It was a case of the rich getting richer on Race Day Seven of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Oracle BMW Racing and OneWorld kept rolling along, and both remain undefeated after a full flight of races was sailed for the first time in four days.
The Swiss Alinghi Challenge is also looking very strong, after handing Team Dennis Conner its fourth consecutive loss.
The match of the day featured the defending Louis Vuitton Cup holder, Prada, against the first time challenger GBR Challenge, and the first lap of the course featured some of the closest racing we've seen in this young Cup season. Racing was delayed for two hours to allow the wind to build, and unlike the past several days, by mid-afternoon, a solid 15-knot southerly was sweeping across the Hauraki Gulf providing perfect racing conditions.
Oneworld (USA-67) Beat Örn (SWE-63) - Delta 00:59
This was a clinical display of textbook match racing by the OneWorld team. Helmsman James Spithill claimed the right hand end of the start, heading off the line one second behind Jesper Bank's Swedish team down on the pin end. In the early stages of the beat, the two yachts were quite even in speed and, indeed, throughout the race there was little difference in boatspeed. But, OneWorld's afterguard did an excellent job of placing the dark blue yacht to take best advantage of every windshift. At the same time, they forced the Swedish yacht out of phase with the shifts and relentlessly worked their way into a lead of about eight boatlengths at the first mark (delta-00:34) Then, it was a matter of executing all their sail-handling moves with machine-like precision and, by maintaining a close cover, allowing the Swedish team no possibility of coming back. The Swedes did make slight gains on the first two downwind legs, but they never looked like a serious threat to the very composed OneWorld team.
Luna Rossa (ITA-74) Beat Wight Lightning (GBR-70) - Delta 00:22
Controlling most of the pre-start manoeuvring and winning the start must have boosted the confidence of new starting helmsman Andy Beadsworth on Wight Lightning. But winning the start wasn't enough. Neither was matching Luna Rossa's speed and height up the first part of the beat. The British crew chose the right hand side of the course and gained height in a slight lift. Luna Rossa, and skipper Francesco de Angelis, who had sailed up the left hand side of the course reached and sailed beyond the port lay line earlier than Wight Lightning.
As the two boats closed, Wight Lightning chose to tack close to the lay line rather than sail out to Luna Rossa, a move which meant that the British crew had to squeeze up to the mark while the Italians powered on into the mark, rolling the British boat in the process. Luna Rossa took the lead with just five seconds separating the boats at the weather mark rounding.
Downwind the racing remained close with Wight Lightning holding a slim advantage on the inside berth as the boats sailed down the right hand side of the course. Luna Rossa broke free from this position in a smart and rapid gybe that put them on starboard and allowed them to cross ahead and pull out to lead by 14-seconds at the leeward mark.
After this the race provided few opportunities for passing and Prada eventually crossed the line 22 seconds ahead of GBR Challenge.
GBR Challenge initially launched a technical protest against Prada, but this has since been withdrawn.
Alinghi (SUI-64) Beat Stars & Stripes (USA-66) - Delta 01:10
Stars & Stripes helmsman Ken Read came up against Alinghi helmsman Russell Coutts for the first time in America's Cup Class racing, and the outcome was decided before Stars & Stripes crossed the start line.
The Swiss boat was to windward of the American yacht on starboard as both headed back to the start line with about 30 seconds to go. When the gun sounded, Read tried to escape the cover of Coutts by tacking to port. Coutts covered, forcing Read into a downspeed tack to starboard before he even crossed the start line. Coutts continued his speed build on port. When he tacked to starboard to cover he was 20 metres ahead.
Coutts kept protecting the starboard tack advantage during an early tacking duel, then started sailing to the shifts. Alinghi led by 41 seconds at the windward mark, and although Stars & Stripes held even or made up time on the runs, it was never enough to threaten Alinghi's lead.
(USA-76) Beat Le Defi (FRA-69) - Delta 02:52
Starting from the port end of the line, Le Defi steered by Luc Pillot went straight in to a 'dial up' 15 seconds after the preparatory signal. Oracle BMW (USA 76) responded by 'parking alongside' the French boat. Both boats held their position for nearly three minutes, including sailing backwards for over two minutes. USA 76 then led towards the Committee Boat and 'nailed' the start, to weather of Le Defi, crossing the line fours seconds ahead.
Oracle BMW helmsman Peter Holmberg soon took control up the first beat and could have crossed ahead on the first 'cross' after 40 seconds. Instead Holmberg opted to tack just ahead of the French boat to 'bounce' them left, allowing the American boat to protect the right side of the race track.
USA 76 soon extended with a combination of better boat speed and was able to pick the shifts from ahead to quickly build up an unassailable lead.
What has been noted in the early Round Robin of the Louis Vuitton Cup, is the number of races having to be postponed due to too little or too much wind. Built into the regatta schedule are a number of reserve days, one in the middle of racing and a number at the end of the scheduled racing days, the race committee can use these days if races have been lost.
Between Round Robin one and two there are seven dedicated "off" days on which racing cannot be held. This is the period during which boats can be modified and developed and as such, performance gradually increases as the whole Louis Vuitton cup moves forward, thus fulfilling one of the aims of the Louis Vuitton Cup to select the best possible challenger for America's Cup match.
If it appears unlikely that racing cannot be completed using all of the reserve days then the race committee have a number of additional options. They can elect to sail two flights per day, meaning each syndicate due to sail will sail an additional race on shortened courses. As well as that they can also elect to sail the outstanding races at the beginning of the schedule for Round Robin two, with each syndicate using their new or modified boats.
Dyer Jones, Regatta Director for the CORM representing the challengers suggested that there is no firm decision as to which path the race committee would take, but said, "If we lose Thursday, we'll start to double up on Friday. Otherwise, we'll likely have to double up on Saturday."
Current provisional standings:
||Wins / Losses
|Oracle BMW Racing
|Team Dennis Conner
|Le Defi AREVA
" OneWorld will be deducted one point ant the end of round robin two.