The British Challenge rebounded from a poor showing on Thursday to beat Team New Zealand and advance to the finals of the America’s Cup Class match racing series for the Louis Vuitton Trophy.
The British team will meet the Prada Challenge, who easily dispatched the second British entry. The new generation GBR-52 was in tough against Team New Zealand after losing the first race in the best of three series on Thursday. But helmsman Andy Green recovered, executing two flawless starts in Friday's competition, to put the Kiwis on their back foot.
"We're absolutely thrilled with today," grinned Ian Walker, the sailing team manager for the GBR Challenge. "I think Andy Green showed a huge amount of character to step in today against Dean Barker, having lost yesterday's first race. To absolutely stitch Dean up in both starts…well you can't really ask for more than that."
The British Challenge will now face the Italian Prada team in Saturday's America's Cup Class final. Prada advanced by beating the other British entry, GBR-41, in two consecutive matches. Nobody would realistically have expected the older vintage GBR-41 to compete with Luna Rossa, the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland in February 2001, so Walker said, the fledgling British Challenge has nothing to be ashamed of.
"I had a chat with the lads afterwards, and the pressure's off now. We're in a position where we have nothing to lose," he said.
For the Italians, skipper Francesco de Angelis said he was looking forward to tomorrow's match. "The racing here is very challenging and fun, and we're excited about it. Every time you line up on the starting line, you are there to win, so that's what we hope to do tomorrow."
The schedule calls for three races to be sailed in the 'first to win two' match, but the weather forecast isn't very promising, and there is a possibility only one race will be sailed. Meanwhile, on the Eastern Solent, Russell Coutts and his Kiwi/Swiss crew from the Swiss Alinghi Challenge for the America's Cup have won the Grand Prix Class of the Prada International 12-Metre Championship with a day in hand. Sailing the 12-Metre South Australia, Coutts finished fourth today to amass a low point score of nine points. With five races completed and the ability to discard his sixth race, Coutts is not expected to sail tomorrow.
There was a distinct match-racing component to the fleet racing in the Grand Prix Class. Sailing in bright sunshine and a ten-knot westerly breeze, the top boats were careful to protect their existing points base.
"Coutts was sailing real fast and was a little better than the rest of us this week," said Gary Jobson, who was steering Edgar Cato's Hissar, formerly the Kiwi "Plastic Fantastic" KZ5. "The boys on Australia II were doing a real nice job too. Behind them there was a massive fight amongst the rest of us for the remaining places. "The surprise to me was that Team New Zealand, sailing Kiwi Magic didn't seem to have the stuff and they have a good boat too." Jobson described the day's finishes as "an oddball situation" as Irving Laidlaw's Ecosse took first place and Richard Matthew's Crusader finished second. "People were more worried about their overall positions in the regatta than they were about winning today," he said.
Australia II, sailed by John Bertrand, finished third, while Kiwi Magic finished sixth. They are second and third overall with 16 and 19 points respectively. Ecosse is fourth with 20 points. In the Modern 12-Metre Class, the Olin Stephens-designed 12-Metres Intrepid and Freedom continued their battle but Ernest Jacquet's Freedom, the 1980 America's Cup winner, logged two firsts while John Curtin's Intrepid, winner of the America's Cup in 1967 and 1970 finished sixth and second. After leading on points yesterday, Intrepid is now second, five points behind the new leader, Freedom.
In the Classic 12-Metre Class the old Fife Twelve Flica, steered by French Olympic gold medallist Thierry Pepponnet, which was tied with Nyala, owned by Patrizio Bertelli of the Prada Challenge, with Torben Grael steering, fell to 10th place on the first race of the day, while Nyala finished fourth in the second. J. Fauroux's former British America's Cup challenger Sovereign finished second and first in the two races and moved into first place with a one point lead over Nyala. Flica is now a distant seven points back in third place.
Before racing started for the day, His Royal Majesty, King Juan Carlos I, the King of Spain addressed a select gathering of media at the Royal Yacht Squadron. His Majesty is here sailing Bribon, an IMS-50, competing in the IMS Modern division. "The feeling I had sailing here in the Jubilee Race Around the Island was of great happiness and excitement…the Louis Vuitton Cup has been very positive for Spanish sailing (and) even if it hasn't been easy…it is very important to participate in America's Cup. I do hope that Spain will again be in future editions of this great event." His Majesty then went out and proved his prowess on the water, winning the day's race in the IMS Modern division.