The Synergy Russian Sailing Team and ALEPH Sailing Team from France were eliminated from the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta today, leaving six international teams fighting for supremacy over the next four days.
Top seed Emirates Team New Zealand and second-ranked Mascalzone Latino Audi from Italy each won their races and went through to the semi-finals to be sailed on Friday.
Saved from sudden death by their ranking and and or their performance today, the other four teams were paired for best-of-three matches to be raced tomorrow. Standing besides a glistening, flood-lit America's Cup in a formal ceremony at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, third-seeded All4One skipper Jochen Schuemann (GER) chose to race Italy's Azzurra. Sweden's Artemis will race Great Britain's TEAMORIGIN.
Auckland's harbour lived up to its name today. Waitemata means "sparkling waters" and whitecaps dappled the course in mostly bright sunshine and gusty, shifty southerly winds that ranged from 15 knots to 30 knots. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's race committee delayed racing three times waiting for squally weather to move through.
(USA), skipper of Artemis and chairman of the WSTA that is a co-organizer of the event with Louis Vuitton, put it best. "It's a big breeze today and exciting for our fans and exciting for us," he said. "It's fantastic racing. We're flirting with that threshold of tolerable winds and so far, so good, we're dancing on the right side of it. We're providing spectacular racing."
ALEPH, the seventh seed, was eliminated in the third race of the day, beaten by Mascalzone Latino Audi. French skipper Bertrand Pacé was already planning for the next Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta in La Maddalena, Sardinia, but was quick to praise the boats and the organization in Auckland.
"It was a fantastic regatta," he said. "The wind was hard to sail, the boats were fantastic as well. We enjoy a lot sailing these boats. For us it was a great event. For sure I thank all the Kiwi organizers. I still love Auckland. Even though Grant Dalton doesn't like losing to the French!"
(POL), the veteran Polish match racer who skippers the Synergy Russian Sailing Team, was philosophical. "We are out, but we sailed a good race," he said. Noting the crew's lack of opportunity to practice, he added, "the crew work was coming along, but obviously in these tough conditions 22-23 knots with current against you, you need more hours on the water together.
"We were just missing a little bit in every department, not only crew work, my timing, our trimming, our boat speed, our tactician, our calls where we go - it was everything. You know you've got to have a chain that doesn't have a weak, weak, weak link. And we had some weak pieces. During the event, we got stronger, and I think today we showed quite good performance."
Race One: Artemis def. Azzurra, 00:32 - After a brisk circling duel the boats hardened up for the line on starboard with Artemis to weather. "We wanted the right. We'd have preferred more distance between the boats but we had enough gauge to live through the first shift," Artemis skipper Paul Cayard
(USA) said later. The right paid and Artemis forced the port tack Azzurra steered by Francesco Bruni
(ITA) away at the first cross. The boats were evenly matched in a series of quick tacks up the 1.3-mile weather leg but Artemis controlled, to lead by two lengths at the top mark. They forged down the run with big bow waves, touching 15 knots at times. Artemis extended at the leeward mark as Azzurra struggled to get the chute down.
Race Two: TEAMORIGIN def. All4One, 00:27 - Faced with the possibility of elimination today, this was a must-win for sixth-seeded TEAMORIGIN, and Ben Ainslie
(GBR) and his crew rose to the occasion. They circled warily with the German and French boat steered by Sébastien Col (FRA). Both boats wanted the right but the British prevailed and hit the line at speed on starboard and to weather of All4One. They were bow to bow off the line but TEAMORIGIN held strong in the weather berth and edged ahead. After five minutes, as the trailing All4One came over on port, Ainslie had sufficient clearance to tack clear ahead directly in their path. "It was an early gain, and then they controlled the race," said All4One skipper Jochen Schumann (GER). "We will see if it gets a little lighter now - some of these teams are really strong in the heavy breeze, with good crew work and a lot of power."
Race Three: Mascalzone Latino Audi def. ALEPH, 00:59 - Faced with the threat of elimination, seventh seed French boat ALEPH entered the start box from the unfavoured end. Mascalzone Latino Audi skipper Gavin Brady
(NZL) controlled his opponent Bertrand Pacé
(FRA) all through the pre-start, pushing him outside the starboard layline, then leading back to win the start. Pacé trailed by three boat lengths at the top mark and then gybe-set on a big left shift. Fate struck and his spinnaker exploded during the hoist. The race was Brady's and the French were going home. "They chose a risky manoeuvre at the weather mark," said ML Audi tactician Morgan Larson
(USA). "Had they not torn their spinnaker they probably would have been bow-even with us on the run.
Race Four: Emirates Team New Zealand def. Synergy Russian Sailing Team, 00:15 - With no wins in the regatta, Karol Jablonski
's (POL) Russian team had to win to survive for the next stage. They almost pulled it off but fell victim to uneven crew work. Emirate's Dean Barker
(NZL) started at the committee end on starboard but he left just enough room to weather for Jablonski who squeezed through the gap before tacking off to port. The right paid and the Russians led at the top mark. The Kiwi spinnaker set was flawless but Jablonski's crew, two boat lengths ahead, crumbled under the pressure as Barker sailed through their lee. The Russians made more unforced errors but they continued to play the right and were only 15 seconds astern at the finish. "Every race against ETNZ, is going to be a tough one for us, you're racing against one of the best teams in the world," Jablonski said. "That team has sailed together for a long, long time. In one match with them you learn a lot. You do a small mistake, and you lose."
Full results, video, photos and more at www.louisvuittontrophy.com