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Victory, Stars & Stripes Advance to Quarterfinal Repechage

Le Defi Areva, Team GBR out

November 17, 2002
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Grand Prix Sailor-America’s Cup Edition Nov. 18, 2002

Due to a server problem, Bob Fisher’s Report from New Zealand is unavailable as of press time Sunday evening. As soon as the problem is solved, we’ll mail out a Grand Prix Sailor-America’s Cup Edition Extra.

The quarterfinals ended Monday afternoon and so did two syndicate’s run for the Louis Vuitton Cup. In 13 to 15 knots of breeze, and after a day’s postponement, Team GBR and Le Defi Areva sailed and lost their final matches against Stars & Stripes and Victory Challenge, respectively. Team Dennis Conner and the Swedes will go on to face the two losers of the second-chance group, Prada, and OneWorld in the quarterfinal repechage round.

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It only took a minute-and-a-half of upwind sailing after the start for USA-77 to show her heels to Wight Lightning in the final race of their best of seven series. It became abundantly clear early on in their quarterfinal match-up that by switching platforms, Team Dennis Conner was playing in a different league than the British team, and their final race was no exception. A spinnaker set gone bad capped off the night for the crew of Wight Lightning, as a takedown line for the spinnaker wasn’t released before hoisting after a weather mark rounding. Stars & Stripes def. Team GBR by 1m:42s.

Victory Challenge came back from their loss to the French on Saturday, and
sailed a near-perfect race, unlike the French, who forgot to re-set a topmast backstay before the second weather rounding and were unable to set their spinnaker until it was re-rigged. Victory Challenge def. Le Defi by 2m:34s.

Prada were the first to go and despite the 4-0 scoreline they didn’t go easy, hounding Alinghi in every race. And while the seasoned Italians had plenty of speed they seemed to lack authority. It was a wrenching reminder of their 5-0 loss to Russell Coutts in the America’s Cup races in 2000, and can’t be good for the Italian team’s psyche. In a surprising but eminently sound tactical move, Prada elected to pass on the final race, bowing to the inevitable but ending up with lots of time to institute boat changes.

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Next to go were OneWorld, after another close series that belied the scoreline. Oracle had vastly improved their boatspeed since the round robins and the combination of Holmberg and Dickson in the back of the bus very effective. Somehow, the mix of acerbic Kiwi and laid back Virgin Islander worked very well, and would seem to indicate that Team Oracle is a viable threat in the semis. One question from this series remains; why, exactly, did Oracle fly a protest flag at the beginning of each race with OneWorld? No protests were filed, presumably because Oracle won every race, but one has to wonder what Oracle have in their back pocket.

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The other two matchups were of the single-chance, or sudden death variety. For Victory Challenge, Team GBR, Team Dennis Conner, and Le Defi Areva the
quarterfinals were less about honing than survival. Team Dennis Conner pulled the plug on the disappointingly slow USA-66, and brought the dried out and re-bowed USA-77 out to play, and started having fun again. After a stumble in the pre-start of their first race that resulted in a loss, the American team roared back and nailed the next three straight races. With the boatspeed came confidence, and the experienced veterans of Stars & Stripes began looking like the team that everybody expected to see in New Zealand this year.

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The British have shown great class throughout their Louis Vuitton experience and, at the very least, have gained valuable experience for the next go-round. It’s too bad that nobody got to see GBR-78 with its tandem keel, but some ideas are better left off the racecourse until they’re ready for primetime.

