Kiwis just one point away from victory at the Louis Vuitton Cup and another punishing day for Luna Rossa. Matthew Sheahan reports
Once again it was a numbers day for the Kiwis. Nineteen seconds at the first weather mark, 54 seconds at the bottom of the downwind leg. A return to the windward mark for the second time saw the lead increase to 1 minute and by the finish, 52 seconds.
All of which added up to a score line that reads 4:0 to the Kiwis and puts them one step closer to the Cup match itself.
Today’s result was another crushing blow to Luna Rossa.
While the Italian team will deny that it has lost faith in its ability to win the America’s Cup, there’s an air of defeat wafting across from the Luna Rossa base. The facts of the finals make grim reading for those banking on an Italian win. Having never rounded a mark ahead of their opponents, Luna Rossa has become a victim of what looks likely to be the same punishment that it dealt to BMW Oracle Racing in the semi finals.
Unlike the American team’s last gasp changes, when skipper Dickson was taken off then boat, there is no sense that there will be any major changes or sackings tonight at Luna Rossa. The days of knee jerk reactions and tantrums in the last Cup appear to be behind this team. Instead, an eerie acceptance and a naive belief that better times might just be around the corner if they continue to go out and do the best they can, seems to be the backbone of their strategy.
Clearly, with their backs against the wall the team is unlikely to tell the press any specific details of overnight changes that might turn their performance around. The trouble is that the bottom line appears to be that the Italians have finally met their match in a team that has both a faster boat and has learned how to extricate itself from weaker initial positions. It’s difficult to see what Luna Rossa can do to avoid another defeat.
“We’re not slow, but we’re not a rocket ship,” admitted tactician Torben Grael speaking at the press conference shortly after the race, .
The trouble is that their opponent’s boat is. Emirates Team New Zealand’s NZL92 has always looked good in light weather, but as the Louis Vuitton Cup series has unfolded, the Kiwi team has learned more about its boat and how to sail it. Small weaknesses have been ironed out and the sweet spot cultivated to more of a sweet zone.
For the second time in the Louis Vuitton finals, when NZL92 and ITA94 are sailing in the same piece of water, in the same breeze, their tracks upwind are noticeably different, the Kiwis sailing consistently higher and faster as they climb away with ease.
After today’s race, Torben Grael was grilled by the press as to why, having hooked into a good shift on the right, he hadn’t crossed the bow of the Kiwi boat when they had a decent lead to do so, to cover and protect their position.
“We felt we were on a leftie and wanted to defend the right side which we thought was good, and take which position we thought was safe,” he explained. “They [Team New Zealand] hung out with a nice leftie with pressure and made a huge gain in a short period. From then on it was quite difficult for us to come back because we weren’t in a strong position to do so. It’s hard to predict those things – the right came, but it came late, and we couldn’t benefit from it. Knowing what happened now I would have got closer, but it’s a hard situation there, you have to decide right then on the information you have, and with what I had, I felt I was doing the right thing.”
The Kiwi’s tactician Ray Davies appeared to back Grael’s decision, but he would wouldn’t he?
“I can understand their reasoning – it was a left-hander, and the way it played out I’m sure they would have done it differently in hindsight. They would have wanted to get back in phase and drag it out to the layline. It was a pretty tough day; with the wind direction the left can be very strong at times. But today we got the first part wrong, and we got lucky from there. It shows that things can change quite dramatically. We can’t rule out anything with the fickle conditions we are having. It’s hard to make clever calls all the way up, and both teams made mistakes today.”
And there perhaps lies the strangest part of today, unless you’re used to the Kiwi sporting reverse psychology, Davies admitting that the team had made yet another mistake. The day before yesterday it was being slow on the line, how careless.
When they were making mistakes back in round robin 1 they certainly weren’t admitting them and even when they did, never with a smile. Today was different, but so is their performance. Once again the Kiwis have shown how much boat speed they have, as well as how they can extricate themselves from a ‘less than perfect scenario.’
For the Italians, the stark facts on the race course and a forecast for more of the same must surely mean a change is required. But, as suspected there’s little more to draw on in the toy cupboard.
“If we’d had anything that would suddenly change our performance overnight you can bet we would have brought it out by now,” said mainsheet trimmer Jonathan McKee. “They’ve out sailed us so far in this series and that’s all you can say.”
Grim news for the third time Challengers.
Tomorrow, (Wednesday 6 June), could see the end of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the selection of the official Challenger and the start of the America’s Cup for real.
LOUIS VUITTON FINALS – SCORE TO DATE
Emirates Team New Zealand – 4
Luna Rossa – 0
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