The Swiss boat Alinghi pulled off a one-second come-from-behind victory over BMW Oracle Racing today on the Hauraki Gulf in the first race of the challenger finals for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.
The American boat Oracle, skippered by Russell COUTTS
(NZL) led the whole race only to see Alinghi, with Ed BAIRD
(USA) at the helm, get to the favoured end of the finish line and snatch the win.
Competition in the three-race challenger series will continue tomorrow, Thursday, and the winner will meet the host team Emirates Team New Zealand in a seven-race series on Friday and Saturday.
COUTTS and BMW Oracle Racing fought their way to the top of the heap today in two races preceding the finals. They first defeated the Italian challenger Luna Rossa in a bare-knuckles quarter final brawl that featured three penalties. Then the American boat beat the other Italian contender Damiani Italia Challenge in the semi finals. Alinghi assured their place in the challenger finals three days ago by virtue of its top seeding in ten days of round robin competition.
Alinghi's start against BMW Oracle racing was without incident. The Swiss boat used its starboard entry into the start box to claim the right hand side of the course and lined up for the start with Oracle to leeward. COUTTS had a tiny edge at the start and leveraged it to a 70 metre lead at the first windward mark.
BAIRD drew level and threatened on the spinnaker run and Alinghi was just two seconds astern as they started the second beat. COUTTS opened the lead on the next beat but on the run, sailing some 90 metres ahead of his rivals, COUTTS only applied a loose cover as the boats split apart. A 20 degree wind shift at the top of the run had made the committee boat end of the finish line favoured and it gave BAIRD the break he needed to beat COUTTS.
In his quarter-final race COUTTS won by just one second after exquisitely executing a penalty turn at the finish line and beating Luna Rossa. Both boats were penalized as they fought for dominance rounding the first windward mark. Those penalties cancelled out but COUTTS got a second penalty for gybing too close on the run. Oracle managed to build a 100 metre lead and, defying the odds, COUTTS pulled off the penalty turn with seconds to spare.
In the semi final, there were no fireworks or flags when Oracle raced against Damiani Italia Challenge. It was a boat speed contest and the American team prevailed. Earlier, the new Italian team had earned their semi finals place by beating the British TEAMORIGIN. An umpire's green flag was the defining moment that spelled the end of the British team's bid. British skipper Ben AINSLIE
controlled his opponent, Francesco BRUNI
(ITA), throughout an aggressive pre-start sequence but an attempt by the Briton to force a penalty was green-flagged by the umpires while the Italians sailed away to victory.
Results table and scoring chart - click here
Full results at www.louisvuitton-pacificseries.com
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