Racing resumes on Friday with fleet racing in Act 5. A total of 288 tones of carbon fibre thundering down the start line with rudder blades the width of a carving knife.
****** LIVE AUDIO & RESULTS******
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OVERALL POSITIONS ACT 4
1 – Alinghi
2 – Emirates Team New Zealand
3 – BMW ORACLE Racing
4 – Luna Rossa Challenge
5 – Victory Challenge
6 – Desafío Español 2007
7 – K-Challenge
8 – Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team
9 – 39 Challenge
10 – United Internet Team Germany
11 – China Team
12 – Team Shosholoza