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Alinghi Impresses in Race 1 of LV Final

January 12, 2003
Stuart Streuli

The opening race of the Louis Vuitton Final may not have been as lopsided as it seemed, but that was little consolation for Oracle/BMW Racing. With Larry Ellison back on the boat–this time as the 17th man–the San Francisco-based syndicate took it on the chin in Race 1, losing to Alinghi by 1:24, and putting themselves in a hole that seems much deeper than just 1-0.

The match was close only for the few minutes following the start, which Oracle actually appeared to win. Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts started to windward of Oracle, which took the pin end in a bit of a left-hand shift, and peeled away moments after the gun. When the boats came together for the first cross, a third of the way up the leg, Oracle again appeared to have a strong position, tacking on Alinghi’s lee bow. This was, however, where Coutts showed why he is often rated as the world’s best sailor. First he pulled even with Oracle, and then, trading speed for height, lifted away from his opponent like he was in a private elevator. A 25-degree right shift multiplied his advantage from a couple of boatlengths to nearly a minute by the time the boats rounded the windward mark. “We were looking good,” said Alinghi afterguard member Jochen Schümann of the straight-line duel that Alinghi appeared to win convincingly. “But, I think the breeze helped us. We were on the right shift. We were on the inside of the rotation.”

Many experts expected Alinghi to be faster upwind while Oracle might have an advantage off the breeze. This appeared to be true in the early stages of the first downwind leg as Oracle sailed low and closed to within 65 meters. Alinghi then jibed away while Oracle chose to remain on port. The breeze shifted back to the left and strengthened on the left side of the course and Alinghi again used a favorable windshift to turn a small margin into a huge one, leading at one point on that second leg by 414 meters. “That was a huge step forward,” said Schümann, who’s won three Olympic gold medals and one silver. “I can’t understand [why Oracle didn’t follow us]. We were just surprised.”

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Having closed to within three boatlengths on the first run, Oracle allowed Alinghi to jibe away. The Swiss team found more pressure and a better wind angle and all but sealed the win on that leg* * *|

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For the next four legs Russell Coutts applied the practiced loose cover that has rarely failed the former match-racing world champion and while Oracle continued to show good pace off the wind, Chris Dickson and company were never able to get within a minute of the Swiss challenger.

In the post-race press conference Dickson echoed what Schümann and Brad Butterworth, who both felt the wind was too shifty to get a good read on the boats’ relative performance. “The shifts were the decider of the day,” said Dickson, “and we didn’t get them. We’re very happy with our boat.” Whether that’s the truth or bravado in the face of a five-match losing streak will become known over the next few races.

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