From the start of the first race of the quarterfinals, when Wight Lightning luffed up hard underneath Stars & Stripes and tattooed a penalty on the American boat, you could see that the tenor of racing had changed. Three out of the four races held Wednesday on the Hauraki Gulf included penalties as part of the already intense dynamic, and the warfare wasn’t restricted to the single-chance boats.
Communication between bowman Paolo Bassani and helmsman Francisco DeAngelis broke down at the worst possible time during Pradas first downwind leg against Alinghi. Prada, showing great pace, was edging closer and closer to Alinghi, so close that Bassini went forward on the narrow bow to call the overlap. In the half second between an “clear” sign from Bassini, and a “not clear” sign, the wily master helmsman Russell Coutts pushed the stern of Alinghi ever so slightly and kissed Pradas intrusive bow. Flag against Prada. The rest of the race, which included a fine dressing down of the crew of Alinghi by Coutts-“well talk about this later”-was a great tussle. Prada, showing fantastic boatspeed against Alinghi, worked hard to lay a penalty on Coutts, but even with their speed, couldnt ride out from underneath. Alinghi by 1m18s.
After holding a lead, and a penalty, for five and a half legs, and with Team GBR gaining fast, Team Dennis Conner made a desperate move near the end of the final downwind leg, heading up hard and steering straight for Wight Lightning in an attempt to cancel out their penalty. The umpires saw no foul, the Brits rolled over the top of USA-77, and the first win went to Team GBR. If there was any consolation for the American team, it was the fact that USA-77 seemed to be faster in both upwind and downwind mode. Delta: 1 minute.
The Oracle BMW Racing/OneWorld clash was a bare-knuckle brawl from beginning to end. Oracle, steered by Chris Dickson, slapped a penalty on OneWorld on the first downwind leg. OneWorld got inside Oracle and pushed them well past the leeward mark. As both boats turned to head upwind for the mark, OneWorld jibed too close and was flagged. OneWorld was able to work up a small lead over the next few legs and just before rounding the windward mark for the final time, OneWorld did a 270-degree turn to exonerate themselves. The turn allowed Oracle to take a small lead, which Dickson and company were able to hold to the finish, winning by 12 second.
Sadly for the French, their match with the Swedes wasnt close, wasnt exciting, and wasnt a victory. The Victory Challenge looks capable of handling the French easily, winning the first race by 2m:3s.
Results from Day 1 of the Quarterfinals
Alinghi def. Prada by 1m:18s
Oracle BMW Racing def. OneWorld by 12s
Victory Challenge def. Le Défi Areva by 2m:3s
GBR Challenge def. Team Dennis Conner by 1m