Cup Racing Heats Up: Alinghi Edges BMW, Swedes Upset Alinghi

On-site reporting from Valencia, Spain.

Act12Day3: Alinghi Crosses BMW
Ivo Rovira/alinghi

VALENCIA, Spain-Just when it seemed racing was getting uninteresting in Valencia, along came the first weekend of Louis Vuitton Act 12, and not a moment too soon. The weekend was marked by tacking duels, luffing contests and lead changes. There were upsets, near upsets and some pre-start schooling, all the things that make match-racing exciting to watch. Emirates Team New Zealand leads the standings with 8 points and a perfect 8-0 record. Alinghi, BMW Oracle Racing and Luna Rossa Challenge are 1 point behind with 7-1 records. "Today we're top of the tree, but we have three very hard matches left," said Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson. "The South Africans have been giving everyone fits and certainly Oracle and Alinghi, we know what they're about. Tonight we'll breathe easy for 24 hours and when we go out on Tuesday it'll be business as usual." Behind the top four there's a wonderful battle among Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia, Desafio Español and Victory challenge. The Italian team is fifth with 5 points, followed by the Spanish and Swedish teams, which are tied for sixth with 4 points. South Africa's Team Shosholoza is eighth with 3 points. Italy's +39 Challenge is ninth with 2 points, Areva Challenge 10th with 1 point and United Internet Team Germany and China Team are tied for 11th, having yet to win a race. Each win in the round robin is worth 1 point. At the end of the 11 flights the 12 teams will be ranked based on points and split into three groups of four, first through fourth, fifth through eighth and ninth through 12th. The first, fifth and ninth place teams get to chose their opponent for the semifinal round. Saturday featured the best match of the year and fittingly it was between Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing, the defense syndicate for the 32nd America's Cup versus the challenger of record. Underscoring the importance of the match Alinghi syndicate founder Ernesto Bertarelli was aboard in the afterguard for the first time in the regatta. BMW Oracle had star power of its own in the form of U.S. Olympic skier and world cup champion Bode Miller, aboard as the non-participatory 18th crewmember. Alinghi won the match by 20 seconds, leading around the first windward mark, trailing at the leeward gate and then retaking the lead at the second windward mark. The key moment came near the top of the second upwind leg. Up the second beat Dickson used starboard to keep Alinghi to the left. But the Swiss-flagged team was taking small bites out of the U.S.-flagged team. Near the top of the leg the two converged with BMW Oracle on starboard and Alinghi on port. Dickson went for a leebow tack, but Holmberg had dialed down maybe 10 degrees to force him to tack early. When Dickson did, Holmberg hardened up on port and was able to herd Dickson out past the starboard layline. When both boats tacked to starboard Holmberg was on Dickson's leebow and luffed slightly to shake his rival. The move worked as when Alinghi bore off Dickson was clear astern. Alinghi got around the second windward mark with an 8-second lead and, as there were no passing lanes downwind, sailed on to the 20-second win. Although Alinghi won that mini battle, BMW Oracle almost gifted it to them. Dickson's tack was far from good. Holmberg had dialed down at him to make him tack sooner and the ploy worked. "We had to have made those gains to do (survive that leebow)," said Holmberg. "If we're still behind he can tack where he wants. Fact we'd gotten a piece of him, I can put pressure on him and he's got to execute it right or I'll take advantage of it. He didn't execute that well and I took advantage of it. That was our opening to pass." With two lead changes, the match instantly ranked as a classic. "That is what I call a good America's Cup race," said Isler. "It's huge beating them," said Holmberg. "That's their new boat, that's their best shot. We've still got an old boat. Yeah we tweak it, but it's still an old boat. The fact we can take one off him, that's hitting above your weight. It feels excellent." A day later Sweden's Victory Challenge tempered Alinghi's joy when the Swedes handed them their first loss of the regatta, a 21-second defeat. Victory simply outsailed the Cup champs, beating them to the right side of the racecourse in the pre-start and then matching them maneuver for maneuver. From Victory's