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4 October 2002, 10:11 am
Louis Vuitton Cup - Round Robin One Day Two
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Clash of the Titans OneWorld Vs. Alinghi ©Franck Sacha/Louis Vuitton

America's Cup
Hauraki Gulf, Auckland

The spell is broken as Russell Coutts goes down to OneWorld.
It's been seven and half years since Russell Coutts last lost an America's Cup Class match, when he fell on 12 April 1995 to OneAustralia in Race Two of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. But on Friday, in the second flight of the Louis Vuitton Cup, Coutts and his Alinghi team were beaten by Peter Gilmour's OneWorld Challenge in the best match of the day, a clash of the titans.

While Gilmour has committed the helm to young James Spithill for Round Robin One, and took up the tactician role, Russell Coutts was steering Alinghi, backed up by Brad Butterworth and esteemed Olympian Jochen Schuemann.

In the pre-start, Coutts and company threw a curve at Spithill, avoiding the dial-up, diving astern of the port tack OneWorld and eventually leading a pursuit well downwind of the Race Committee boat. OneWorld turned back first for the starting line, with Alinghi very close astern. Spithill protected the right side, and hit the line at speed, while Coutts was tacking and crossed behind just moments after the starting gun fired. OneWorld protected the right side of the race course early, bouncing Alinghi to the left six times, before switching sides and lifting to the top mark with a 22-second margin. That was the biggest lead they would enjoy all day, eventually winning with just 10-seconds of separation. In the post race press conference, both teams acknowledged the start was key.

"We knew it was going to be tough," said Charlie McKee, who filled the strategist role on OneWorld. "James (Spithill) did a great job today to get us off the line in a good position and we needed every bit of that to hold these guys off."

"Our communication wasn't that good, we made a few mistakes on the timing in the prestart and it was costly for us," Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth acknowledged. "James did a good job of setting up in front of us…and it just turned into a bit of a horror show for us really. We were battling from about a minute to go when we knew we were going to be late and we were fighting from there onwards."

Alinghi is one of five highly rated syndicates going into the early stages of the Louis Vuitton Cup, along with the three American teams and the defending Louis Vuitton Cup winner, Prada Challenge. While each of the US teams earned a second victory on Friday, Italy's Prada lost for the second time, one day after firing head designer Doug Peterson. Prada didn't lose their second race until Round Robin Three in December in the 1999 Louis Vuitton Cup but on Friday they were beaten up by Team Dennis Conner, whose Stars & Stripes crew won by 35-seconds. But American skipper Kenny Read said it was anything but easy.

"I wouldn't call it a walkover. If that's a walkover our hearts aren't going to last through this event," said Read. "There's no such thing as a walkover. It may have looked a bit on the easy side, but I'll tell you right now that from on board it was anything but easy."

One team who did have it fairly easy was the Oracle BMW Racing crew, who took on the rookie Mascalzone Latino squad. Oracle BMW helmsman Peter Holmberg was able to build a large enough lead to comfortably hand the wheel to syndicate head Larry Ellison, who got his first taste of driving during the Louis Vuitton Cup. The Americans went on to win by a comfortable two minutes, and have now beaten both Italian teams.

Sweden's Victory Challenge finally saw its first action of the Louis Vuitton Cup after drawing the bye on Race Day One, and then sitting on the docks for the past two days as the weather kept the boats from racing.

It was worth the wait, with Sweden earning a win over the French Le Defi AREVA, who are now winless in two matches. "We were pleased," said Victory Challenge helmsman Jesper Bank. "I thought we came off the line at a better speed…and after about 10 minutes we were clear ahead and I think we'll have to be satisfied with an edge like that…the feeling steering the boat was that it was OK."

For the French, it's another disappointing day. They face Italy's Prada Challenge Saturday in a match that will give one of these winless teams a point on the leaderboard. On past form, Le Défi will be hard pressed to emerge with a win, but after two races, Prada doesn't look like the team that won the Louis Vuitton Cup three years ago. Maybe that team will emerge at the weekend.

Louis Vuitton Cup: Round Robin 1, Day 2

Winner Bt. Loser Time Split
OneWorld (USA) Bt. Alinghi (SUI) 0:10
Stars & Stripes (USA) Bt. Prada (ITA) 0:35
Oracle BMW (USA) Bt. Mascalzone (ITA) 2:03
Victory (SWE) Bt. Le Defi (FRA) 1:06

OFF: GBR Challenge

Todays Fixtures: Start time 1215 NZT
OneWorld (USA) Vs. GBR Challenge
Victory (SWE) Vs. Stars & Stripes (USA)
Mascalzone (ITA) Vs. Alinghi (SUI)
Le Defi (FRA) Vs. Prada (ITA)

OFF: Oracle BMW

Peter Rusch/ISAF News Editor
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