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15 October 2002, 01:17 pm
The Round That Wouldn't End - Round Robin One Review
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LeDefi Areva©Carlo Borlenghi

America's Cup
Auckland

OneWorld and Alinghi are the leaders, while Prada and Mascalzone still have one race left in Round Robin One.
The race schedule for the Louis Vuitton Cup built in five reserve days for Round Robin One, a series that should have taken just nine race days. But with four flights of racing completely wiped out due to too much or too little wind, and three other days when only some of the flights were sailed, Round Robin One will now not be completed until the first day of Round Robin Two. Monday was the last possible day for racing before the end of the 'no change' period.
Although not all of the boats have sailed all of their races, a clear pecking order has been established. The class of the fleet with an unbeaten record in Round Robin One is the Seattle Yacht Club's OneWorld Challenge. Skipper Peter Gilmour surprised many when he announced that he would hand the helm to James Spithill, his 23-year old apprentice. But Spithill hasn't put a foot wrong and OneWorld has looked extremely sharp at all facets of the race, from the pre-start through all aspects of its crew work.

"It really is a credit to the team," said a smiling Peter Gilmour after his crew beat Oracle BMW Racing for its eighth win. "Everyone has worked extremely hard. We've done a lot of sailing here to get ready for this and our in-house racing has really prepared us well for Round Robin One."

With a loss to OneWorld the only blemish on its record, the Swiss Alinghi Challenge sits firmly in second place on seven points at the end of Round Robin One. Alinghi, under the leadership of Russell Coutts, has looked almost clinical in racing to a 7-1 record. Although its record is strong, Alinghi has been pushed hard in some of its races, particularly a match against the Swedish Victory Challenge near the end of the Round Robin. But with the experience of two America's Cup winning campaigns behind him, Russell Coutts is feeling confident about his team's performance. Alinghi, along with OneWorld, generally looked to be a clear step ahead of the other seven teams.

"We're pretty happy with our two boats right now," said Coutts. "We'll probably sail SUI-64 again in Round Robin Two, but we'll check in with SUI-75 this week. We've got a new rig and some more sails to come, but overall I'm pretty happy at where we sit versus the opposition. We'll work on improving some of the techniques we need to sail the boats around the course, but overall things are good. We're about where we thought we'd be. But we've got to find ways to keep improving. That's the challenge for all of the teams."

The Oracle BMW Racing team will have mixed feelings about its performance in the first Round Robin. Larry Ellison's team burst from the gate with four consecutive wins before losing three races in a row. But on the final day of racing, helmsman Peter Holmberg drove a brilliant start against OneWorld in the morning, and the team went on to beat Victory Challenge in the afternoon to earn a 5-3 Round Robin One record. That final win lifted Oracle BMW Racing out of a potential logjam and into clear third place on the points table. Ellison's crew beat every team below them in the standings except the GBR Challenge.

Making its first foray into the America's Cup in 16-years, the GBR Challenge finished Round Robin One on a high note, winning its last three races to earn equal fourth on the leader board. The British crew struggled to earn points early, but a change of starting helmsman, and a minor 'mode' switch to the boat appeared to make all the difference. The big wins for GBR were over the Oracle BMW Racing team, and against the Swedish Victory Challenge, who the Brits see as a similar campaign.

"It certainly feels better to be finishing on an up than finishing on a down," said new starting helmsman Andy Beadsworth. "We set ourselves a target of winning four races and we won four out of eight. We beat the people we thought we should beat and we've had good races against the people that we thought we might beat and we beat a team that we thought would be hard to beat, so we're pretty happy."

Equal on four points with GBR Challenge is Team Dennis Conner. His Stars & Stripes crew earned two quick wins to open the racing, but tellingly didn't beat any of the teams above it in the standings. Helmsman Ken Read's biggest win was over GBR's Wight Lightning on the first day. From then onwards, Team Dennis Conner had to be content with beating the weaker teams. This team is loaded with veterans and they'll be hard at work before Round Robin Two, using their wealth of experience to come out stronger in the next round.

One of the most disappointed teams at the end of Round Robin One has to be the defending Louis Vuitton Cup champions, the Prada Challenge. The Italian syndicate still has one race to sail, its match against the Mascalzone Latino syndicate will be held on what had been scheduled as the first day of sailing in Round Robin Two. But a victory in that match will only give Prada four wins, and surely it was hoping for better.

"There are a lot of very well prepared new teams here," said skipper Francesco de Angelis. "So we have a new challenge and we clearly have a lot to work on still. You don't get any easy passes, there are no free points."

Sweden's Victory Challenge earned its three Round Robin One wins in its first three races. Since then, there have been plenty of good races, and the Swedes have pushed some of the big teams hard, but that hasn't translated into points. Most observers are rating this team higher than its current standing, and skipper Jesper Bank will be pushing his crew hard to move up on the leader board in Round Robin Two.

"We didn't come here to win the America's Cup," said Mascalzone Latino syndicate head Vincenzo Onorato before racing started. "We came here to learn."

After some hard lessons, Onorato's 'Latin Rascals' are improving fast, and celebrated their first victory in the America's Cup class when they defeated the French Le Défi near the end of Round Robin One. Mascalzone Latino still has one race left, against Italian rivals Prada, to complete its first round robin.

Struggling at the bottom of the leader board, winless through Round Robin One, is the French Le Défi AREVA team. The French struggled on the last day, breaking a forestay and, in a move symbolic of their tribulations in Round Robin One, limped home without racing.

"What can I say?" said a frustrated skipper and helmsman, Luc Pillot. "It was the hardest day yet, but the team reacted very well under crisis and were professionals right to the bitter end."

The seemingly never-ending Round Robin One is now scheduled to finish on Tuesday, 22nd October, when Prada's Luna Rossa races Mascalzone Latino.

Scoreboard After Round Robin One

Syndicate Raced Win Loss Points
OneWorld (USA) 8 8 0 8
Alinghi (SUI) 8 7 1 7
Oracle (USA) 8 5 3 5
GBR Challenge (GBR) 8 4 4 4
Team Dennis Conner (USA) 8 4 4 4
Prada (ITA) 7 3 4 3
Victory Challenge (SWE) 8 3 5 3
Mascalzone Latino (ITA) 7 1 6 1
Le Defi Areva (FRA) 8 0 8 0

Peter Rausch/ISAF News Editor
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