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6 October 2005, 10:43 am
K-Challenge Steals The Show In Trapani
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America's Cup 2007
Trapani, Italy

A number of intriguing story lines developed over the course of the Trapani Louis Vuitton Act 8 in Italy, with Swiss Defender Alinghi looking to go through the season undefeated in match racing, K-Challenge putting paid to that ambition on a fantastic final day for the French team and the four-way tie at the top of table after racing concluded.
The French team, K-Challenge, quietly had its best regatta of the 32nd America's Cup in Trapani. The French announced themselves by beating Emirates Team New Zealand on the first day of racing in tricky conditions. Then, on the final day, K-Challenge stood up to write the story of the 2005 season. On the last day of match racing in Trapani, the French minnow, sailing the second oldest boat in the fleet, became the first team to defeat Alinghi this season.

K-Challenge went on to finish in fifth place, with seven victories. It is the most wins by any fifth place finisher this year. And after earning three wins in Valencia, Spain in June, and four in Malmö, Sweden in September, K-Challenge has increased its win total in each match racing Act this year, and done so whilst every other team is getting better. The big story in Trapani for Louis Vuitton Act 8 is K-Challenge.

However it is not the only story. The city of Trapani has turned out in record numbers on the first seven days of the event (including the opening teams' presentation) to share in the spirit of the America's Cup. Indeed, with nearly 300,000 people enjoying the action in the America's Cup Park to date, Trapani has nearly reached the total number of visitors in Valencia and Malmö-Skåne combined!

And if it is action they were looking for, they have not been disappointed. There ha's been close racing, upsets, and varied conditions on the race course, from light, shifty winds and flat water, to heavy load days with winds over 20 knots, and the biggest waves these boats have seen. But through it all, until the very last day, one thing has remained constant; Alinghi winning races.

Despite not keeping intact its perfect record for the season, and losing its last two races of the event, Alinghi still won Act 8 by virtue of coming out on top of the four-way tie break. Each of the big four finished the regatta with nine wins. But Alinghi and Emirates Team New Zealand earned two of their points against the top teams. Luna Rossa and BMW ORACLE Racing could only claim one victory over the other 'big four' teams, so they dropped to third and fourth respectively. Alinghi beat Emirates in their match, giving the Swiss the Act win, even if they lost their last two races.

'Well no one likes losing,' said Brad BUTTERWORTH (NZL), tactician on Alinghi. 'But it shows you how well those teams can sail. Obviously we weren't far enough ahead to secure the lead over K-Challenge downwind. They did a good job…We weren't going that well and Thierry PEPONNET sailed that race pretty well.'

Luna Rossa also had a good regatta on the Italian waters off Trapani. A win over BMW ORACLE Racing was the first time the Italian team had managed to beat any of the other 'big four'. That victory also secured it third place on the tie-break. A win in the last race over Emirates Team New Zealand would have given the regatta to the Italians, but it was not to be.

'It's a regret that will stay with me for the rest of my life, that we lost that race [against Emirates],' said Luna Rossa tactician Charlie MCKEE (USA), the day after the regatta. 'It's hard to imagine how much it would have meant for the people here in Trapani.'

It was a mixed week for the American BMW ORACLE Racing team. On the one hand, the team was fourth. Looking on the positive side, it finished with nine wins, and was the only among the 'big four' to beat Alinghi all year. What was difference between finishing in fourth and winning the regatta? According to the Americans, it was just three seconds. That was the margin by which they lost a cracker of a match against Emirates Team New Zealand. Had they prevailed there, they would have won Act 8.

One team having a great regatta in Trapani was Victory Challenge. The Swedish team stormed onto the scene in Valencia in June, finishing fifth, but then fell down the table sailing a different boat at home in Malmö. But with skipper Magnus HOLMBERG (SWE) happy behind the wheel of SWE 63 again, the team collected six wins, and finished just behind K-Challenge in sixth place.

The next two teams will be disappointed with their results. +39 Challenge, a Sicilian team, was looking to do better than seventh place sailing at home in Trapani. And Desafío Español, which finished fifth in Malmö, is not pleased to be eighth (losing the tie-break to +39) either. Perhaps more worrisome than the result is that neither team beat a team that finished above them on the points table.

Similarly, Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team will have been looking for more than three wins in Trapani. It did beat K-Challenge, which is something neither Alinghi nor Emirates Team New Zealand can claim, but lost to United Internet Team Germany, and after five wins in Malmö and four in Valencia, this is not the direction Vincenzo ONORATO's team wants to be heading.

On the other hand, South African team Shosholoza achieved its goal of three race wins in Trapani. Before the regatta, skipper Geoff MEEK (RSA) said the team would be happy with three points, and ecstatic with four. Consider it a job done, with wins over China Team, United Internet Team Germany and K-Challenge.

For United Internet Team Germany and China Team, flashes of brilliance were dashed by their status as late challengers and fledgling teams. The Germans have been battling with management issues off the water, while China Team has not had the resources to put in the practice it would like. Both teams are firmly focussed on better times ahead.

In terms of the 2005 America's Cup Class Season Championship, Alinghi still has a stranglehold on this with, now with an eight point lead over defending champion, Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis in turn lead by one point over BMW ORACLE Racing and Luna Rossa. It is hard to imagine a scenario where Alinghi does not claim the championship, but after that, it is wide open, with just eight points separating fifth place from ninth.

In the Challenger-only Louis Vuitton Ranking, BMW ORACLE Racing still leads by one point over Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa with three points separating fifth from eighth.

The final Louis Vuitton Act of 2005, the fleet racing of Act 9, is scheduled to begin on Friday.

Peter Rusch. Image, K-Challenge vs. Emirates Team New Zealand:© Francesco Ferri/ACM 2005
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