The Swiss Alinghi team justified its tag as pre-final favourite by posting a convincing win over Oracle BMW Racing in the opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup final on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf today.
Racing took place in 7-16 knot breezes shifting between north-east to north-north-east with a left-over swell from the storm that lashed Auckland over the past two days. A large spectator fleet gathered around the race course area to watch the battle of the giants commence after a break of nearly three weeks over the Christmas break.
A left hand bias on the startline saw both teams vying for the pin-end of the line. Peter Holmberg at the helm of Oracle BMW Racing (USA-76) managed to gain the leeward overlap and hit the line at the pin with Alinghi (SUI-64) tucked away on the windward hip. But, the Swiss yacht, skippered by Russell Coutts, tacked away immediately after the start.
With skipper Chris Dickson taking over the helm, Oracle BMW Racing's initial advantage off the startline was quickly eroded by Alinghi's very strong upwind performance, assisted by a significant right-hand shift during the first beat. Within 15 minutes of the start, Alinghi had worked into a six boatlength lead and led around the first mark by 47 seconds.
On the first downwind leg, Alinghi took full advantage of a big shift to the left and stretched to a lead of 1 minute 23 seconds round the leeward mark. Oracle BMW Racing gained 16 seconds on the next two legs, but then lost 29 seconds on the final beat.
For the San Francisco-based team there was no real opportunity to threaten the Swiss yacht's lead and the final run was little more than a formality. Alinghi swept across the finish line 1 minute 24 seconds ahead of Oracle BMW Racing.
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76 - DELTA 01:24
Alinghi leads best-of-nine finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 1-0
In the opening minutes of the first match of the Louis Vuitton Cup final, the racing between Alinghi and Oracle was close. After a classic dial up Alinghi, which entered from the left, looked vulnerable. As the boats fell away in opposite directions, it was Oracle BMW Racing on starboard and Alinghi on port. The Swiss boat was slow to accelerate but USA-76 couldn't get its bow down quick enough to cause Alinghi a problem.
As the Swiss slipped away to the right. Oracle chased them out to the committee boat. After a few more minutes of dueling, both boats made a text book pin end start, with USA-76 to leeward and slightly ahead.
Alinghi tacked away shortly after the gun, leaving USA-76 to tease out a single boat length lead.
By the time the two came back at each other, the small margin still stood, but USA-76's tack under Alinghi looked a little late and allowed the Swiss boat to remain just far enough ahead to keep clear of any dirty air. Alinghi hung on in this position and managed to claw away from Oracle BMW Racing, slowly rolling them in the process.
A large right hand shift then followed allowing the Swiss to capitalise on their windward position. By the weather mark, Alinghi had converted this early advantage into a 47 second lead. As it turned out, this was the smallest delta in the match.
By the leeward mark SUI-64 had stretched its lead to 1 min 23 seconds. Despite two legs where Oracle pulled back, the margin between the two always remained over one minute. Alinghi finished 1min 24 seconds ahead