Sunday, 3 June 2007

Lady Luck eludes Luna Rossa

James Spithill delivered pretty much everything that could have been asked of him in the pre-start today. Dean Barker allowed himself to be carried into a long luffing match that took both boats way above the start line.

At one point, things were starting to look a bit desperate for the Kiwis, and eventually Barker bit the bullet as he bore away deep on to starboard gybe. Spithill responded by turning sharply inside the Kiwi boat and still controlled the situation.

As both boats recrossed the start line and gybed on to port, the Italians seemed happy to leave the Kiwis to their own devices, opting to focus on a fast, full-pace start off the middle of the start line as the gun fired.

The flustered Kiwis were probably relieved to have been let off the hook so easily, although they were very downspeed at the committee boat.
The Italian dominance of the pre-start had given them a boatlength’s advantage in the early stages. In some ways it was a close replica of what happened in yesterday’s start but with the tables turned. The difference was that Luna Rossa never got to exert that boatlength’s advantage.

Within two minutes of the start, the Kiwis’ higher track in slightly better breeze from the right had neutralised the early Italian advantage. Another two minutes later, and the Kiwis had fully reversed the situation as they pulled ahead to a boatlength’s lead.

Kiwi strategist Ray Davies later admitted: “As the old saying goes, it is sometimes better to be lucky rather than good. The breeze went our way and in a few moments it was difficult for them to come back at us.”

Torben Grael knew he was in trouble and was reluctant to tack over to engage the enemy, suspecting he already knew the answer. However, as the port layline drew uncomfortably close, he called for a tack and got the answer he had been dreading.

At the first cross, NZL 92 was more than a boatlength ahead. It was game, set and match from there. The Kiwis extended around the track and crossed the finish 450 metres ahead, winning by 1 minute 38 seconds.

So, what lessons for the Italians? They have a right to feel a little sorry for themselves, because the wind dealt them no favours off the start line today. But in the land of no excuses, which is the America’s Cup, questions have to be asked of the weather team and the afterguard.

One member of the Italian afterguard, Ben Durham, commented: “Hindsight is a good thing – we took the line bias and were hoping we were going to be able to take over. I think over the last three days ETNZ has done a better job of getting off the line and getting it up to speed well and getting the first shift. I think they are all areas that we can do a bit better in.”

In both their starboard entry pre-starts, the Italians have happily conceded the power of the right. On both occasions the left has failed to produce the goods. In today’s pre-start Spithill was holding all the aces. He could have taken the right but preferred to start closer to the wind on the pin-biased line.

They were unlucky, and they deserved better. But maybe the Italians need to be looking further up the track before the start. Winning the start is not sufficient. You have to be winning the race two minutes after the start, and that is what the Kiwis are doing so well.

The day’s rest tomorrow does the Italians a massive favour. It slows down the Kiwis’ momentum and gives Luna Rossa a chance to take stock and regroup. That said, it’s very hard to see them coming back from this. It’s not that they’re sailing badly, it’s just that the Kiwis are sailing with ruthless efficiency. And they’re getting faster. If Luna Rossa couldn’t capitalise on their dominance over New Zealand in today’s pre-start, then when can they?

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