Another loss for Dickson's BMW Oracle Racing team and time is running out, so what's left in the tank? Matthew Sheahan finds out
From the look on his face it was difficult to imagine which position felt more uncomfortable for BMW Oracle Racing’s navigator Peter Isler. His position aboard USA-98 as his team mates watched Luna Rossa cruise away to another clean victory, or his seat in a packed press conference hall shortly after the finish.
Normally confident, chatty and pragmatic in his answers and always good to listen to, today Isler looked like a man carrying the burden of broken expectations. Sure, as he explained, the team had to deal with races day by day. Sure, a team needs to ignore the corrosive elements that come with defeat and look forward positively to tomorrow’s race, but there is one hard fact that everyone is finding difficult to come to terms with. In the semi finals USA-98 has yet to round a mark ahead of Luna Rossa.
In many ways, today’s race was even more punishing than yesterday’s. There was no killer punch by Spithill in the start box, today’s merry dance was tame by normal standards and Dickson acquitted himself well. There was no major shift up the first beat either. Dickson aimed for the right, got the right, but the left had a slight advantage, but only slight. On the second beat when the two boats split sides and were separated by 2.7km of water, when they came back together, there was still little in it.
When it came to the downwind leg, the only point of sail that Dickson’s team appears to have a speed advantage, Luna Rossa appear to have learned how to both calm down their tactics and keep the mighty Oracle behind them.
So what could have happened to make the former invincible looking BMW Oracle look so eminently beatable?
One theory is that Luna Rossa has taken a leap in performance? Possible, all the teams made changes between Round Robin 2 and the semi finals. Possible, but the feeling around the dock is that such a jump in performance is unlikely.
Dickson’s team could have put the handbrake on with their mode changes during the break. The fact that they have now made a certificate change, said by opponent Spithill to be the rudder, might suggest that they are trying to back track or compensate for any earlier changes.
The third option, and the one that I favour, is far simpler and comes down to human nature. In the first two races of the semis, Dickson and his crew got a fright when Spithill mixed things up. Losing one race and then winning the second, but only by the skin of their teeth, would surely rattle confidence. Taking a second blow in the third race simply compounded the problems. When the stress levels and tensions raise, the more errors are made. Then starts the vicious downward spiral. The more mistakes, the more errors and so on.
Breaking this cycle is extremely difficult and relies on an open dialogue, no blame culture where cards are laid on the table. And while we can only imagine what it must be like to be in one of the current post race meetings, the look on Peter Isler’s face and his manner said more than the team PR script would ever allow.
Meanwhile, in the match between the Kiwis and the Spanish, Barker’s team looked settled and powerful, pulling off a confident start before sailing a solid and conservative race. Despite keeping the action close, there was never a sufficient opening for the Spanish to slip through but that didn’t stop them pushing right to the end.
After the race, navigator Matt Wachowicz was asked how the team kept it’s motivation given that the chances of being beaten by the powerful Kiwis was high. His answer was straight from the heart, drew applause from the journos (yes, applause) and will no doubt be used as a key motivational speech for years to come. Definitely one to listen to .
Peter Isler did, intently.
Results After Day 3
Emirates Team New Zealand v Desafio Espanol: 3:1
BMW Oracle Racing v Luna Rossa: 1:3
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