LVC Report: Emirates Team New Zealand Claims Top Spot

The race for first was only a race for 5 minutes, as Emirates Team New Zealand split away from BMW Oracle Racing and found a nice shift and some pressure on the right side and sailed away for a win.

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Amory Ross/www.amoryross.com

VALENCIA, Spain-The round robin portion of the Louis Vuitton Cup ended not with a bang, but a series of fizzles. The end of the "regular season" is often that way, I guess. With the final day of racing matching one versus two, three versus four, and so on, a number of quality races were expected. In addition, while the semifinalists had already been selected, there were still a few things to play for. BMW Oracle Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand were racing for the No. 1 spot in the Louis Vuitton Cup rankings and the right to select the opponent for the semifinals. Areva Challenge and Team Shosholoza were battling for seventh place. Mascalzone Latino Capitalia was looking to recoup a smidge of self-esteem against fifth-place Victory Challenge, and avoid dropping into a tie with Shosholoza, should the South African team win.In the end, just one of five matches proved to be competitive and it wasn't the one the press corps expected or hoped for. In the battle for first, BMW Oracle Racing appeared to win the start, but not by much. Emirates Team New Zealand, which started to windward, soon tacked away to the right and BMW Oracle elected to let them go. After a right shift and pressure that filled from right to left across the course, this race turned into a snoozer before the windward mark, with ETNZ rounding nearly a minute in front. "It was quite a funny call," said Dean Barker in the post-race press conference, just moments after he announced the team would sail Spain in the semifinals. "Our weather team had been calling a pretty even race track up until 10 minutes before we started, or before we entered. We were reasonably open at the time. We watched the first match get away, saw that it was a bit spotty on the water. But a very clear call came through from the weather team, lots of credit has to go to [Roger Badham] and the weather team that they had changed very quickly to wanting the right. That decision was 100 percent correct. The credit today goes to the weather team."From there, the New Zealand crew stretched away, building a lead of nearly 500 meters by the final run and winning its 10th straight race. The only thing left to do was to examine the body language on the BMW Oracle Racing boat and see what such a huge loss will do to a team that many feel is slightly on edge.Chris Dickson was at his most evasive in the press conference. "We're disappointed Karol and the Spanish team a week or 10 days ago-and we lost another one today. You're not going to win them all out there; no one has and no one's going to."The one competitive race featured Areva Challenge and Team Shosholoza, the former winning the start convincingly, the latter using its upwind speed edge to grind back into the lead during a long starboard tack. However, even after Shosholoza got the edge, the race remained amazingly close. On the final run Areva Challenge closed to within a boatlength of the South African boat, but was unable to get close enough to clamp on the air of RSA-83 and Shosholoza didn't make a mistake.In the other matches, +39 Challenge, which has been steadily improving over the last half of the regatta, whipped United Internet Team Germany for its third straight win, Luna Rossa challenge hammered Desafio Español's B team, and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia beat Victory Challenge. The third match could've gone either way, but it wasn't unsurprising to see Victory Challenge with a less than inspired effort given the heartbreak they'd suffered the day before. That match did end with a very classy gesture by the Italian team. With the race in hand, they peeled to a white spinnaker that said "Grazie Italia, Grazie Napoli" a nice gesture for their fans. Round Robin 2Flight 11Match NotesVictory Challenge vs. Mascalzone Latino-CapitaliaEven start, with VC to windward, and MLC tight to leeward. VC went right into a tack, giving MLC about a boatlength advantage in the light air. MLC was able to cross ahead on the second cross and switch sides. MLC held the lead to the first mark, rounding ahead by 17 seconds. VC couldn't get any closer from there.Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia wins by 38 secondsUnited Internet Team Germany vs. +39 ChallengeThere was a collision in the prestart, however it involved +39 and a photo boat. Germany seemed in dire straits during much of the start, and was in serious danger of being caught over early with +39 to leeward. But by a matter of inches, UITG was able to duck below the line and start cleanly, forcing +39 off to the right. +39 able to hold on to the starboard advantage and get bow-to-bow midway up the beat and then force UITG to the port-tack layline, rounding with a 3-boatlength lead. +39 Challenge wins by 30 seconds.Desafio Español vs. Luna Rossa ChallengeApparently there was a pretty raucous party at the Spanish compound last night. But in the pre-start, school was in session for the Desafio B-boat crew as James Spithill turned a somewhat disadvantageous situation into a huge win, forcing DE helmsman Jesper Radich out past the committee boat, turning sharply and starting cleanly, with the Spanish team behind and on his hip. Luna Rossa claimed the right, and built a strong lead in the right shift. Then around the windward mark, it only got worse for the Spanish as they dragged their spinnaker over the mark. "Hope it was one heck of a party," said AC radio man Geordie Shaver.Luna Rossa wins by 1:54Areva Challenge vs. Team ShosholozaAreva really dominated the prestart, settling into a strong leeward position with 1:30 to go and holding up and stalling Team Shosholoza. The South African team had to do two tacks within the final 20 seconds, and started very slow, well behind. However, the French team could not cross and the two boats got into a long port-tack speed test, with Shosholoza grinding through Areva's lead and getting bow out. Though the lead never got to be more than half a boatlength, Shosholoza was able to force Areva out past the port-tack layline. The lead didn't really change until the leeward mark when Areva pushed the takedown, made up a few meters, and rolled right into a tack. Shosholoza showed good speed upwind, legging out a bit as the two boats engaged in a serious tacking duel. On the run Areva closed quite a bit and forced the South Africans into a jibing duel. Battle-hardened by 19 races, many of them quite close, the South African team matched every jibe and won the race.Team Shosholoza wins by 14 secondsBMW Oracle Racing vs. Emirates Team New ZealandBMW Oracle hit the pin at the gun for the prestart and, with ETNZ a little late, was able to cross on port tack, driving deep into the starting box. With slightly less than 2 minutes to go, Chris Dickson set up to leeward of ETNZ and tried to control the start from leeward. Both teams were even at the start, with ETNZ able to live on the hip of USA-98. ETNZ tacked away, and BMW Oracle let them go. Proved to be a big mistake. ETNZ got more pressure and a lift and quickly developed a substantial lead. Lead increased on the run, and BMW Oracle had an uncharacteristically sloppy takedown.Emirates Team New Zealand wins by 1:34Louis Vuitton CupFinal Standings After 2 Round RobinsEmirates Team New Zealand 38 pointsBMW Oracle Racing 37 pointsLuna Rossa Challenge 35 pointsDesafio Español 29 pointsVictory Challenge 26 pointsMascalzone Latino-Capitalia 23 pointsTeam Shosholoza 20 pointsAreva Challenge 17 points+39 Challenge 12 pointsUnited Internet Team Germany 5 pointsChina Team 3 pointsSemifinal Pairings (Best of 9)Emirates Team New Zealand vs. Desafio EspañolBMW Oracle Racing vs. Luna Rossa Challenge