Louis Vuitton Round Robin 1 is complete but not without some surprises. Matthew Sheahan reports
At last, Round Robin 1 is over. Everyone is breathing a sigh of relief in what has turned out to be a marathon slog that has challenged the organisers as much as the teams, thanks to the vagaries of the weather. But there are some who are more relieved than others.
“We’re glad to put it behind us,” said Grant Dalton. “We’re not happy with being third. We were looking for a better performance. We can’t wait to get into round robin two tomorrow. We will have to do better.”
Precisely what some were thinking when, as they watched the Kiwi boat get nailed before the start in their match against BMW Oracle. Forced over the line at the start, Chris Dickson and his crew pinned the Kiwis against the ropes as the clock ticked down to the start. Only when he thought there was enough time to dip back behind the line and leave the Kiwis stranded and OCS (on course side) as the gun went did he release his grip. A superb piece of match play and a humiliating pasting for the Kiwis. But as the Kiwis turned and accelerated towards the line, Dickson had gybed the boat too vigorously and stalled, a move that allowed the Kiwis off the hook. The spectators on the press boat were speechless. Two big players, two big mistakes.
“If you stall these boats fast you’ll stall them every time,” said Dickson. “There’s no such thing as zero risk out there and clearly I would have liked to have kept control for 100 percent of the start and not just 95 percent of it.”
Yet despite the free last minute hand out from BMW Oracle, Emirates Team New Zealand were unable to hold the full advantage up the first beat and rounded the weather mark just 3 seconds ahead after some superb one on one match racing. But the bottom line was that the American team had smoked up the beat to reel their opponents in. And while few would argue that there were shifts in direction and pressure on the course, the Kiwis appeared to let the Americans off the hook at the upper end of the beat when they chose to protect the right hand side.
“We gave them too much leverage,” said tactician Ray Davies. “We decided to keep it close and cover them pretty hard. They came straight up behind us into the top mark and for the last few tacks it got a bit light on the right hand side. We protected the starboard advantage and that’s where they made their big gain in the last few hundred metres of the beat.”
By the leeward mark the white and black American boat had overtaken the black and red Kiwi machine to take a lead that it never gave back. Indeed, from there the gap only widened to a finishing delta of 38 seconds by the finish.
Yet this isn’t really the full story. In the first match of the day the Kiwis were up against the Swedish Victory Challenge, a team that they must surely be able to muscle out of the park. Afterwards the Kiwis said that they wanted the right hand side and were prepared to go to great lengths to get it. They did, but it was messy. Pressed up against the committee boat and struggling for pace, this wasn’t a polished and dominant performance. To be fair, the Kiwis did go on to demonstrate why the right was best and went on to dominate the race, all the way to the finish. Yet despite the rationale, their pre-start duelling just didn’t seem to be as slick as it has been in the past.
Add this to the penalty that Luna Rossa placed on them in an earlier race in the pre-start and there are three examples that could be cause for concern. The team’s suffered three losses as well and is currently ranked third in the leader board.
So why the intense concern over Emirates Team New Zealand?
As one of the favourites for the Challenger slot, their main opponent is considered by most to be BMW Oracle and if today was anything to go by the Kiwis have some distance to go.
BMW Oracle look very powerful indeed, despite the shock of dropping a race to the Spanish in a superb and well deserved victory for the home team. The only loss for Dickson’s team in Round Robin 1 was this one and still leaves them as clear leaders on the eve of the next round.
The other surprise was to see Luna Rossa climb back in the rankings and finish second, the Spanish to grab hold of fourth and the early round stars Mascalzone Latino to slip to equal fifth with Victory Challenge.
Against the weather odds, today was a superb day of racing, a great way to end a protracted series that, exciting those it was, everyone is pleased to see the back of.
WHO BEAT WHO?
Luna Rossa BEAT Mascalzone Latino
Emirates Team New Zealand BEAT Victory Challenge
Desafio Espanol BEAT BMW Oracle
Victory Challenge BEAT Mascalzone Latino
Luna Rossa BEAT Desafio Espanol
BMW Oracle BEAT Emirates Team New Zealand
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