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9 April 2007, 06:12 pm
Alinghi Set The Benchmark
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America's Cup 2007
Valencia, Spain

The fleet racing of Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 13 was the opening act of the decisive year of the 32nd America's Cup. Beginning with the fleet 'unveiling' and continuing with seven races, Act 13 marked the opening of the season, the debut of the final configuration of Port America's Cup and a chance to set the scene for the climax to come. The Defender Alinghi set the benchmark with a dominant performance which begged the question of the challengers - just who will measure up?
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Ashore, Port America's Cup was bustling with activity. Nearly 230,000 visitors came to the Port to enjoy the racing, sample the new restaurants and cafés, and explore the entertainment on offer. At nearly one-million square metres, Port America's Cup offers a full range of activities, from exhibitions, games and activities, to spectator boats and even a chance to sail on a real America's Cup Class boat.

In addition, there is often a 'special' activity to see or participate in. On Sunday, this was a tennis 'match' on the water featuring Juan Carlos FERRERO and other tennis stars, who are in town for the Comunidad Valenciana Open Tennis Tournament.

In the racing on the water last week, the 11 challengers had an opportunity to take a final look at the Defender, Alinghi, who will not race again before the first race of the 32nd America's Cup Match on 23 June. They may not have liked what they saw; Alinghi dominated the regatta, winning four of the seven races, and claiming Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 13 by a 14 point margin.

How The Teams Fared

Alinghi

Skipper Brad BUTTERWORTH (NZL) must have been pleased with his team's impressive performance, but he knows that from now onwards, Alinghi is on its own, preparing in-house for the America's Cup Match. 'It is not an easy game to win,' BUTTERWORTH said after the prizegiving ceremony. 'The challengers will develop through the Louis Vuitton Cup. We are going to have to develop outside of it and that is going to be the battle.'

Emirates Team New Zealand

The Kiwis came into Act 13 leading the Louis Vuitton Ranking which assigns bonus points to challengers, and they extended their lead by sailing a strong regatta. Skipper Dean BARKER (NZL) did not sail in the races, handing the wheel to understudy Ben AINSLIE (GBR), who helmed NZL 84, their first new boat, to second place. 'We've certainly had to scrap and fight hard to get second place,' AINSLIE said. 'It's been a good warm up and now we're looking forward to the serious racing.'

BMW ORACLE Racing

If the American team had beaten Emirates Team New Zealand, it would have passed them on the Louis Vuitton Ranking and grabbed an extra bonus point. BMW ORACLE started Act 13 strongly, but had some poor results in the middle of the regatta, from which it could not recover. In fact, it took some strategic sailing in the final race to preserve second position on the Ranking. 'When we went around the bottom mark the Louis Vuitton Ranking points came down to the last lap of the last race. With us winning, Luna Rossa second, Alinghi third and Mascalzone Latino in fourth, Luna Rossa was beating us on the Ranking. We needed to slow them down, slow down the action in order to move Alinghi forward and get back into second overall,' explained navigator Peter ISLER (IVB).

Luna Rossa Challenge

Luna Rossa Challenge was not able to pass BMW ORACLE Racing or Emirates on the challenger ranking with its performance in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 13. And on the final day, Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia overhauled them to become top Italian team in the fleet races. But Luna Rossa is still near the top of the challenger ranking and looking forward to the Louis Vuitton Cup. 'I am not worried about the result in Act 13,' said helmsman James SPITHILL (AUS). 'I'm sure when the game gets harder we will be ready for the match racing next week.'

Desafío Español 2007

The home side rose to the occasion by winning a race on the final Saturday, pleasing the large crowds in Port America's Cup. More importantly, Desafío Español finished close enough behind Mascalzone Latino to preserve an extra bonus point. 'We are very happy with our performance. Our boat speed and crew work are fine,' said helmsman Karol JABLONSKI (POL). 'It is about learning about the boat and the crew for the Louis Vuitton Cup which is most important for us.'

Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team

Vincenzo ONORATO's (ITA) squad made a strong impression in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 13, finishing in third spot, just one point behind the Kiwis. Importantly, they were the best of the three Italian teams in the opening regatta of 2007. 'We sailed really well. Now we have to be careful to keep the level up,' said skipper Vasco VASCOTTO (ITA). 'I think its going to be a hard America's Cup but our guys are well prepared. The stress will disappear and we will start to enjoy it.'

