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29 December 2005, 09:41 am
Number One - With A Bullet
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America's Cup 2007

If the eleven challengers for the 32nd America's Cup thought that Alinghi was going to roll over and play dead after a sub-par 2004 season that saw it finish third behind Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW ORACLE Racing, and lose the skipper who won the past three America's Cup Matches, the dominating performance of the Swiss Defender in 2005 must have come as a hard dose of reality.
In 2005, Alinghi won five of six Louis Vuitton Acts and did not lose a match race until the final day of the Trapani Louis Vuitton Act 8 in Italy, en route to 31 wins against two losses. In the fleet racing, the Swiss were nearly as powerful, winning two of three fleet racing regattas and four of 13 races. The team finished outside the top three just three times in the 13 fleet races, the best cumulative record of any team.

'It's just a matter of sailing time,' said helmsman Ed BAIRD (USA) after the season finished in Trapani. 'In 2004, the team didn't put the time in ahead of the events. Now, we're sailing whenever we can. As you do that, you improve. You're equipment gets better and you get better as well.'

Three is better than one

Remarkably, BAIRD was one of three helmsmen Alinghi used in the Louis Vuitton Acts in 2005. After Russell COUTTS (NZL) left the team, Alinghi split time on the wheel equally between Peter HOLMBERG (ISV) in Valencia, Jochen SCHUEMANN (GER) in Malmö-Skåne, and BAIRD in Trapani. The sharing is part of the team plan to build at least two 'Cup-capable' sailing teams. After the opening fleet racing Louis Vuitton Act in 2007, the team is on its own for training purposes whilst the challengers build each other up through the Louis Vuitton Cup. The biggest trouble the team may have is finding a place for all of that talent on the race boat during the America's Cup Match itself. However that is a problem any of the other Cup teams would love to have.

'I think we can improve,' says team CEO Ernesto BERTARELLI (SUI). 'We have tried a number of people on board. We've mixed it up with helmsmen, and we're in the process of getting better. I wouldn't say we're at our best. What is pleasing however is that we can see when we go out and race that we're learning something. That's the process we have to take to be successful in 2007.'

Coming from a man whose team won five of six events this year, those words should frighten the challengers. However, the situation on the race course is not that clear cut.

As a group, the challengers improved in each match racing Act over the 2005 season, eventually erasing the gap completely to the point that Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, BMW ORACLE Racing and Alinghi all finished the Trapani match races with identical 9-2 records. Alinghi prevailed under the tie-breaking mechanism, but it is clear the Defender cannot rest on its laurels.

Not as easy as it looks

BERTARELLI, who also has a role in ensuring that the 32nd America's Cup as an event is as successful as possible, was happy to see the close racing, although he might like to see some easier victories for Alinghi come 2007.

'What is surprising and pleasing [from the perspective of the event] is that the hierarchy is not as solid and established as one may have feared. We finished with four boats on equal points. Four teams, pretty much even. We look at the fleet racing, and we won [due to a result] by one second so it's very close,' BERTARELLI said at the conclusion of the Trapani Louis Vuitton Acts.

'It doesn't take much to fall on the wrong side of the equation. There are a couple of small teams that have shown very good potential. The Swedes in Valencia for example; the Spanish are strong and Shosholoza has come from pretty much nowhere and now they're starting to score points. I'm quite pleased to see that so many of the teams are showing good potential.'

Looking forward, Alinghi concluded its season after Trapani by opening its new base in Valencia, and moving the sailing squad there from its temporary facility at the Club Nautico. The team trained a little bit in Valencia but the sailors are now on holiday until February, with some team members participating in other events around the world.

'We'll have a quieter time over the cold months in the heart of winter, but we'll continue to have discussions and meetings and plan for next year,' confirmed BAIRD. 'We have some new equipment to organise and integrate into our programme.'

That new equipment will include at least one new boat, although the team is not promising to race it next year. With SUI 75 winning so many races in 2005, there is no need to rush a new boat onto the race course and give away secrets. Instead, Alinghi will simply continue to seek new ways go fast in America's Cup boats. The philosophy on this team is that there is always something that can be done better.

'We have to look at every aspect of how you win races in these boats and try to get better at every single bit of it. From the starts, to the equipment, to tacking and and spinnaker sets, to sails and masts. It's the whole package - everything - can be improved. We have to keep looking at that and coming up with ideas.'

It is the Swiss method for defending the America's Cup.

Alinghi: 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.

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© ACM 2005

Alinghi: 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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© ACM 2005

For a complete list of all the news about the America's Cup 2007 CLICK HERE.

Peter Rusch (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Alinghi have taken 2005 by storm:© Th.Martinez/Alinghi Team
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