After a thrilling downwind battle all the way to the finish line, Oracle BMW Racing took its second win in succession in the Louis Vuitton Cup semi-final repechage today.
Crossing the line just 3 seconds ahead of OneWorld, USA-76 set a new regatta record for the closest victory so far.
In the process, the San Francisco-based team gained the halfway mark in its quest to win the best-of-seven series. OneWorld, still in negative points because of an Arbitration Panel penalty, has to win five races to make the final, whereas Oracle BMW Racing now needs two more victories to advance.
Having trailed most of the way round the race track, OneWorld made an extraordinary last-gasp attack from behind to close the gap and then briefly take the lead. Patience and cool heads on Oracle BMW Racing paid off and, as the yachts gybed for the finish line, USA-76 was perfectly positioned to blanket OneWorld's breeze and claim its narrowest of victories.
"Our hearts were in our mouths at the finish,"
said USA-76 afterguardsman Ian Burns. "We have practised that a few hundred times. I think it might have paid off at last."
Racing took place in excellent conditions on the Hauraki Gulf, with the breeze shifting between south and southwest and varying in strength from 12 to 18 knots.
At the start, Peter Holmberg steered USA-76 across the line to leeward and ahead of USA-67, but the OneWorld yacht, with James Spithill at the helm, had the right hand advantage. Initially, it seemed the right was king and OneWorld gained a small lead. But, the Oracle BMW Racing team kept faith with the left to be rewarded with a big shift that swept USA-76 into the lead.
Today's win was the seventh in a row by USA-76 over USA-67 since the Louis Vuitton Cup regatta began in October.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP SEMI FINAL REPECHAGE
USA-76 BEAT ONEWORLD (USA-67) - DELTA 00:03
Oracle BMW Racing leads OneWorld in the best of seven Repechage 2 to (-1)"
"Following the America's Cup Arbitration Panel decision of 9th December 2002, OneWorld Challenge has had one point deducted from its score.
In an exciting match race, USA-76 skippered by Chris Dickson just managed to hold off the last leg charge by OneWorld to win by just three seconds. The pre-start was a fast and furious fight, between the 'young gun' James Spithill at the helm of OneWorld and the more experienced Peter Holmberg on USA-76. At one stage the Oracle BMW team pursued OneWorld into the spectator fleet and Spithill resorted to using the Oracle support boat to escape from the gun sights of Holmberg. USA-76 led off the line positioned to leeward and ahead.
Peter Gilmour, skipper of OneWorld called for a tack to the right 15 seconds after the gun and was able to make gains when the wind shifted to the right. Chris Dickson again took the helm for the first beat and sailed well out to the left hand side, where a race-winning left shift allowed USA-76 to roll into a tack and cross ahead of OneWorld. Once ahead, Dickson clamped a close cover on OneWorld and herded Gilmour's team to the port lay line in a tight tacking duel, giving Gilmour little chance to strike back before the first mark.
USA-76 rounded the first mark 16 seconds ahead and continued to cover every move from Gilmour's team. On the second beat, USA-76 was able to extend their lead by getting to the right of OneWorld, on a continuous right shift. Significantly, USA-76 seemed slightly faster in the 16 knot winds.
The final run turned into a cliff hanger, after OneWorld split away and gained with a symmetrical spinnaker, whilst Dickson's team opted for a gennaker. OneWorld slowly gained all the way down the run in the moderating wind and at one stage stole into the lead after sailing over the top of USA-76. Positioning, along with cool and calm sailing by Dickson and his crew meant that as the boats gybed for the line, Oracle BMW Racing was able to reverse the situation and sail over the top of OneWorld. The two yachts crossed the finish line overlapped, with USA-76 taking the gun by the closest delta of the Louis Vuitton Cup so far.