Victory Challenge

The Swedes did not make the mark they wanted to in Act 13, but recovered from a horrible first day to improve towards the end of the regatta, although they could not climb higher than eighth place on the leaderboard. But the team has two bonus points, and is focussed on the match racing of the Louis Vuitton Cup. 'We are happy with the boat's performance, and I think we are all very even,' said Santiago LANGE (ARG), who works the traveller on the boat. 'In this Act we have struggled with the fleet racing and made mistakes, especially on the first few days. Our team is much more focused on match racing. Fleet racing is very different.'

Team Shosholoza

The South Africans achieved all of their goals in Valencia Louis Vuitton Act 13, finishing in seventh place, which was good enough to move up the Louis Vuitton Ranking and steal an extra bonus point. The team was often among the leaders early in the races and finished as high as second place. 'We achieved our goal to move into the two point group for the Louis Vuitton Cup,' said skipper Mark SADLER (RSA). 'We've had some disappointing races but we've also learned a lot.'

Areva Challenge

It was a difficult Louis Vuitton Act for the French team, who were unable to hold off the charge by Shosholoza. Areva Challenge slipped down the Louis Vuitton Ranking with its ninth place finish in Act 13, and surrendered a bonus point in the process. 'We have to find an efficient way of working to perform well and score points right from the beginning of the round robins,' said Tanguy CARIOU (FRA), strategist on the boat. 'FRA 93 has real potential. We just have to work to develop it and get the most out of it. We don't have much time, but we know we can do better than the ninth place here.'

+39 Challenge

The third Italian challenger burst out of the gates to lead the fleet around much of the first race, before an unexpected wind shift shuffled the fleet and left them in tenth place. They were up among the leaders again in race 3 when disaster struck. A collision with the German boat resulted in a dismasting, the brand new spar tumbling to the deck. +39 Challenge won its protest and received redress from the Jury, resulting in it earning two bonus points. But the team has not been able to sail since the collision and is now focussed on repairing the mast in time for the Louis Vuitton Cup.

United Internet Team Germany

The Germans had some good results early, but were unnerved by their collision with +39 Challenge. The team is well down on the Louis Vuitton Ranking table, but determined to improve for the Louis Vuitton Cup. 'Since our accident with +39 we changed our rig to an older one and we seem to have problems with it upwind,' admitted trimmer Matti PASCHEN (GER).

China Team

A back marker in most of the Louis Vuitton Acts, China Team was more competitive with the new CHN 95, although still under prepared in comparison to the rest of the fleet. 'Act 13 was training for us,' said bowman Gilles ANDRE (FRA). 'But we can identify the things we need to improve. The races are starting to be a lot more compact and manoeuvres more fluent so we have started to be a bit of a nuisance to the others. That is giving us confidence to continue making progress and give our all for the start of Louis Vuitton Cup.'

The Louis Vuitton Cup

The challengers will begin racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup on 16 April. The teams will begin the round robin section of the event armed with the bonus points they have earned through the Louis Vuitton Ranking. In the round robins, a victory is worth two points, so each bonus point is equivalent to half a win. At the conclusion of the second round robin, only four teams will advance to the semi-final, with the top two meeting in the final. The winner claims the Louis Vuitton Cup and earns the right to race Alinghi in the 32nd America's Cup Match.

Louis Vuitton Ranking

Pos Team Cumulative Ranking Points Ranking Bonus Points
1 Emirates Team New Zealand 158 1 4
2 BMW ORACLE Racing 147 2 3
3 Luna Rossa Challenge 145 3 3
4 Desafío Español 2007 106 4 3
5 Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia 103 5 2
6 Victory Challenge 83 6 2
7 Team Shosholoza 73 7 2
8 Areva Challenge 72 8 1
9 +39 Challenge 66 9 2*
10 United Internet Team Germany 42 10 1
11 China Team 18 11 1

* Awarded redress by the Jury

The America's Cup Match and Challenger/Defender Series are designated as ISAF Special Events. For more information on the America's Cup, the Louis Vuttion Acts and the teams competing, visit the official America's Cup website - www.americascup.com.

For a complete list of all the news about the America's Cup 2007 CLICK HERE.
ACM 2007 (As Amended By ISAF). Image, It was Alinghi all the way in the fleet racing:© ACM 2007/Photo:Stefano Gattini
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