The Swedes looked as if they were going to efficiently manhandle Le Defi in the quarterfinals; they had boatspeed, their tactics were sound, and their crew work showed the results of the long months spent practicing off Auckland. Poised for the kill in Race 4 of their series, leading three-nil, and with only two legs to go, they failed to cover the French and lost what should have been the final race of the matchup. Everybody, probably even the French realizes that the win merely postponed the inevitable, but it was good to see this unlucky team take
one home.–Tony Bessinger

They Said It
“No complaints right now especially after struggling through the first 2 round robins. We are comfortable with the boat and that’s really changed the whole attitude of the team – even from our supporters to our sailors and I think we’re simply sailing the boat better right now. We feel more comfortable and when you feel more comfortable good things typically happen. We’re pleased about how everything’s going.”-Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner

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Q: Ken, Do you feel USA-77 gives you a realistic chance against the top teams in the LV Cup?

” Certainly it’s a step ahead. Yes, it definitely does for a variety of reasons. I think the main reason is it gives our whole program a whole new attitude. It’s a delicate issue out there, your own individual psych. And the whole program feels like it has hope now and that’s what’s 77’s done for us.”-Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner

” We’re very happy to go through 4-0 – the scoresheets a whole lot flatter and the racing was a whole lot closer that scroresheet suggests and it was a reminder today at the last leeward mark – there was OneWorld within a boat length again with a lap to go.It’s been tough racing and we’re trilled to have gone through. We’re having a day off tomorrow and will be back at it on Monday. We’ve just come from a half hour meeting where Bruce Farr has had us going through a long list of things of improvements that they’ve been working on and there’s talk of how we’re going to incorporate those improvements over the next few weeks Bruce Farr. We’re thrilled to have the time and I won’t tell you what’s on the list but we’ve got plenty to work through.” -Chris Dickson, Oracle

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“We chose to race Alinghi in the semi finals. Alinghi was tough. The last race was close and they’ve got a very good boat. We’ve seen in these quarter finals the improvements Prada made to have such closes races with Alinghi. With 3 weeks to go before the next round .I am sure we will see Alinghi go to another level as we hope to go to another level – more close racing I am sure.”-Chris Dickson,
Oracle

“I think Chris has done a brilliant job. I said when I made the change and a lot of people were concerned about us making a change after one race in the 2nd round that we were just not sailing the boat as well as we could and we weren’t communicating that well on the back of the boat. All of the afterguard are working better, it’s not just the addition of Chris. Adding Chris was hugely important but all the afterguard are communicating better because of the facilitiation of having Chris there. Everything’s going better. I have heard people questing our Farr-designed boat after that first round robin – we thought we had a very fast boat from day one. We’re now learning to sail it in a variety of conditions – we’re getting a lot more speed out of the boat. We have made a few changes to the boat after the round robin 2 but even after those changes we’ve still came out and lost that race to Prada. Bruce has done a great job, the design team has given us a great job from the get-go, the boatbuilding team, Mark Turner “Tugboat,” who had the job of putting that boat together, and now
with Chris and the afterguard sailing that boat up to its potential. We’re going to use this 3 weeks effectively and will come out stronger than we did in the quarterfinals.”-Larry Ellison, Oracle

“We’re going to work as hard as they can – right now the guys are in a meeting. We’ve got a few things to try and we’re going to work away and see what happens. If any team can come out of this – we’ve been through quite a bit in the last two years as a team and it’s such a strong team and it’s got such great character and I’m confident we can get through this.”-James Spithill, OneWorld

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Quarterfinal Results
Alinghi def. Prada 4-0
Oracle def. OneWorld 4-0
Victory def. Le Defi 4-1
Team Dennis Conner def. Team GBR 4-1

TheQuarterfinal Repechage begins Nov. 23. OneWorld may choose either Victory or Stars & Stripes, Prada races whatever team isn’t chosen. The two teams that win go on to face Alinghi or OneWorld in the semifinals, which begin Dec.9.

Grand Prix Sailor and Grand Prix Sailor–America’s Cup Edition are weekly
newsletters compiled by the editors of Sailing World magazine. If you’d like to subscribe, see http://www.sailingworld.com
Contributing Editors: Tony Bessinger ([email protected]), Dave Reed ([email protected]), Stuart Streuli
([email protected]), John Burnham ([email protected])

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