But all of those positives come with a responsibility to perform, and a pressure to excel. No one is more aware of this than skipper and CEO Chris DICKSON (NZL).
'With a big team you give yourself a better chance of winning,' he said in an interview early in the campaign in 2004. 'But we have all learnt that it's exponentially harder to keep it on track.'
The events of the 2005 season make DICKSON look like a clairvoyant. The team had a pair of very high profile defections when first tactician John KOSTECKI (USA) and then primary helmsman Gavin BRADY (NZL) left the team. KOSTECKI left as day to day skipper/tactician after a disappointing opening regatta in the Valencia Louis Vuitton Acts (although he is still officially with the team as a consultant) in Spain. For BRADY the end came early in the Malmö-Skåne regatta after DICKSON had come aboard the boat (after remaining ashore in Valencia) and taken over the helm.
Of course, 'disappointing' is a relative term. DICKSON and ELLISON were frustrated in Valencia with results many other teams would kill for. The team was third in the match racing with losses to Alinghi and Emirates Team New Zealand, and fourth in the fleet racing including a difficult tenth place finish in the last race…not a bad result for most teams, but BMW ORACLE Racing has its eyes set firmly on the big prize - and that means winning, not coming in third or fourth.
A Change For The Better
For rest of the season, DICKSON remained on the helm (with ELLISON taking the wheel on occasion) and Bertrand PACÉ (FRA) on board as tactician The changes paid immediate dividends, with the team finishing in second place in both Malmö-Skåne Louis Vuitton Acts in Sweden. In the match races, the team beat everyone, but for Alinghi, and in the fleet races DICKSON's squad was far more consistent, with no finish worse than fourth, and ending with an identical record to Alinghi who won the tie-break by virtue of winning the last race.
In Trapani, Italy, the results on the water were just as impressive, although on paper, BMW ORACLE Racing finished further back. In fact, in the match racing, they were equal first on points, with the top four teams each having 9-2 records. Unfortunately for the Americans, they came out on the wrong end of the tiebreak formula to finish fourth. (The good news is they finally beat Alinghi, the only one of the top teams to do so all season). In the fleet racing, BMW ORACLE was also tied for first (with no race finish worse than second), again falling back on the tiebreak mechanism to second place.
'We had a strong, solid performance this year,' said DICKSON after racing concluded in Trapani. 'I'm pleased with the way the team has gone; the crew, the boat, the afterguard. On paper, we're disappointed with the result but to finish first equal with Alinghi in the last three regattas, means our performance is strong. We're knocking, we're right there.
'We are a stronger team today than we were a month ago and we are significantly stronger than we were three months ago. We had some bumps in the road in the middle of the year, but the team has come through with flying colours.'
BMW ORACLE Racing's plan for the winter is similar to many of the other teams. After embarking on a tour of US yacht clubs to promote the event in the States and raise money (over US $100,000) for junior sailing, team members are sailing in various regattas around the world. A few sailors are taking part in the Volvo Ocean Race, while others are on tour on the match racing circuit. The team will re-convene in Valencia early in 2006 to begin training from their new base in the Port America's Cup.
'It will be six to seven months before the America's Cup Class goes racing together again,' DICKSON said after Trapani. 'A lot will change in that six months. There will be a lot of progress between the teams. We will be building new masts and sails and equipment and we will start building our new boat as well. The sailing team will be competing in a lot of events. The designers will be designing and the builders will be building.'
'The ideal design is achieved by combining the crew's vision with technical excellence,' says design coordinator Ian 'Fresh' BURNS. 'We're looking for that one small advantage that will make the difference between winning and losing the Cup.'
The result of all that technical excellence may or may not be on display on the race course in 2006. BMW ORACLE Racing, like some of the other top teams, has not decided whether to race its new boat, or keep it under wraps and limit its activity to in-house racing and testing next year. With USA 76 providing such a strong benchmark in performance, the team does not necessarily need the competition to let it know if its new design is on the right track. And the goal of course is to win in 2007, not 2006, something DICKSON knows as well as anyone.
'We are knocking on the door. We have closed the gap. We are closer to them now than we were two and a half years ago. Next year, we will be closer again and that sets it up nicely for a Challenger to win the America's Cup in 2007.'
BMW ORACLE Racing: Match Races in 2005
The following table shows all race results from the three Match Racing Acts of the 2005 season: Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 4, Malmö-Skåne Louis Vuitton Act 6 and Trapani Louis Vuitton Act 8. The right column shows the total amount of points gained against each team throughout the year. The bottom row shows the total amount of races won per Louis Vuitton Act.
BMW ORACLE Racing: Fleet Racing in 2005
The following table lists all finishes during the three Fleet Racing Acts of the 2005 season: Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 5, Malmö-Skåne Louis Vuitton Act 7 and Trapani Louis Vuitton Act 9. The curve of the results charts the progress of the team over the year.
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