LVC Report: Victory, Semis Slip Through Grasp of Swedish Syndicate

Victory Challenge couldn't have asked for a better start, crossing the starting line 18 seconds ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand. But it wasn't enough as ETNZ won the race and assured Desafio Espanol of the final spot in the semifinals.

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Amory Ross/www.amoryross.com

VALENCIA, Spain-A few months ago, Paul Cayard rated Desafio Español as good enough to make the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup, but probably not any better than that. Flight 10 of Round Robin 2 went a long way toward proving that though Cayard hasn't been all that involved in the current America's Cup cycle, he still knows a heck of a lot more about the game than anyone else.That he made those comments just before starting a two-month stint as a technical consultant to the team raised a few eyebrows. But we'll give him some credit for being honest. America's Cup sailing and forthrightness don't often go hand and hand.As much as the Spanish team would've liked to sail itself into the semifinals, their chances rested largely on today's match between Victory Challenge, currently 3 points behind in fifth, and Team New Zealand. Desafio Español faced BMW Oracle Racing today and faces Luna Rossa Challenge tomorrow, neither of which it was favored to win. While Victory Challenge would close out Round Robin 2 with Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia, an eminently winnable match for the Swedish challenger.As the staring gun sounded for the Victory Challenge-Emirates Team New Zealand tussle, Desafio's chances of making the semifinals were taking 18 steps backward, one for every second between when Victory Challenge crossed the starting line and when Emirates Team New Zealand crossed it. Tony Rae, a veteran of 5 New Zealand America's Cup challenges going back to 1987, tells us what went wrong during the start, and how the team ground its way back into the race in this audio clip.In an apparent effort to win the right-hand side, ETNZ skipper Dean Barker had let himself get caught too far from the line and stuck in the exhaust of SWE-96. Magnus Holmberg had his time and distance calculations down perfectly and SWE-96 charged across the line on starboard tack while Emirates Team New Zealand was forced into a downspeed tack with just seconds remaining in the prestart. Barker finally crossed the line 3 boatlengths behind.With the wind shifting right, and expected to shift further, both boats lit out for the starboard-tack layline before engaging in a furious tacking duel. The Swedish boat does not seem to tack well in lighter air and Emirates Team New Zealand was eating into the lead with every turn of the wheel. The lead at the first mark seemed to hinge on whether the two boats would reach the layline before ENTZ had recovered enough distance to take back control of the match. By the slimmest of margins, Victory Challenge hung on to the lead and was able to lead ETNZ toward the mark, and round with a 10-second lead.With port jibe dominating the run, Victory Challenge looked in good shape to round the leeward mark in the lead. But halfway down the run, with still 3 minutes of sailing on port tack, Victory jibed away, giving away the starboard-tack advantage. It would prove fateful as when the boats came back together a minute from the leeward mark, ETNZ had the overlap and the inside position, eventually rounding 7 seconds ahead. Tactician Stefan Rahm, of Victory Challenge, looks back on that fateful run here.With a slight speed edge and a somewhat one-sided racetrack, Emirates Team New Zealand assumed control of the race, forcing Victory Challenge to take some risks to find a passing lane. Nothing materialized and Desafio earned its place in the semifinals when ETNZ won the race. After racing, skipper Magnus Holmberg reflected on the race, and on the hurdles the team had to overcome just to make it to the Louis Vuitton Cup starting line.As for the second half of Cayard's prediction, that Desafio Español wasn't likely to get past the semis, that is still to be officially determined-the semifinals will start on Monday. But the Spanish team did little to impress upon anyone that it has the chops to make the finals in a 55-second loss to BMW Oracle Racing. It was so one-sided BMW Oracle Racing tactician Gavin Brady said he felt the Spanish team was more focused on the race ahead, ETNZ versus Victory Challenge, than its own. Though BMW Oracle Racing lost the initial battle between these two teams, Brady feels that was a more realistic representation of the two teams' respective potential. He explains that, and the funky seabreezes (yes, more than one) in this audio clip.Whichever team wins tomorrow's BMW Oracle-Emirates Team New Zealand battle will exit the round robin portion of the regatta in the No. 1 position, and get to choose its opponent. It's hard to foresee any reason why that team wouldn't pick Desafio Español, and it's equally hard to envision the Spanish team upsetting that No. 1 team. Certainly the Green Machine, ESP-97, has the potential to take a race or two, but winning a 5-of-9 series seems out of the reach of this first-time syndicate.The first match of the day on the South Course-i.e. where all the action was today-featured an all-Italian showdown, Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia fighting for some pride, Luna Rossa Challenge steeling itself for the semifinals. A day after botching the start against BMW Oracle Racing because he was too aggressive, MLC starting helmsman Jes Gram-Hansen was on the hunt against, and appeared to get the better of James Spithill in the prestart. But Luna Rossa was able to take control of the beat from the left side, round 7 seconds in front and power away from there, though Mascalzone did make it close on the final run, eating up 22 seconds of a 29-second lead, and finishing just a boatlength behind.The start between BMW Oracle Racing and Desafio Español ended with the two boats at opposite ends of the line and on opposite tacks. But given the shift to the right, BMW Oracle had the edge early and was never really threatened from there on.+39 Challenge is now officially on a winning streak, having knocked off China Team in the latter's final match of the regatta for its second straight win. Meanwhile Areva Challenge beat United Internet Team Germany to move within one point of Team Shosholoza, who is in turn just two points behind Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia. Areva and Shosholoza meet tomorrow to close out their Louis Vuitton Cup. That should be a good match, as should +39 Challenge against United Internet Team Germany. However all eyes will be focused on the race for first between BMW Oracle Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand.Round Robin 2Flight 10+39 Challenge def. China Team by 1:37Areva Challenge def. United Internet Team Germany by 35 secondsLuna Rossa Challenge def. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia by 7 secondsEmirates Team New Zealand def. Victory Challenge by 34 seconds.BMW Oracle Racing def. Desafio Español by 55 secondsOverall standings (with 1 flight remaining)All teams have sailed 9 races, except China Team, which has sailed 10)BMW Oracle Racing 37 pointsEmirates Team New Zealand 36 pointsLuna Rossa Challenge 33 pointsDesafio Español 29 pointsVictory Challenge 26 pointsMascalzone Latino-Capitalia 20 pointsTeam Shosholoza 18 pointsAreva Challenge 17 points+39 Challenge 10 pointsUnited Internet Team Germany 5 pointsChina Team 3 points