standpoint the key moment in the race was the leeward mark rounding. Alinghi closed to an overlap at the gate and rounded the left-hand mark (looking upwind) inside the Swedish boat. But the Swedish boat was far enough ahead to nullify Alinghi's position. "The main point was getting around that leeward mark, that was most important," said Victory navigator Johan Barne. "Many matches are decided at the leeward mark. Then we got out to the right and it was very strong. We felt good." Victory made few mistakes in the race, showing better speed in the 16-knot southeasterlies than it had all year. "We were surprised that they didn't show as much strength in the light air earlier in this regatta, especially when you consider how strong they were last year," said Alinghi strategist Jochen Schuemann. "So obviously they traded some light-air strength for strength in breeze. They made a trade which showed some strength today." "You could say we've sacrificed training days to improve the boat," said Barne. "Thank god tomorrow's a day off. The guys are really tired." Victory's win wasn't without incident. As the crew approached the leeward gate the jib was halfway up when it stopped. The reason is because crewmember Ben Morrison Jack had his fingers caught in the foredeck hatch. "He was screaming to close the hatch," said Barne. "In the back of the boat we couldn't figure out why he wanted to close the hatch. That's usually not important in that situation. But he's alright." Halfway through Sunday's second race the standings were set to be shaken and stirred. Desafio Español had Team New Zealand on the ropes and seemed set to make a statement. But an unnecessary penalty paid put an end to their chance of proving they belong in consideration for the top group. Approaching the second windward mark in light winds, Team New Zealand was to windward and inside, but the overlap didn't establish until they had gotten inside the zone. The two boats got very light and downspeed. Desafio Español helmsman Karol Jablonski tacked to port to cross and round ahead, but he was slow accelerating and Team New Zealand's Dean Barker had to bear away to avoid hitting him. The umpires were quick with a red flag penalty for the Spanish crew. "It seemed like a high risk move," said Hutchinson. "I was thinking, well this is going to be pretty good. You never know. That can so easily get greened too." Results from Days 3 and 4 (Matches 1 through 3 sailed on the North Course, 4 through 6 on the South Course. The left-hand boat entered the starting box from the pin end, the right-hand boat from the boat end.) Flight 5 Match 1 China Team lost to Victory Challenge by 1:24 Match 2 Team Shosholoza def. Areva Challenge by 0:54 Match 3 BMW ORACLE Racing lost to Alinghi by 0:20 Match 4 Desafio Español def. United Internet Team Germany by 1:20 Match 5 +39 Challenge lost to Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team lost by 0:16 Match 6 Luna Rossa lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 0:11 Flight 6 Match 1 Team Shosholoza lost to +39 Challenge by 0:46 Match 2 China Team lost to Alinghi by 3:31 Match 3 Victory Challenge lost to BMW ORACLE Racing by 1:10 Match 4 United Internet Team Germany lost to Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia by 0:30 Match 5 Desafio Español lost to Luna Rossa by 0:42 Match 6 Areva Challenge lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 0:37 Flight 7 Match 1 Areva Challenge lost to Luna Rossa by 0:43 Match 2 United Internet Team Germany lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 1:59 Match 3 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia lost to Desafio Español by 1:20 Match 4 BMW ORACLE Racing def. +39 Challenge by 0:48 Match 5 Victory Challenge def. Alinghi by 0:21 Match 6 China Team (DNF) lost to Team Shosholoza Flight 8 Match 1 United Internet Team Germany lost to Luna Rossa by 2:00 Match 2 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia def. Areva Challenge by 1:02 Match 3 Desafio Español lost to Emirates Team New Zealand by 0:43 Match 4 BMW ORACLE Racing def. China Team (DNS) Match 5 Alinghi def. +39 Challenge by 2:03 Match 6 Team Shosholoza lost to Victory Challenge by 0:35 Act 12 Standings Through Eight of 11 Flights Plc. Team Points 1. Emirates Team New Zealand 24 2. Alinghi 22 2. BMW ORACLE Racing 22 2. Luna Rossa 22 5. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia 18 6. Desafio Español 16 6. Victory Challenge 16 8. Team Shosholoza 14 9. +39 Challenge 12 10. Areva Challenge 10 11. United Internet Team Germany 8 11. China Team 8